Books

DiasporaGreg Egan

Best Sci-Fi book I've ever read. The hardest of hard Sci-Fi. Eternal beings with digital minds propagate through the universe, forking themselves, discovering new mathematics and physics, and looking for life. Fundamentally changed how I think about existentialism and the future of life.

Gödel, Escher, BachDouglas Hofstadter

Hofstadter came out of nowhere and made this bizarre and brilliant masterpeice. GEB weaves together ideas from mathematics, logic, computer science, artificial intelligence, music and other fields into this riddle of a book which attempts to explain consciousness – and how it might be created in machines.

Crime and PunishmentDostoevsky

Dostoevsky is like no other author I've read. Reading Crime and Punishment I found myself so deeply pulled into the mind of Raskolnikov (who commits a murder), that I had to de-brief after reading. I had to remind myself that I haven't committed any murder, and that I could let go of Raskolnikov's guilt and dread.

Notes from UndergroundDostoevsky

Dostoevsky explores another dark corner of human psychology. This time we enter the mind of the 'Underground Man': a bitter, isolated, resentful man who has come to spend his life taking revenge on the world in whatever small and petty ways he can.

The Selfish GeneDawkins

Completely changed my view of evolution. I thought before that evolution sought to create better and better organisms – that the organisms were the goal. Turns out organisms are more like vehicles for genes to get into the future. The genes are actually higher in the stack than organisms they encode.

SuperintelligenceNick Bostrom

I was a confident AI-optimist before reading this book... Now I think AI is by far the greatest existential threat facing humanity. Bostrom carefully and precisely addresses every argument for why we shouldn't worry about AI and shows how each of them fail in like 20 different ways. Pulling the plug doesn't work. Putting it in a box doesn't work. Giving it limited access to resources or io doesn't work... Building safe AI is going to be really, really hard. And we only get one shot at it! If you're not worried, read this book.

SiddharthaHermann Hesse

Sublime book about life and enlightenment. One of the only books I re-read somewhat often. Each time I read Siddhartha I feel wise, calm, and like I've just done a meditation retreat.

The 48 Laws of PowerRobert Greene

48 Laws is a blast to read. You get to meet dozens of history's most incredible personalities and watch a highlight reel of the boldest things they accomplished. I think history is often considered boring because it so often focuses on events rather than the fascinating and bizarre characters driving the events. It's characters and personality which makes a work interesting.

Intro to the Theory of ComputationSipser

We learn about Turing machines in the abstract: a machine travels along a tape, reading and writing, and this tape-machine system can supposedly do any computation. This was always an abstraction until I saw how my computer was a Turing machine. The CPU is like the head. But instead of moving along the tape, the CPU rapdily 'pulls' the tape back and forth 'underneath' it. The sections of tape that are 'nearby' the head are kept in fast memory. The sections of tape that are 'farther' from the tape are kept in slower storage. The tape itself exists as a collection of billions of tiny switches alternatively actuated and frozen by electricity. When the optimizations and caches and error correction and all that are taken away it's all just a Turing machine! ALL our computers are just Turing machines! Wow!

Deep WorkCal Newport

To do any really difficult or creative work you need to go deep into it. This requires long unbroken periods of focus. A lot of how we work (open offices) and live (cell phones) is antithetical to deep work. Really important thesis, but I think the book could have been a blog post.

The Untethered SoulMichael A. Singer

Stop and listen to your mind. You'll notice an internal narrator. The narrator talks ALL THE TIME. You might think this narrator is 'you'. But if it were 'you', how could you notice it? There is your conscious attention – the 'light' of consciousness, and there is your labelling, thinking, problem solving mind. Fantastic book.

The Power of NowEckhart Tolle

The past isn't real, neither is the future. The past exists only as memories, records, photos, etc. These are all just things in the present. The future is just an idea. It exists as plans, words, etc. Again, these only exist in the present... There is only the eternal present moment. And yet our attention is almost always on past or future rather than present.

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