Inroads into Taleb

Mentioned in my previous post that I was actively catching-up on reading Nicholas Nassim Taleb whose best-selling Black Swan I already felt I knew from secondary references, and whose later (Antifragile) arguments (and the person) I was coming to know through social media and blogging links.

As mentioned, I had received Antifragile first, but had only got started on the Prologue before Black Swan turned-up yesterday, so I switched to reading in published order. Just as well because the Prologue to Antifragile already inlcudes many references to Black Swans and the Black Swan Effect.

So, as per usual when reading and reviewing an anticipated book, I’m blogging an early review of initial impressions, so that any later conclusions and lessons learned (gutted and abstracted content) can be honestly judged as more than hindsight. I’m no more immune to cognitive biases than anyone else, so I prefer to be honest and state my prejudices up front.

Right from the first few pages – taking Black Swans (*) as a given already – I’m right with him in my own agenda:

“[This] philosophical-logical question into an empirical reality, […] that has obsessed me since childhood.”

“A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our [21st C] world […] Ever since we left the Pleistocene […] the effect of these Black Swans has been increasing. It started accelerating during the industrial revolution, as the world started getting more complicated, while ordinary events […] become increasingly inconsequential.”

That increasing complication is of course exaggerated by the degree and speed of information inter-connectivity too and, as he goes on to say later, increasingly recursive.

“Literally, just about everything of significance around [us] might qualify [as a Black Swan].”

“[Predictive, risk management business as intellectual frauds] exclude the possibility of the Black Swan.

“[Learning] with too much precision. […] Too practical and exceedingly focussed for [our] own safety.”

“We do not spontaneously learn that we don’t learn that we don’t learn. The problem lies in the structure of our minds: we don’t learn rules, just facts, and only facts. Metarules (such as the rule that we have a tendency to not learn rules) we don’t seem to be good at getting. We scorn the abstract; we scorn it with a passion,”

“Aggressive ignorance.”

And he is already telegraphing his anti-fragile thesis – ie not just being aware of and resilient to Black Swans in general, but being fore-armed with the antifragile capabilities to benefit from them – but I was already there in the previous post. Anyway enough for now, let’s finish with this one, and we’re only half-way through the 12 page Prologue:

“A new kind of ingratitude […]
a far more viscious kind of ingratitude:
the feeling of uselessness
on the part of the silent hero.”

Silent as in those that don’t fly planes into the WTC.

I can already see the ironies piling-up, as we aim for the meta-meta abstractions needed whilst inevitably arguing about specific technical detail. But I get it already. I’m driven by the same passion.


[(*) Note: Black Swans are fundamentally what’s known as “The Induction Problem” – the failure of generalised knowledge of the past to predict the future specifically or generally (coupled with increasingly catastrophic and chaotic potential outcomes in an ever more complex and recursively connected world). Ever since Aristotle formalised what we mean by induction, people have been pointing out the problem. Most famously for us anglophones, Hume elaborated on Bishop Berkley on the chances of the sun rising (in the east) tomorrow, but Taleb (and wikipedia) remind us that Sextus Empiricus (alas the empirical according to Taleb) as well as Al-Ghazali’s debate with Averroes had already thoroughly warned anyone who’d read them. (I notice Taleb, like Simon Blackburn, is a fan of Hume, his lifestyle more than the more formal philosophy for which he is more generally known).]

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