Links and Books, November 2021

Posted on 29 Nov 2021 by Steve Markham


  • Paul Bloom on Making Sense. I especially liked the discussion of whether we try to maximize the experiential or remembering self’s happiness, though I found the whole thing very worthwhile.
  • Thi Nguyen on Mindscape. This was one of those episodes where it finished, the next one started autoplaying, and I had to stop and take out the headphones so I could think about things some more. The notion that gamification (of school or social media) is bad because it restricts values artificially is profound. Lots of other interesting bits throughout. This might be the discussion that finally makes me sit down and read Seeing like a State after it being recommended by so many people.
  • Next up, Geordi’s visor. “BACKGROUND. A long-held dream of scientists is to transfer information directly to the visual cortex of blind individuals, thereby restoring a rudimentary form of sight. … METHODS.We implanted an intracortical microelectrode array … RESULTS … Simultaneous stimulation via multiple electrodes … evoked discriminable phosphene percepts, allowing the blind participant to identify some letters and recognize object boundaries. Furthermore, we observed a learning process that helped the subject to recognize complex patterns over time.”
  • Fabricated Options. When people are “struggling with difficult decisions, they frequently include, among their perceived options, at least one option which is fake … An option that isn’t actually an option at all, but which is a product of incoherent thinking.” And later “in this example [laws against price gouging] and many others, the fabricated option is less a made-up action and more a made-up story about the consequences of that action.” I stumbled on this while looking up the link for double crux, which, if you haven’t heard of, you might also enjoy.
  • Michael Pollan on JRE, discussing his experience quitting and eventually restarting caffeine.


  • The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson. Finished it, having started it last month. I really enjoyed this series.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. The kids all enjoyed HP1 (even Camille!), so we’re on to book two. So far, so good. I don’t know how far we’ll get as a family, since this gets scary and a little morbid. I made Kyle wait until middle school to read HP5, but Lewis probably already picked up on the school-is-awful and teachers-are-evil memes so maybe there’s no need to wait.
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Second to last chapter was my favorite, but the whole thing was thought-provoking. It didn’t age perfectly, but if you take it as commentary on humanity, I think it holds up pretty well.
  • The Good Master by Kate Seredy. Not nearly as scary as HP2, and actually quite fun to read together.
  • Against Empathy by Paul Bloom. Not sure I’ll finish, but the library had this and not his latest, The Sweet Spot, so we’re giving it a try.


  • “Chosen Suffering” Paul Bloom. Last month was the first time I remember hearing the phrase “chosen family” and I like both phrases. It’s like revealed preferences, but more intentional.
  • “Susan: [I can’t prove a positive, only a negative.] Quinn: That’s not the proof I want. Susan: You’ll have such proof as exists. You are the only one responsible for your own wants.” Asimov, from I, Robot.