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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Outlier

Image002 One of the most interesting contemporary writers on epistemology, randomness, markets, skepticism, and predictions is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the bestselling books Fooled By Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

He was profiled in The Sunday Times and gave his top ten life tips:

1 - Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.
2 - Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.
3 - It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.
4 - Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.
5 - Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.
6 - Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.
7 - Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).
8 - Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants... or (again) parties.
9 - Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.
10 - Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

If you're up for an engaging and interesting listen, check out this EconLog podcast interview of Taleb by George Mason University Professor of Economics Russ Roberts.

Taleb, a Levantine Greek Orthodox Christian, on religion after the break.

(H/T Jason)

'So, you are wondering, who is this guy? He was born in 1960 in Lebanon, though he casts doubt on both these “facts”. The year is “close enough” – he doesn’t like to give out his birth date because of identity theft and he doesn’t believe in national character. He has, however, a regional identity; he calls himself a Levantine, a member of the indecipherably complex eastern Mediterranean civilisation. “My body and soul are Mediterranean.”

Both maternal and paternal antecedents are grand, privileged and politically prominent. They are also Christian – Greek Orthodox. Startlingly, this great sceptic, this non-guru who believes in nothing, is still a practising Christian. He regards with some contempt the militant atheism movement led by Richard Dawkins.

“Scientists don’t know what they are talking about when they talk about religion. Religion has nothing to do with belief, and I don’t believe it has any negative impact on people’s lives outside of intolerance. Why do I go to church? It’s like asking, why did you marry that woman? You make up reasons, but it’s probably just smell. I love the smell of candles. It’s an aesthetic thing.”

Take away religion, he says, and people start believing in nationalism, which has killed far more people. Religion is also a good way of handling uncertainty. It lowers blood pressure. He’s convinced that religious people take fewer financial risks.'

 

Posted by Kalim Kassam on July 16, 2008 | Permalink

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5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

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Clearly, this statement will disqualify anything else he has to say for most of the commentators on here.

Posted by: Snowrunner | 2008-07-16 1:09:44 AM


I find his comments fascinating and share a kinship with him that transcends thousands of years.

It is true that going to a church, at least an Orthodox Christian church, has no negative impacts on any individual human being.

And, I agree with my late father-in-law's philosophy. A farmer in southern Saskatchewan, he made it his life's mission to leave the land in better shape than when he inherited it.

Of course, pollution is an entirely different issue that the politicized climate change movement, which is nothing more than a wealth-transfer scheme hatched up by utopian totalitarians.

I especially like No. 4. Nobody can steal your dignity. Even though they will try to provoke you, resist those temptations. It will only make them angrier.


Posted by: set you free | 2008-07-16 10:30:04 PM


"4 - Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word."

I have trouble accepting the notion that wildly exceptional success -- beyond that achieved by normal, smart, hard working people -- is random, a Black Swan event.

I've got to read his books, because his premise strikes me as absurd. Call me a sceptic.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-07-17 9:38:45 PM



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