A while ago I read The Upside of Irrationality
by Dan Ariely and really liked it. The way it was written was direct, evidence-based, and humorous, and so I wanted to check out Ariely's latest book, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves.
This one I thoroughly enjoyed as well.
The main point of the book was that scientific experiments have shown that almost all people lie and cheat by a small amount (10-15%) at every opportunity they get, and the "simple model of rational crime" (with people weighing expected benefits against expected costs) totally doesn't hold in real life. The most interesting thing, though, is how people even deceive themselves so they can maintain their identity and self-image as moral and honest.
While the book was mainly describing behaviors as a result of different stimuli, it did talk about some prescriptions that do seem to help counteract cheating, such as giving reminders right at the point of temptation and actual supervision.
According to the book, here is a summary of forces that shape dishonesty (clearly, there are so many more forces that tend to increase dishonesty):
Decrease dishonesty: pledge, signatures, moral reminders, supervision
No effect: amount of money to be gained, probability of being caught
- Increase dishonesty: ability to rationalize, conflicts of interest, creativity, one immoral act, being depleted, others benefitting from our dishonesty, watching others behave dishonestly, culture that gives examples of dishonesty
Daniel Suarez is currently my favorite tech sci-fi author, and I was thrilled to see his next book, Influx
, hit bookshelves a couple weeks ago.
I thoroughly enjoyed his past books, especially Daemon, because his fiction and plot lines were so realistic. He says he likes to write about the "present-adjacent," and the "hypothetical" technologies of his past books (self-driving cars, augmented reality glasses, natural language processing scripts, and autonomous drones) are now all very much real.
I like his writing because it's not so fantastical that it's insulting to real engineers; Daniel's technical background and immersion in whatever new technology he's researching are what allow his writing to be authentic in this way.In Influx, he introduces a number of neat scientific advancements and technologies, like quantum computing, nanotechnology, higher dimensions, gravity modification, and antimatter. However, more interesting for me than the technologies this time was his exploration of the question of restricting technological innovation. What if the government were secretly kidnapping the greatest innovators and hoarding all the best technologies for itself in the name of national defense and stability of society?My first thought in getting into the book was the eery parallel and contrast with Atlas Shrugged, whose theme is the mind on strike against the world. In Atlas, it is the innovators and productive members of society who go on strike and disappear because they can no longer stand being taken advantage of by a growingly collectivist society. Their point is that the mind cannot be forced to think; that force and reason are opposites. In Influx, Daniel gets very close to this point when the main villain is trying to create a machine that can separate free will from consciousness so that an AI can be as innovative as the greatest human thinker. The theme of Influx flips the Atlas situation around on its head, though, because in Influx the innovators are kidnapped against their will; however, in both books, the reader can clearly see how bad the results end up being for the world at large.I found Influx to be gripping, suspenseful, interesting from technical and philosophical standpoints, and really fun to read. I heard that they may even make a movie out of it, which would be incredible (I could imagine how the movie would look as I was reading the action scenes). I highly recommend it for anyone who loves cyberthrillers and fiction about science.
I wanted to finish reading the last of Ayn Rand's fiction, which for me was her dystopian short novella Anthem
. It reminded me a lot of Orwell's 1984
: a collectivist all-powerful state controlling language and thoughts via nonstop propaganda. I liked how simply and effectively she was able to demonstrate her philosophy in such a short short. The plot and dramatizations were interesting and emotional too. In a sense, this book represents the horror that happens to society 100 years after Atlas Shrugged
concludes when statist society has fully taken over.
Here were some of the main themes:
- Loss of all individuality
- Religion of statism
- Sin to be born too tall and too smart
- Great transgression of preference
- Unspeakable word "I"
- Knowledge of science lost
- Pride unholy
- Regaining word "I" and true freedom
- Toiling just for self and not stealing from others
In my quest to read more classic literature, I decided to check out a classic Russian author whom I had never read before: Ivan Turgenev in his book Fathers and Sons
. This was also the first time I was listening to an audiobook in a non-English language, as I wanted to "read" the original text.
