The Nassim Taleb thread


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NN Taleb has been mentioned several times on the forum and seems to be a favored thinker within our part of the internet. There's a couple of threads related to things he had written but not a general thread for him. I think he's been mentioned enough that there's sufficient warrant for a thread to them.

A lot of MSM has been focusing on Steve Bannon in the recent week. Politico did an article about this intellectual and literary influences and NN Taleb was mentioned as one of them. Taleb was interviewed and said he would "be on the first train to Washington" if he was invited for a visit.

Many political onlookers described Trump’s election as a “black swan” event: unexpected but enormously consequential. The term was popularized by Nassim Taleb, the best-selling author whose 2014 book Antifragile—which has been read and circulated by Bannon and his aides—reads like a user’s guide to the Trump insurgency.

It’s a broadside against big government, which Taleb faults for suppressing the randomness, volatility and stress that keep institutions and people healthy. “As with neurotically overprotective parents, those who are trying to help us are hurting us the most,” he writes. Taleb also offers a withering critique of global elites, whom he describes as a corrupt class of risk-averse insiders immune to the consequences of their actions: “We are witnessing the rise of a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureaucrats, bankers, Davos-attending members of the I.A.N.D (International Association of Name Droppers), and academics with too much power and no real downside and/or accountability. They game the system while citizens pay the price.”

It might as well have been the mission statement of the Trump campaign. Asked in a phone interview this week whether he’s had meetings with Bannon or his associates, Taleb said he could not comment. “Anything about private meetings would need to come from them,” he said, though he noted cryptically he’s had “coffee with friends.” He has been supportive of Trump but does not define himself as a supporter per se, though he said he would “be on the first train” to Washington were he invited to the White House.


Taleb has a wharton mba and a PhD in management science. but what is really interesting is he studies the intersection of statistics, mathematics, and human behavior. he studies what interested him, not what fell into neat categories. its where these concepts intersect that little had been researched.

another interesting thing about him is that he was educated outside the U.S. and grew up in Lebanon so he is less subject to U.S. propoganda

Taleb also is a no B.S. guy. He's candid with his opinions, and loves to out phonies and psuedo intellectuals. He's very pro trump because everyone against trump is a psuedo intellectual. Trump may not be an intellectual but at least his ideas make sense.

if you want to read some Taleb, start with Fooled by Randomness which is very easy book to read. Black Swan is more famous but more like a textbook.


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Hypno said:
if you want to read some Taleb, start with Fooled by Randomness which is very easy book to read. Black Swan is more famous but more like a textbook.

If there's only one Taleb book you read, it's got to be Antifragile in my opinion. That book is a real game-changer, and anybody here who hasn't read it really ought to. But Fooled by Randomness is definitely the shortest and easiest read if you don't have much time. Taleb's has definitely developed his ideas a lot since writing Fooled by Randomness, however.

Definitely one of the most original thinkers out there today.


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One of my favorites. He wrote an important paper on what he called the minority rule, which really doesn't get enough attention. Essentially his point is that it can be mathematically shown that if you have a small intransigent minority, it's preferences will overtime become a majority and the majority will further believe that it was their idea.

For example, why is all orange juice kosher when the population of people who actually keep kosher is less than 1% in the US. Or why most meat in the U.K. is halal.

This also demonstrates that even if a small fraction of Muslims are "extreme" that is sufficient for them to foist their ideas on the population at large.

Another more mathematical paper he wrote is on p values, which are often used as a measure of significance. He showed that to have the significance people actually want the p values must be a factor of 10 smaller than what is commonly used. Since I think this is basically impossible in the social sciences because of the nature of the measurements and data, statistically significant social science work does not exist.
Hard to pinpoint his political leanings, but he is definitely not a conservative let alone alt-right guy. In an interview he said that he was going vote for 3rd party candidate in the November election (probably Johnson) and from what I gain his antipathy for HRC is greater than his sympathy for Trump.

He said he likes Ralph Nader, because that is leftist politician who practices what he preaches as opposed to the DC establishment. At the same time, he seems to support Assad, the economic and political model of Switzerland and city states.

