October 31, 2012

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, October 2012

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Charles Stross, The Apocalypse Codex
Mind candy. Things to do in Denver when lbhe zvaq unf orra gnxra bire ol na vafrpgvyr nyvra cnenfvgr juvpu abg bayl pbybavmrf lbhe areibhf flfgrz, ohg ercynprf lbhe gbathr jvgu vgf pnencnprq obql. (BoErnyJbeyqCerprqrag.) Peeling shrimp on the weekend after reading this was ... unsettling.
(Before; after)
Michelle Sagara, Cast in Peril
Mind candy. I'm doubtful that it would make any sense if you hadn't been following the series, as it both begins and ends in media res.
Ian Frazier, Coyote vs. Acme
I no longer understand why I found this funny in 1996. The title piece is easily the best of them, and even that seems painfully drawn-out, like a second-rate Onion article.
Charles E. Lindblom, The Intelligence of Democracy: Decision-Making by Mutual Adjustment
Mostly a brilliant exposition of how complex social and political problems get solved — or, if not exactly solved, then dealt with — by decentralized processes of partisan mutual adjustment, and how this is actually superior to what could be achieved by centralized authority. (This draws on, and extends, his earlier book A Strategy of Decision, and foreshadows much of Usable Knowledge.) It is however marred by some concluding chapters of a complacency which I feel could only have come from an American liberal — a white American liberal — circa 1965. Lindblom's later works suggest his wish to revise and extend his remarks on the inherent benevolence of decision-making by partisan mutual adjustment... It deserves a full review, indeed Lindblom's whole output does, but there's no time.
R. L. Gregory, Odd Perceptions
Essays on cognitive psychology and psychologists and related topics, by the author of the great Eye and Brain. The collection came out in 1986, which leads to some oddness, e.g., when talking about neural models and information theory.
John F. Monahan, Numerical Methods of Statistics
Decent and reliable on what it does cover, but to my eyes rather old-fashioned in its choice of topics (e.g., nothing on non-parametrics). I read the first edition, of 2001; I haven't looked at the second.
Olivier Blanchard and Stanley Fischer, Lectures on Macroeconomics
P. M. Chaikin and T. C. Lubensky, Principles of Condensed Matter Physics
More relics from graduate school, revisited as part of the book purge. These books are now 15--20 years old; I'm sure that there're more up-to-date treatments of both topics, though I feel like I'd know if something had displaced Chaikin and Lubensky form its niche, and I don't.
Blanchard and Fischer is about "modern" macro, models based on agents who know what the economy is like optimizing over time, possibly under some limits. This is the DSGE style of macro. which has lately come into so much discredit — thoroughly deserved discredit. Chaikin and Lubensky is about modern condensed matter physics, especially soft condensed matter, based on principles of symmetry-breaking and phase transitions. Both books are about building stylized theoretical models and solving them to see what follows from the model assumptions; implicitly they are also about the considerations which go into building models in their respective domains.
What is very striking, looking at them side by side, is that while these are both books about mathematical modeling, Chaikin and Lubensky presents empirical data, compares theoretical predictions to experimental results, and goes into some detail into the considerations which lead to this sort of model for nematic liquid crystals, or that model for magnetism. There is absolutely nothing like this in Blanchard and Fischer — no data at all, no comparison of models to reality, no evidence of any kind supporting any of the models. There is not even an attempt, that I can find, to assess different macroeconomic models, by comparing their qualitative predictions to each other and to historical reality. I presume that Blanchard and Fischer, as individual scholars, are not quite so indifferent to reality, but their pedagogy is.
I will leave readers to draw their own morals.

Manual trackback: John Myles White

Update, 11 December 2012: small typo fixes and wording improvements.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Dismal Science; Physics; Minds, Brains, and Neurons; Enigmas of Chance; Commit a Social Science; The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts; Cthulhiana

Posted at October 31, 2012 23:59 | permanent link

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