Books

Zbigniew Lukasiak
Sep 19 · 3 min read

The books that I read recently an have learned the most.

“Hierarchy in the Forest” by Christopher Boehm: How have we became egalitarian hunter gatherers when our ancestors had strict hierarchies, how we later became more hierarchical when we started to live in more complex farmer societies? Foundations of politics. It is only by understanding this we can move forward and adapt to how the internet changes politics. See also https://www.overcomingbias.com/2017/08/forager-v-farmer-elaborated.html

“The book of why” by Joshua Pearl: Statistics is an important subject — probably most of scientific knowledge we get from statistical summarising of experiments, but I have always been struggling with statistics — for me personally this book explains why statistics was so unintuitive. Statistics is about correlations — but our intuition works on causal models. A simple algorithm can learn that flame is correlated with smoke — but it does not know which is causing which, we know. At the core it is about a mathematical formalism designed for computing the magnitude and direction of changes when these changes are caused by many also changing factors. The implications of this technique are vast — it is about predicting the effects of actions, designing experiments, measuring the efficacy of medicines and the harmfulness of poisons, about human ability to think in counterfactuals.

There is one thing that is missing from this book. The author repeatedly tells us that we know more than our data, because we have causal models that we put the data into. But how do we build these models? How do we learn that fire is causing smoke? There are some hints in this book — but what I was expecting was a more systematic treatment, a methodology similar to the one that lets us compute the consequences of an already built model.

“Inadequate Equilibria”: This book tries to answer the question “when it can be rational to think that your theories are better than the mainstream”. Apparently this is especially useful to ask this question in healthcare where the incentives of mainstream institutions are not quite aligned to the well-his personal example ofbeing of patients. The author tells us about a treatment he devised for his wife which was simple and effective and yet non of the doctors proposed it and then discusses some other horror health care stories. But this thinking is applicable much wider.

The book is sometimes written in a quirky way — but the question it poses is profound and is quite relevant now.

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