I like Taleb's writing and his way to look at the world is refreshing. A lot of it is bullshit, though. I thought he did rather poorly when attacking Steven Pinker, his advice on nutrition and lifting is often and his over-flated ego makes him sometimes painful to read.

But is he always amusing and thought-provoking, so props to him.


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Good interview with Taleb where he talks about the rebellion against "faux-experts" who have plenty of academic/intellectual credentials that matter very little when it comes effective decisions in the real world. He also talks about why Trump has appeal to so many voters and how Obama rather then fixing problems in the economy has merely just tapered over it.‘Trump-makes-sense-to-a-grocery-store-owner’/article17109351.ece

Oh, absolutely! The last crisis [2008] hasn’t ended yet because they just delayed it. [Barack] Obama is an actor. He looks good, he raises good children, he is respectable. But he didn’t fix the economic system, he put novocaine [local anaesthetic] in the system. He delayed the problem by working with the bankers whom he should have prosecuted. And now we have double the deficit, adjusted for GDP, to create six million jobs, with a massive debt and the system isn’t cured. We retained zero interest rates, and that hasn’t helped. Basically we shifted the problem from the private corporates to the government in the U.S. So, the system remains very fragile.

Trump never ran for archbishop, so you never saw anything in his behaviour that was saintly, and that was fine. Whereas Obama behaved like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was going to do good but people didn’t feel their lives were better. As I said, if it was a shopkeeper from Aleppo, or a grocery store owner in Mumbai, people would have liked them as much as Trump.

The intellectual class of no more than 2,00,000 people in the U.S. don’t represent everyone upset with Trump. The real problem is the ‘faux-expert problem’, one who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and assumes he knows what people think. An electrician doesn’t have that problem.


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not-a-pua said:
He also understands old dead languages. His IQ must be off the charts. Without being an autistic.

He's referred to the fedora-intellectual types (think your typical Reddit commentator that "Fucking Love Science" and love to lick Degrasse Tyson's chocolate salty balls) as "autistics" in the past. His constant attacks against "IYIs" and the so called "intellectual" class are aimed at these Ivory Tower thinkers that are so removed from every day life that they have no idea how most people actually think or behave, hence their autistic like behavior.

Thomas the Rhymer

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Does anyone here understand his math papers? I've looked at them but I don't know what's going on.

Apparently, all his philosophy and thought are derived from his mathematical formulas. His writings are basically just setting down the logical conclusions, in words, of his mathematical calculations.


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From the "Intellectual Yet Idiot" post:

"The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited."

"He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit."

"More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker."

"He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver"

"Not only did he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill."

"The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, election forecasting models, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right."

"But a much easier marker: he doesn’t even deadlift."



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Once again I find common concepts between the authors that this site recommends, though more out of synchronicity than anything else.

Taleb's concept of antifragility is in essence where something becomes more capable, robust, or resilient as a result of stressors, shocks, mistakes or failures.

This is basically the approach that Josh Waitzkin puts forward in his book The Art of Learning, which in turn is derived from a lot of decent sports psychology about the mental components of performance. Basically, most people are entity learners - they believe both skill and intellect are fixed across the lifespan. Thus when you have a gifted athlete or student who becomes accustomed to thinking they're good at something, then when that athlete/student runs into someone much stronger, it is a major blow to their ego and intellect. They are brittle. They are, in a word, fragile.

Contrast that with someone who believes that skill and intellect can be raised incrementally over time. They won't be as focused on big games, big tests, and won't be as crestfallen by a loss. Quite the opposite: consistent with the idea of antifragility, if they choose to view the loss as a learning opportunity, they'll be more inclined to analyse the reasons for their loss and build off them. Waitzkin probably never touched on the concept of antifragility before he wrote the book, but there's one line from the book that I think Taleb would probably approve of, in performance contexts: You should always come off a loss or an injury stronger than you were before the injury. That is, you become more capable, robust, and resilient because of mistakes. That is, you become antifragile.

I didn't really barge in to give an extended ad for Waitzkin's book, but I found it worth noting. Taleb describes antifragility: Waitzkin put it into practice in his competition life (and more generally in learning.)