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"Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
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TheBulldozer Offline
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"Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1a...ce#c8zc0m7

Taleb has been discussed here and there in a number of threads, but I'm surprised he isn't given more thought around here. IMO he is the ultimate red-pill philosopher of our generation. A deadlifting, intermittent fasting, agaisnt the societal norm erudite. He would fit in VERY well around here.

His canon of writing has as much influence on my life as Tuthmosis' first date bang recipe, which is saying something.

His newest work, "Antifragile" makes so much sense that it sent shivers up my back as I was reading it. Here are a couple of quotes I highlighted along the way:

“Many, like the great Roman statesman Cato the Censor, looked at comfort, almost any form of comfort, as a road to waste.1 He did not like it when we had it too easy, as he worried about the weakening of the will. And the softening he feared was not just at the personal level: an entire society can fall ill. Consider that as I am writing these lines, we are living in a debt crisis. The world as a whole has never been richer, and it has never been more heavily in debt, living off borrowed money. The record shows that, for society, the richer we become, the harder it gets to live within our means. Abundance is harder for us to handle than scarcity.”

“Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.”

“You may never know what type of person someone is unless they are given opportunities to violate moral or ethical codes.”

“Nietzsche’s famous expression “what does not kill me makes me stronger” can be easily misinterpreted as meaning Mithridatization or hormesis. It may be one of these two phenomena, very possible, but it could as well mean “what did not kill me did not make me stronger, but spared me because I am stronger than others; but it killed others and the average population is now stronger because the weak are gone.” In other words, I passed an exit exam.”

“In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using exactly the same logic (the entrepreneur is still alive, though perhaps morally broken and socially stigmatized, particularly if he lives in Japan). For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner)—likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher, any more than there is a successful babbler, philosophaster, commentator, consultant, lobbyist, or business school professor who does not take personal risks. (Sorry.)”
03-21-2013 05:15 PM
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
We had a great profile of tim last december [or maybe not hehe]


This Is Not a Profile of Nassim Taleb
December 17, 2012
By Tom Bartlett

I had lunch with Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It didn't go well.

We met at a French cafe in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, not far from Columbia University. It was a meeting more than a year in the making. I first e-mailed him when his book of aphorisms, The Bed of Procrustes, was published to see if he might submit to an interview. This, I realized, was a long shot. Taleb, best known as the author of The Black Swan, a book about how we underestimate the improbable, isn't much for interviews and regards most journalists as fools and phonies, right alongside professional academics and bureaucrats. I didn't expect to hear back.

Lo and behold, he agreed to an interview. Before we could hash out the details, though, Carlin Romano wrote a review of The Bed of Procrustes for The Chronicle. The headline was "The Bed of Crusty," so right away it didn't sound favorable. It wasn't. Romano dismissed Taleb as a "would-be aphorist with a major tin ear." I explained to Taleb that, while Romano and I write for the same publication, we had never met and I didn't know about the review in advance. He was not mollified and backed out, with apologies. Who could blame him?

Then, last summer, I learned that he had a new book coming out. Not a slim volume of maxims and observations but rather a meaty treatise. I e-mailed him again, and we spoke on the phone. He seemed excited about the possibility of an article, giddy even, perhaps because he thought it would stick it to the academics he regards with contempt. In previous books, he told me, he had held back, pulled a punch or two. Not this time. If they wanted to come at him with lawyers and pitchforks, so be it. Taleb sent me a PDF of the manuscript, titled Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, which he hadn't quite completed. It had yet to be edited, and he was still working on the conclusion.

I read it. Afterward, I sent him an e-mail, calling the book "engaging and stimulating throughout." Say what you want about Taleb's writing—and Romano is not the only critic—he doesn't produce antiseptic prose, and there's something fun about his surly, middle-finger-to-the-experts attitude. And the digressions! One moment he's telling you why convexity leads to philostochasticity and the next he's explaining why he doesn't eat papayas. For the record, he avoids all fruits without a Greek or Hebrew name because his ancestors would not have eaten them. And he drinks only beverages that are at least a thousand years old. Don't offer the man an orange Shasta.

Taleb, now in his early 50s, lives his philosophy and believes everyone else should too. You must have "skin in the game," as he puts it repeatedly. He uses that phrase, by my count, 28 times in Antifragile, and it's central to his worldview and integral to his critique of the "fragilista": the sucker who sits on the sidelines, who doesn't know what he thinks he knows, who lacks the pluck to risk his own fortune and reputation. Unlike Taleb. "I have only written, in every line I have composed in my professional life, about things I have done, and the risks I have recommended that others take or avoid were risks I have been taking or avoiding myself," he writes. "I will be the first hurt if I am wrong."

