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May 10, 2007

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable — by Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Here's a book that will improve your life — guaranteed or your money back.*

Long story short: Mr. Taleb has from time to time visited the Department of Defense to chat about his idiosyncratic view of the world.

Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns" very likely — in fact, based on my knowledge of Mr. Taleb's previous work, almost certainly — were born in the fertile brain of this philosopher prince of Amioun.

From "The Black Swan":

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones.

Note that the Black Swan comes from our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises, those unread books, because we take what we know a little too seriously.

Know how to rank beliefs not by according to their plausibility but by the harm they may cause.

Knowing that you cannot predict does not mean that you cannot benefit from unpredictability.

Maximize the serendipity around you.

Trial and error means trying a lot.

In fact, the reason I felt immediately at home in America is precisely because American culture encourages the process of failure, unlike the cultures of Europe and Asia where failure is met with stigma and embarrassment.

This idea that in order to make a decision you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the probability (which you can't know) is the central idea of uncertainty.

Full disclosure: I have never met nor spoken with Mr. Taleb. I have, however, carried on an occasional email correspondence with him for some years now. In fact, I am quite flattered to be among his very small, select group of friends noted as such on his website.


*As always, the ferrous-clad™ bookofjoe Guarantee®: if for any reason you are dissatisfied with your purchase — no matter where you bought it — simply return it to me for a no-questions-asked refund-in-full.

That's the way we do things here.

Same as it ever was.

Though I must say that in this particular instance I am tempted to forward your request to Mr. Taleb, whose bank balance I suspect exceeds mine.

FunFact — my favorite sentence (it's on page 131) in his book:

"I stood drinking excellent Riesling in the spontaneously formed English-speaking corner of the apartment, in the hope of getting to a state where I would be able to start speaking my brand of fake German."

May 10, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Good lord, Nassim Nicholas Taleb rules.

And I just can't wait to use the term, "retrospective predictability," in conversation - perhaps a July 4th barbecue would be just the place! :-)

Posted by: Russ | Jul 2, 2007 9:59:59 PM

NNT is really apart from others. I got here exactly through him, his site.
I had a small email exchange with NNT, having common acquaintances in US and NYC and common professionals passions.
I follow your blog since a while. idem sentire. Cioran as well as Nietsche , Hans Kung, , Mollino , Shiro Kuramata. Mahler, ça va sans dire. Silence. Adding nothing to nothing and get something.
Keep on.

Posted by: Fabrizio | May 10, 2007 7:11:32 PM

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