The book I'm most looking forward to this year is by Jeff Hawkins. His book On Intelligence from 2007 transformed my view of how brains work. To me, it finally provided a convincing overarching framework for how we think. Answering a very basic question. Mind is prediction, and your brain is constantly predicting what actions to take to make its preferred prediction happen.

I think it stands up well, as this view has slowly become accepted since his book came out. In particular I think machine learning has indirectly made many people take this view, since ML essentially provides intuitions (predictions), but how those intuitions are formed is hidden knowledge from the ML model. Similarly, our minds give us intuitions, but we have no access to how those intuitions/predictions come about.

Hawkins has a new book out in March, A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence. He takes some of his recent papers, and argues in book length form, that the brain (neocortex) has not a single model, but thousands of models, each interacting to predict and model the world. He's a good writer, very clear.

He has some short videos on the book here, where he said his new book is stand alone, so doesn't require reading his old one. If you are interested, I'd suggest spending a few minutes listening to the before you decide if the new book is worth your time.


Amazon link to book itself is here. This is my top new book for me personally for 2021.


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"These were the Tatars who conquered and subjugated Russia for centuries."

Russian historiography annoys me immensely. The historiography begins with the Kievan Rus'. Of them Wikipedia says [correctly in my estimation] they were: "loose federation of East Slavic and Finno-Ugric peoples in Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century, under the reign of the Varangian [Viking] Rurik dynasty." The problem is that the connection between Kievan Rus', which was gone by the end of the 12th Century, and the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which is the root of modern Russia is very loose.

Even at the end of the 13th Century, Moscow was a couple of mud huts in the forest that the Mongols had pillaged and burned a couple of times. The first Grand Duke (Velikiy Kniaz) of Moscow was Daniel the youngest son of Alexander Nevsky and an 8th generation descendant of Rurik. Daniel was a vassal of the Golden Horde and paid it tribute. His successors often allied with the Horde to subdue neighboring towns. Eventually they rebelled against the Horde and made it stick.

Did the Golden Horde subjugate Russia. No. First, Russia did not yet exist. Second, the relationship is not anything resembling what we would think of subjugation. It was feudal relationship that amounted to tribute and slave raiding. The Tatar Yoke the Russians call it was more of an annoyance than a governance. Certainly the Horde had no interest in the culture, language, or religion of its subject peoples.

A key part of the birth of Russia is the development of the Orthodox church. The Kievan Rus' were the vector through which the Byzantines converted the Eastern Slavs. But the Rus' were long gone when, in the early 14th Century, Metropolitan Peter, who had been consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople, moved from Kiev to Vladimir. Daniel's son Ivan Moneybags, persuaded him to move to Moscow. Ivan's grandson, Dimitri Donskoi, was lucky in that during his reign, St. Sergius founded Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius the monastery became the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox church. Another stroke of luck was the birth of Andrei Rublev, the great icon painter, in Moscow and his career in the Orthodox Church. Thus, the first great pillar of Russia was created.

"the expansive Russian Empire that emerged in the 16th century was fundamentally different from the Duchy of Moscow that preceded it."

Different, yes, discontinuous no. Influenced by the Horde, no. The Grand Duchy of Moscow became the Tsardom of Russia in the middle of the 16th Century by the efforts of Ivan IV, the Terrible. Thus was born the autocracy. It was an internal development. If you want to look for ideology, you should look a Byzantium. The rulers of Moscow adopted the pretension of the Third Rome. Their political model was the Emperor in Constantinople. Not the khans of the Horde. Russia was declared an Empire by Peter the Great in 1721.

"It had global ambitions, just like the Golden Horde which once ruled it."

The Great Khans of the Mongol empire had that kind of Ambition, but the Golden Horde spent most of their efforts on collecting tribute and jockeying with other Mongol successor groups.

Imperial ambitions do not really require an explanation. The first conquest of peoples not in your immediate ethnoi, pushes any state into imperial expansion:

The History of the Peloponnesian War By Thucydides 431 BC

Book V Chapter XVII: "Sixteenth Year of the War—The Melian Conference—Fate of Melos"

The Athenians said to the Melians: "Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it existing before us, and shall leave it to exist for ever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do."

Book VI Chapter XVIII: "Seventeenth Year of the War—The Sicilian Campaign—Affair of the Hermae—Departure of the Expedition"

Alcibiades speaks: "Men do not rest content with parrying the attacks of a superior, but often strike the first blow to prevent the attack being made. And we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop; we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to extend it, for, if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves."

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Feb 28, 2021Liked by Razib Khan

I'll likely get the Empire of Ants and the Delusion of Crowds, at least for now. Question: are there are lot of maps / images / graphs in these books? I do most of my reading on Kindle, which I strongly prefer for text, but Kindle is weak on maps and images, so I prefer physical copy for books with a lot of images. Thanks. (I'm halfway through Mote on Imperial China right now, so thanks for that recommendation also.)

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I am a total sucker for everything steppe nomad so I will be reading the Golden Horde book. Everyone in the US thinks that Russia is paranoid. They have good reason to be so. The Tartar yoke as a people's founding myth is a bit different than A Shining City on a Hill. Barbarian Empires of the Steppe in the Great Courses is wonderful.

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added "a thousand brains" and "delusions..."

I've got a lot on deck but highlights are: Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Prey," Learning from the Roman Empire: Are We Repeating Their Rise and Decline? by Caroline Winterer, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, The Fall of Empires: A Brief History of Imperial Collapse, The jakarta Method, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time, The Secret Language of Cells, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Carl Zimmer's new one.

Recently finished "Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System that Rules the World," "Improbable Destinies" (convergent evolution), Break it Up by Kreitner, Japan's Infamous Unit 731, The Rape of nanking, Nazi and Esoterism,

Why is Japan not known for being as bad a Germany was???

I've made it through about 180 full non-fiction books since March 2017. YES, I AM BRAGGING! What did I learn? I don't remember and no one cares anyway cuz no one reads anymore haha

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