Here's an example. Taleb made a lot of money when the housing bubble burst in 2008. Common wisdom had it that housing prices go up, because they had always gone up. Taleb told me it was obvious to him that executives at Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage company, didn't understand the concept of "fat tails," that is, they didn't understand the extreme risks of the investments they held. In retrospect that's obvious, but it was not a widely held opinion back then. The handful who bet on the unthinkable made a killing, including Taleb.

He asked me how much I thought he made during the crisis.

"I don't know," I said.

"Guess."

"Five million?"

He laughed. "Try times 10," he said.

Later, he made a reference to $30-million, so I'm unsure of the exact figure, not that it matters: Taleb was already wealthy. He had made his first millions on Wall Street by age 27. "I became successful because I knew what I learned in school about probability was bullshit," he said. "That's when my war with academia started."

Taleb is in the university but not of it. He spent the first couple decades of his career as a derivatives trader before turning to scholarship and essay writing in his mid-40s. Taleb is a professor of risk engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Despite his wall of degrees (he has an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and a doctorate from the University of Paris), he believes that universities propagate "touristification," another term he coined, a phenomenon that occurs when what should be an exciting exploration turns into a programmatic exercise. It's better to be an adventurer than a tourist. Education isn't the only result of this modern sin; gym machines and "the electronic calendar" fall short as well.

Taleb has a low opinion of most professors. He titles one section of the new book "The Charlatan, the Academic, and the Showman." In a chart, Taleb divides professions into three categories: fragile, robust, and antifragile. It's bad to be fragile, better to be robust, best to be antifragile. Artists and writers are antifragile. Postal employees and truck drivers are robust. Academics, bureaucrats, and the pope are fragile. Benedict, beware.

"I don't rely on external confirmation, and I have a happy life."

Most of Taleb's ire is directed at business schools, specifically the one at Harvard. At Harvard they "lecture birds to fly," then arrogantly claim credit when the fledglings become airborne. He rails against the "Soviet-Harvard delusion," linking an institution that's graduated thousands with a state that killed millions. What is the delusion, exactly? It is a belief in a top-down system that tries to control and protect, purportedly for mankind's benefit, thereby eliminating the natural stressors and necessary randomness that create strength and encourage enterprise. Dekulakization and course catalogs are symptoms of the same ailment.

Taleb has no patience for so-called structured learning. "Only the autodidacts are free," he writes in the book. He pursued his real education in his spare time, doing only as much as was required to pass his courses. At 13, he set himself a goal of reading for 30 to 60 hours a week, pretty much a full-time job. To prove that he hit the books with enthusiasm, Taleb ticks off the names of more than 30 great writers he has read. We don't learn much about what he gleaned from this ardent page-turning or which authors influenced his own style. He does give the following assessment of the work of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig: "didn't like."

Actually, Antifragile feels like a compendium of people and things Taleb doesn't like. He is, for instance, annoyed by editors who "overedit," when what they should really do is hunt for typos; unctuous, fawning travel assistants; "bourgeois bohemian bonus earners"; meetings of any kind; appointments of any kind; doctors; Paul Krugman; Thomas Friedman; nerds; bureaucrats; air conditioning; television; soccer moms; smooth surfaces; Harvard Business School; business schools in general; bankers at the Federal Reserve; bankers in general; economists; sissies; fakes; "bureaucrato-journalistic" talk; Robert Rubin; Google News; marketing; neckties; "the inexorable disloyalty of Mother Nature"; regular shoes.

The social sciences make the list, too. He contrasts them with "smart" sciences, like physics. He mocks social scientists as mired in "petty obsessions, envy, and icy-cold hatreds," contrasting the small-mindedness of academe with the joie de vivre of the business world. "My experience is that money and transactions purify relations," he writes. "Ideas and abstract matters like 'recognition' and 'credit' warp them, creating an atmosphere of perpetual rivalry." In our interview, he went even further, saying he would "shut down" the social sciences. "Those guys are living in their own world," he said. "That is the truth. You don't need them."

I pointed out that he praises some psychologists, like Daniel Kahneman, and regularly refers to psychological concepts in Antifragile. Would he padlock the psych labs, too? No, he told me. "Psychology is more empirical," he clarified. Sociologists, on the other hand, would presumably be better off delivering mail.

He saves his iciest hate for economists. Taleb has no use for the "charlatanic" field, comparing economic research to medieval medicine. Economists are, in his estimation, weak, ignorant, fearful, and generally pathetic. At one point he fantasizes about beating up an economist in public.

