Comments on “A slice of The Eggplant”

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Keep up with the good work!

WhyNott 2020-06-28

Keep up with the good work!

Honestly, part of me wishes I was born 10 years later just so that I could read your book from start to finish, but I’ll just pain my way through the “further reading” section for now.

(I am making a slightly uncharitable prediction here.)


Andrew 2020-06-29

Agreeing entirely with the previous comment. I’m glad this draft material has been judged good enough so that we get to read it!

The 'book' navigation is a *little* confusing

Kenny 2020-06-29

I was a little confused last night about what the ‘next page’ was after finishing the intro to which you linked.

At the bottom it states “This page introduces a section containing the following” and then lists some pages. It wasn’t clear to me at first the listed pages were in any particular order and that the first page listed was effectively the ‘next’ page. It also seems unclear whether the list is comprehensive, i.e. the list contains all of the pages in that section.

Inside a ‘section’ tho, the ‘next’ page in that same section is clearly indicated.

Maybe the minimal change that would have clarified this – to me – would be to list the “following” pages in a numbered list instead of just a bulleted list. Bulleted lists don’t generally imply a ‘canonical’ order – to me; numbered/ordered lists do.

But I figured it out, so maybe this isn’t particularly confusing to a significant number of (or any) other people.

I do want to read a slim volume about how rationalism is wrong

Remedios 2020-06-30

I’m 100% in favor of getting to buy 5 slim paperback volumes sooner and a complete volume later.

There’s a lot of advantage in serializing the work. Slim volumes are great because they can be consumed in small bites, with just the relevant topic contained in the volume. Slim volumes make it easy to get started reading a larger work even when you can’t dedicate the time required to read 400+ intense pages.

Publishing two or three smaller preliminary volumes can help you practice as a publisher so you can get good at the soup-to-nuts book printing process with less content to manage in the beginning. Publishing the first two or three smaller volumes will help you learn how to format and present the difficult material in the later books, potentially even influencing how you write the later material. Releasing smaller volumes sooner can train your readers in your communication style so they can more quickly and completely understand the later material.

Customer lifetime value is a major reason why young adults books are serialized. It’s a big deal and could make a difference in whether you approach breaking even on the effort. You can charge me at least $12 each for 5 small volumes, paying about $3 to print each one. You might want to charge less than $35 for a bigger volume. So you potentially get a bigger return ($45 customer lifetime value for a series vs maybe $30 for a bigger single volume). I think most people would be happy to pay more for multiple smaller volumes because they’ll love the convenience of getting to read the works in smaller volumes, with access to them sooner. When you release the material all together as a single volume later, customers including me will buy it in addition to the slim serial books.

The risk of creating a readership of formerly rationalist nihilists could be mitigated with strategically placed caveats – “there’s a reasonable alternative to the obvious conclusion, and you can read about it in the future.” This can be effective as a marketing tool for your future volumes, like the Marvel end shorts that are teasers for the next movie. More importantly, it can keep your readers from falling into nihilism by generating curiosity about what you could possibly be going to say after convincingly taking down rationalism.

Readers who have not built an identity around rationalism could benefit from reading about it. It’s helpful to understand the thinking processes so we can respond reasonably.

In conclusion: Ship it!!

RE: I do want to read a slim volume about how rationalism is ...

Kenny 2020-06-30

@Remedios makes some good points but I come to different (personal) conclusions!

I’m (mostly) in favor of ‘sooner than later’, regardless of medium.

Remedios pointed out several practical obstacles to publishing volumes, of any size. I think that’s a good reason – for me, personally, at least – to wish for you prioritize publishing here on the web first!

One of my favorite authors – Douglas Hofstadter – has detailed the extraordinary lengths to which he went to ensure that his physically printed books matched his likewise extraordinary artistic demands, and that makes me afraid that I’d have to wait much longer to read printed volumes than were you to prioritize publishing here first.

I’m mildly put off by explicit considerations of “customer lifetime value” but that’s because I love the work ‘as an art’ and wish the work to be the best along that ‘dimension’. I’m not sure how much of a practical difference aiming to increase (or maximize) “customer lifetime value” would have, but I’m not completely against it either.

I don’t think there’s a large risk of triggering post-rational nihilism, at least not among your readers of which I’m separately familiar. The name you use, ‘meta-rationality’, helps – that’s already a pretty active topic in the ‘greater rationalist diaspora’ online. It’s also been striking how much of the detailed points you make were also made in the (recent) ‘canon’ of work by ‘rationalists’ on sites like LessWrong. You also go out of your way to reiterate (at length) that ‘rationalism’ is enormously useful (in certain situations or specific circumstances). I’m not sure whether you yourself have left enough ‘clues’ in your other writing, or how much I might have picked up elsewhere, but I feel like I have a pretty good idea of where you’re going with the overall project. I don’t have any fear that you’re going to drag me into nihilism, for any length of time, along the way.

(Somewhat incidentally, have you ever written anything about ‘AI risk’? I’d expect that you would expect any practical AI, of even roughly human equivalency, to use meta-rationality (and reasonableness), but do you also think that ‘reasonableness’ might itself be a practical means of making AI ‘safe’ (or safer)?)

Thank you!

David Chapman 2020-07-01

Thank you all for your kind words and advice!

I’m working on a better book navigation thingy. Some tech to work out, and I’m not sure it will actually be better, but I hope so.

Five short volumes is definitely a possibility…

Ship it!!

This was hilarious, thank you!

Re “extraordinary lengths”: yes, unfortunately I am fussy about typography and it could add substantial delay.

have you ever written anything about ‘AI risk’?

Possibly on twitter, but not otherwise. My general take is that we haven’t the faintest idea how to get started on AGI, and without that, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get started on the safety problem. (I don’t think the problem should be dismissed, though.)

‘reasonableness’ might itself be a practical means of making AI ‘safe’

This is a very interesting idea that I had never thought of! It seems plausible, or at any rate more plausible than anything else I’ve heard in this area.

FWIW, I say work on the work

Benjamin Taylor 2020-08-02

The work involved in publishing - however lovely five slim volumes would definitely be - would slow down your completion.
So, unless you can do the work to go to press in such a way that it adds no real additional work to set up contracts/POD/proofreading etc * 5 instead of once at the end, I would prefer to get the whole thing here, earlier, rather than some parts in print sooner.

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