I remember how depressing and dark Crime and Punishment
was, and this book was a lot less dark and a lot more emotionally powerful, in my opinion. The subject matter -- family, philosophy, love -- was more commonplace, and yet (or because of that) the emotional content was extremely strong.
The book explored many themes, such as the relationships between generations, between social classes, respect for principles vs. science, the value of pride, and the power of love (from men to women and also from parents to children). Even though the main character really wanted to be one-sided and proud, he turned out to be more complex, subtle, and multifaceted than even he would have wanted, and that change was brought about by his relationships with his friends and elders.
The ending was sad and hopeful. I felt my throat knot up as I said good bye to the main character and realized how sad and how sweet life can be, all at the same time.
Below are some of the main themes and quotes I took away from the book:
- 19th century Russia
- Son growing up
- Rebelling against father
- Son not the judge of the father
- To honor principles and traditions or not
- Rebelling against authority
- Value of respect and to what
- Don't believe in principles but believe in frogs (science experiments)
- Not taking things for granted and looking critically
- Don't believe in art but art of making money
- Ppl should be able to educate themselves
- Midlife crisis: when hopes and regrets almost equivalent and two sides of one coin (when hopes become regrets and regrets become hopes)
- Nature is not a temple but a master's workshop
- Only good thing about a Russian is his poor opinion of himself
- Nihilist rejects everything to first destroy but what will be built after?
- Old generation vs new generation
- Separation between father and son
- Benefits of old vs young and vice versa
- Girl intrigued by the man who has courage to not believe in anything
- Nihilist tortured by love he feels
- Sadness of parents when kids leave and they miss them
- Only wife left for dad when kid leaves
- Young teaching old
- Intense love of kids
- Love sentimentality romanticism and practicality
- Ppl continue to believe in the power of words
A few years ago, I read Richard Feynman's Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
and really liked it. So I knew I wanted to check out his follow-up book of stories, What Do You Care What Other People Think.
The title is a big lesson that I think I could really internalize, so I was intrigued.
Like the previous book, I found this one filled with funny and thought-provoking stories from Feynman's "adventures." I really like how he writes about facts, direct observations, and doesn't do a lot of judging or philosophizing in the middle of the stories. He leaves it to the reader to decide for him or herself. There are parts of the book where he expresses his love of science and why he thinks it matters (like in the "The Value of Science"), but even in these he gives lots of stories and arguments that are persuasive and give the reader a really nice inside view into how he thinks.
I was intrigued by the stories of his childhood, how he got interested in science, and the role his dad played in inspiring his curiosity and getting him to keep asking tough and stupid questions that others were afraid to do and to seek to really understand what some word or concept really
means with respect to the world directly around him. I liked when he described the real world and nature as so amazing and mysterious that there is no need to seek anything more amazing outside of the physical world.
I like how he enjoyed exploring the world, visiting parts of the city that are off the beaten path, talking directly to engineers and workers instead of managers, and preferring asking questions and solving problems over worrying about politics and bureaucracy.
Overall, I found his stories intriguing and the way he approached the world (and writing) has many elements I'd love to incorporate myself.
Penn Jillette keeps talking about The Mezzanine
by Nicholson Baker on his Sunday radio show, Penn's Sunday School
, so I figured I'd check out what all the fuss was about.
The book was a stream-of-consciousness account of a moment in the life of an office worker as he takes his lunch break down an escalator to buy replacement shoelaces. I was worried the subject matter would be pretty banal and pointless, the intelligent, thought-provoking, and philosophical writing style actually made it come to life.
It was reassuring to hear echoed by the author the same thoughts and reactions that I and others have about the little things around us in life: the straws that rise up out of drinks frustratingly, the slower cashiers at CVS, the inventiveness of the engineers who designed the perforations in toilet paper, etc. On the one hand, it seems like none of these things really matter, but this is wrong; they matter a lot because all of us interact with these things practically every day. The point isn't that the main values in life come from these small objects; the point is that these small objects shouldn't be forgotten or dismissed, and that there is a lot to appreciate even in the minutiae of life.
The real world -- nature, science, people -- is so fascinating at every level of inspection, no matter how close you look (sort of like a fractal).