Taleb singles out his least-favorite economists, including Robert C. Merton, a professor of finance at MIT, formerly of Harvard, and Myron Scholes, a professor emeritus of finance at Stanford, who jointly received the Nobel Prize in 1997 for their model of valuing derivatives that's designed to hedge against risk. Merton is "serious, mechanistic, boring," according to Taleb, and the two used "fictional mathematics" in their research. He calls this "unsettling" in a footnote, though in the earlier draft he sent me he used a harsher word. I'd wager that punch may have been pulled by Random House's legal department. Merton didn't return my messages, and Scholes politely declined to comment.

Gary Pisano, however, was willing to talk. Pisano, a professor of business administration at Harvard, is singled out in the book for his "dangerous" thinking; Taleb hammers him for supposedly misunderstanding the market for biotechnology. Pisano told me Taleb didn't know what he was talking about. "His argument is about these rare events that generate huge returns," he said. "That doesn't happen in biotech." The specifics of that debate aside, Pisano shrugged off the criticism and said he had enjoyed Taleb's work in the past: "I think he writes some very interesting and provocative things, but I think it gets a little lost in the manner."

The idea that Taleb's insights are sometimes overwhelmed by his belligerence is a longstanding criticism. Articles published in the American Statistician soon after The Black Swan appeared chastised him for his alleged ignorance of "entire subfields of statistics," committing mathematical errors, and lobbing "gratuitous insults" at statisticians. The opprobrium was mixed with gratitude that, whatever his faults, Taleb had managed to shine a bright light on an arcane topic. Still, you got the sense that statisticians were smarting. Taleb's fans—and there are many of them—see his abrasiveness as proof that he doesn't tolerate nonsense. They show up in droves to hear him speak, leave rapturous reviews on Amazon, and praise his television appearances. One YouTube commenter put it succinctly: "He's so awesome."

While Taleb dislikes the university system and doesn't respect career academics, he's not against education per se. Studying mathematics is fine for its own sake. And it's worthwhile to read the classics. But modern scholarship is bewitched by novel findings—what Taleb dubs "neomania"—and researchers are driven by their need to publish, perverting their efforts and tainting the outcome. "How can knowledge be something you do for professional advancement?" he asked. But, you might counter, Taleb is a professor at a university who publishes in journals. It would be one thing if he were blogging from a cabin somewhere, but isn't he part of the problem he's identified?

Ah, but he doesn't publish papers to advance his career. They are technical addenda to his popular books. "I ban myself from publishing anything outside of these footnotes," he writes in Antifragile. Because of his success, he is not beholden to deans and committees or anyone else, for that matter. "You cannot rely on external confirmation and have a happy life," he told me. "I don't rely on external confirmation, and I have a happy life."

I wanted to know more about that happy life, which is why I flew to New York to meet Taleb. When he arrived at lunch, he was wearing a plain black shirt, black shorts, and sandals of some kind (not regular shoes, which, as stated earlier, he opposes). He writes in Antifragile that readers, upon meeting him, "have a rough time dealing with an intellectual who has the appearance of a bodyguard." I wouldn't have guessed bodyguard, though he is thicker—thanks to a newfound love of weightlifting—than he appeared in publicity shots for The Black Swan, published in 2007. Taleb has less hair these days, and more of it is gray. He speaks rapidly and conspiratorially, punctuating his remarks with "You see?"—though the way he says it is more imperative than interrogative. You will see.

We sat outside, where it was difficult to hear over the din from the street and the chatter of fellow diners. The waiter screwed up his order. Taleb seemed generally agitated and uncomfortable. That was understandable, I thought: He's been in his head, writing his opus, the book he believes is more significant than his big best seller, and then somebody starts poking at him before it's been delivered to the printer. That could put a person on edge. The double espresso he knocked back didn't help either.

After we ate, Taleb asked if I wanted to accompany him to a nearby bookstore. I said sure. When we arrived, he turned to me and asserted that any article I wrote should be in the form of a question-and-answer column. I bumbled a response, telling him that's not what I had in mind (indeed, in an e-mail, I had used the word "profile" twice). This was unacceptable to him. "Go write fiction then!" he exclaimed. "I haven't given you enough for a profile anyway!" We parted on bad terms and exchanged a few curt e-mails the next day. A planned follow-up—we were going to rendezvous at a restaurant in his neighborhood—didn't happen.

Taleb writes about storming out of meetings with publishers and interviews with radio stations. That usually happens when he feels he's been insulted. The publisher suggests he take speaking lessons or the radio host tells him his answer is too complicated. Perhaps I accidentally insulted him or didn't sufficiently appreciate his ideas. Or maybe my questions about his weightlifting and dietary habits were too intrusive. I don't know what set him off. But considering his history, maybe I should have seen it coming.

Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle.
03-21-2013 06:17 PM
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
Taleb is a gangsta. Ever the contrarian.
03-21-2013 06:36 PM
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Rah Offline
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
I just spontaneously bought Black Swan from a used bookstore, I had no idea who the author was. The man sounds like he has something to say -- definitely going to move it up to the top of my reading list.
03-21-2013 07:37 PM
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TheBulldozer Offline
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
(03-21-2013 07:37 PM)Rah Wrote:  I just spontaneously bought Black Swan from a used bookstore, I had no idea who the author was. The man sounds like he has something to say -- definitely going to move it up to the top of my reading list.

Go read Antifragile right after. Black Swan is the theory behind the Antifragile in many ways.

One of his more interesting observations is that Saudi Arabia is a very fragile state, despite their Antifragile appearance. In short, he argues that Saudi Arabia appears antifragile, or robust at worst because of their solidarity amongst a region of crumbling states, however they are the most fragile of them all because of their extreme suppression, ultimate top-down ruling hierarchy and global influence. One crack to them, and they as well as everything around them explodes.

This is a by a man who was an oracle to the housing and bank crisis of 2008, going as far to even accurately name what companies would go under. As the article above states, he made eight figures by putting his money behind his mouth in '08.
(This post was last modified: 03-21-2013 07:50 PM by TheBulldozer.)
03-21-2013 07:49 PM
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bojangles Offline
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
this is really interesting, thanks for bringing this lad up.

Don't forget to check out my latest post on Return of Kings - 6 Things Indian Guys Need To Understand About Game

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03-22-2013 05:58 AM
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
My father gave me The Black Swan when I was 19. Completely changed my worldview.

Taleb is an amazing guy.
03-22-2013 07:01 AM
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
Sounds like a boss who grabs life by the balls and squeezes until he gets him some lemons.
03-22-2013 08:55 AM
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Divorco Offline
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
I know him and some of his committee. I agree with some of his points. He can be dismissive and abrasive. Some of writing is downright embarrassing. For example:

(03-21-2013 06:17 PM)DiogoFC Wrote:  One moment he's telling you why convexity leads to philostochasticity and the next he's explaining why he doesn't eat papayas.

Taleb is a professor of risk engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University ... [with] a doctorate from the University of Paris)

He has an unpaid appointment outside the famous b-school.

Although he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute, he self-funds his research and operates in the manner of independent scholars.
http://fooledbyrandomness.com/CV.htm

He has been out of the game for long periods, presumably because of past failures. We have no corroboration for how much money he made.

He is not a quant. He became famous when his book "Black Swan" used literary flair to communicate basic probability. He has probably levered that to get backers.

Taleb's wealth and fame stem from the "Black Swan" book and consequent promotion. They do not come from his investment success or academic ideas. His CV shows he is a one-trick pony, publishing the idea of fat tails in third-rate/non-peer-reviewed journals.
03-22-2013 09:44 AM
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trey Offline
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
To anyone reading this thread and on the fence, go read the Black Swan right now. Then Antifragile. If so you can skip Fooled by Randomness. Bed of Procrustes is a lot of wisdom packed into not many pages.

It's not just about fat tails.
03-22-2013 10:37 AM
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06-08-2013 11:02 AM
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
Another area where he's raising good awareness is Paleo eating/lifestyle. I believe Tim Ferriss announced a group that included both of them, and Taleb also mentions Loren Cordain.

For those of you that use FB, I would encourage following him. He is constantly posting, often you get previews of future works as well as different papers and aphorisms. He also regularly responds to comments of people following him or "likes" posts that he agrees with, so it can be more interactive.
06-08-2013 08:02 PM
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RE: "Black Swan" Author Nassim Taleb Reddit Chat
(06-08-2013 08:02 PM)LeBeau Wrote:  For those of you that use FB, I would encourage following him. He is constantly posting, often you get previews of future works as well as different papers and aphorisms. He also regularly responds to comments of people following him or "likes" posts that he agrees with, so it can be more interactive.

Agreed. He just dropped this gem today:

"Journalists are responsible for changing the culture of risk taking by pointing at "mistakes" by others, seen retrospectively, in both business and science: "Einstein's Big Mistake", "Joe Smith's Failure", etc. Academic halfmen are s**t scared of someone pointing at a "mistake" they made somewhere and people justifiably for all they are selling is reputation not results (see how scared Pinker is of my disclosure of the flaws in his statistical claims). Regular people are starting to behave like academic halfmen. Yet I can count that I made 600,000 trading "mistakes" during my active business life and if I have a regret, it is that I didn't make more.
In business, if you survived a mistake, it was not a mistake.
Which brings me to the fundamental concept of a heuristic: it is not judged by "right" or "wrong", but ONLY at the costs of being wrong."
06-11-2013 08:49 AM
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