Causal Models – How People Think about the World and Its Alternatives

by Steven Sloman.

I’ve been very busy lately due to the new semester starting and my exam this week. Today was to be different; I had lectures in the morning, but the rest of the day (or at least a significant part of it…) I’d decided to spend in the company of a book of my choosing. Sloman’s book was the one I picked.

I finished it not long ago – it’s not very long, only 181 pages excluding notes and references, and it’s definitely a book you can finish in one day/sitting if you want to.

But whether you want to or not is a different matter – I don’t think the book is very good and I don’t recommend it. If I was reviewing it on amazon, I’d give it either two stars or three.

“An experiment requires manipulation. Some variable, some potential cause (often called an independent variable), is chosen along with another variable, a potential effect (often called a dependent variable). The cause is then manipulated by setting it to two or more values and the effect is measured. If the value of the effect differs for different values of the cause, then we can infer that the cause has some influence on the effect; a causal relation exists.”

A quote from the book. At least some places, that’s the level we’re at. This kind of stuff – and stuff like how to calculate a marginal or conditional probability – is not stuff I need to read and it’s not stuff I’m going to spend a lot of time on.

Another quote, this one from the introduction:

“Chapters 4 and 5 provide the technical meat of the book; chapter 4 is about causal models generally, and chapter 5 is about the representation of intervention. Although I’ve tried to keep these chapters as light as possible, too light for more mathematically sophisticated readers…”

And to that I’d say: Yeah, ‘too light’ indeed. And if the ‘meaty’ chapters were too light…

It could have been a good book. There was some new, interesting stuff in there.

But there wasn’t enough of it. And if I had to read only one book about this stuff, I’m sure this wouldn’t be the one to read.


February 22, 2013 - Posted by | Books, Philosophy

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