I'm continuing my effort to read all the books by Ayn Rand, and the next one on my list was For the New Intellectual
. It was a pretty short read and actually mostly excerpts from her novels.
It started with a high-level overview of the epistemology contained within her novels and an overview of the history of philosophy. The overall tone sounded pessimistic as her comments about the contemporary world in which she wrote implied that the morality of the majority of society was really moving in the wrong direction (I can only imagine how she would react to seeing the world today).
Even though most of the book was excerpts from other books I had read already
, it was nice to see which sections the author herself wanted to highlight and to refresh my memory as well about some of the central concepts.
One of the most popular classes at Google's internal university is Search Inside Yourself, and I just finished reading its "textbook," Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
by Chade-Meng Tan. Though I haven't taken the class (really long waiting list), I feel like I got a pretty good glimpse into how useful and interesting it would be. Many articles
recently have described Google's foray into mindfulness training for employees, citing its stress reduction qualities and the benefits it products in increased emotional intelligence and workplace efficacy. It's neat to see how such an old practice can have such practical use.
I found this book's discussions of meditation and attention training techniques really detailed and useful, much more so than the sections on emotional intelligence (and especially the sections on world peace). Those seemed to trivialize a lot of the issues and skim at a very high level some really difficult techniques (each of which is covered in multiple full-length books). But I appreciated the introduction that the book provided for these areas and the connection to mindfulness that it made.
I still think that Mindfulness in Plain English
is a better introduction to meditation specifically, but Search Inside Yourself
does a lot more in linking it to the corporate world and everyday applications.
I just finished reading Mastery
by Robert Greene, and I thought it was a really awesome demystification of the processes of self-discovery, practice, apprenticeship, and creativity. I had read his other books (The 48 Laws of Power
, The Art of Seduction
, and The 50th Law
), which I also enjoyed. In this book, he debunks the myth of the genius inspired by the heavens and shows how some of the most masterful individuals throughout the ages and alive today got their biggest breaks as a result of extremely hard work, dedication, and allowing themselves the freedom to fail and do things in a unique way.
What made Mastery
very interesting was the way the author blended stories of many different types of "masters" throughout history (Darwin, Edison, Franklin, Goethe, Mozart, Einstein, and many contemporary masters as well) and drew out the most relevant lessons. It was neat to read some many mini-biographies and hear about how these were all normal guys who put in extra-normal hours to the crafts they wanted to pursue.
Some of the core lessons I took away from the book were as follows:
- Focus on reality and rationality.
- Develop skills like a craftsman. These take years to perfect, and short cuts don't work.
- Ignore and push out others' voices and pressure, and pay more attention to your own voice and calling.
- Reality-test your ideas quickly. Prototype. Think with your hands.
- Sketch and use real, physical tools, not technology, to aid thinking.
- Cultivate a beginner's mind. Always maintain some dissatisfaction and drive to improve and learn something new.
- Develop social intelligence. Pay attention to social dynamics.
- Read and study broadly. Draw connections and focus on the relationships between ideas and fields.
Once again I listened to Ryan Holiday's recommendation of his top book of the year
, and I was not disappointed: Average is Over
by Tyler Cowen was super interesting, especially to someone like me who has a passion for automation and smart machines. He liked the book so much he printed and framed one of the book's core ideas
The book is a blend between career advice, macroeconomic forecasting, chess, science, and AI technology analysis, and lots of speculation around what the world could look like in the next 10 years. A lot of the ideas resonated with me, and I enjoyed learning a lot of details around chess-playing robots and how humans plus
smart machines will represent the most effective teams in the future.
The scariest and saddest part of the book for me were the (good) arguments for how the world will likely become more "regularized and stupid" so that it's friendlier and easier to interact with for machines (think grocery self-checkout lines and highly systematized streets and procedures that can be navigated by machines/robots). There will definitely be a great deal of "charm" and human touch that will be lost in this transition, and I'm wondering if humans overall will be better off.
Overall, the book was very thought-provoking and made some good arguments and projections (of course, many of them are speculative, but even so, they were interesting to consider and weigh).