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Aphorisms

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  • 1. Nassim Nicholas Taleb Poetic & Philosophical Aphorisms Work in Progress 2010 TABLE LIFE, HATE, LOVE, ETC. 2
 SUCCESS, INSUCCESS, HAPPINESS, AND STOICISM 7
 AGING 9
 THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS 10
 THE UNIVERSAL AND THE PARTICULAR 13
 FOOLED BY RANDOMNESS 14
 (RE)BECOMING FREE 15
 AESTHETICS 18
 ETHICS 19
 EPISTEMOLOGY 21
 THE GENERALIZED SUCKER PROBLEM 22
 ROBUSTNESS AND FRAGILITY 24
 THE LUDIC FALLACY AND ITS EXTENSIONS 25
 THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE 26

  • 2. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 2 DEALING WITH THE FUTURE 27
 BEING A PHILOSOPHER AND MANAGING TO REMAIN ONE 28
 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND OTHER VERY VULGAR SUBJECTS 29
 Life, Hate, Love, etc. 1. The opposite of success isn't failure, it is name dropping. 2. You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others. 3. Badmouthing is the only genuine expression of admiration. 4. They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status --but rarely for your wisdom
  • 3. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 3 5. Most of what they call humility is successfully disguised arrogance. 6. If you want people to read a book, tell them it is overrated. 7. The mark of a mediocre mind is the subdued and passive reaction in front of the truly exceptional. 8. Hatred is love with a typo somewhere in the computer code, correctable but very hard to find. 9. I wonder whether a bitter enemy would be jealous if he discovered that I hated someone else. 10. You will get the most attention from those who hate you. No friend, no admirer, and no partner will flatter you with equal curiosity. 11. True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing. 12. Social media are antisocial, health foods are empirically unhealthy, knowledge workers are ignorant, & social sciences aren't scientific. 13. The strangest thing about this love business is that the more intensely enthralled two being are with each other the harder they will try to hurt each other later on. They seem to care about the smallest wound now in the other but they will be inflicting the most scathing one later. Love is not for philosophers.
  • 4. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 4 14. The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind's flaws, biases, contradictions & irrationality -- without exploiting them for fun and profit. 15. The test of whether you really liked a book is if you reread it (and how many times); the test of whether you really liked someone's company is if you are ready to meet him again and again --the rest is spin, namedropping, or that variety of sentiment now called self- esteem. 16. We ask "why is he rich (or poor)?" not "why isn't he richer (poorer)?";"why is the crisis so deep?" not "why isn't it deeper?". 17. When someone starts a sentence with "simply", you should expect to hear something very complicated. 18. The most depressing aspect of the lives of the couples you watch surreptitiously arguing in restaurants is that they are almost always unaware of the true subject of argument. 19. Nothing is more permanent than "temporary" arrangements, deficits, truces, and relationships; and nothing is more temporary than "permanent" ones. 20. I attended a symposium, event named after a 4th Century (BC) Athenian drinking party in which nonnerds talked about love; alas, there was no drinking but, mercifully, nobody talked about love. 21. The most painful moments are not those we spend with uninteresting people; it is those spent with uninteresting people trying hard to be interesting. 22. It is as difficult to change someone's opinions as it is to change his tastes.
  • 5. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 5 23. The opposite of enemy is a dull life. 24. Hatred is much harder to fake than love. You hear of fake love; never of fake hate. 25. To value a person, consider the difference between how impressive he (she) was at the first encounter and the most recent one. 26. Some reticent people use silence to conceal their intelligence; but most do so to hide the lack of it. 27. Usually, what we call "good listener" is someone with skillfully polished indifference. 28. The tragedy of virtue is that the more boring, unoriginal, and sermonizing the proverb/tweet, the harder it is to implement. 29. It is the appearance of inconsistency, and not its absence, that makes people attractive. 30. This, I suspect, was the reason they put Socrates to death. There is something terribly unattractive about thinking with too much clarity. Nobody wants to his reasoning to become perfectly transparent --not to others, not to himself. 31. It is easier to remember your emails that were not answered than emails you did not answer 32. People reserve standard compliments to those who do not threaten their pride; the others they praise by calling "arrogant"
  • 6. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 6 33. For company, you tend to prefer those who find you interesting over those you find interesting. 34. Unrequited hate is vastly more diminishing for the self than unrequited love. You can't react by demonizing. 35. I may forgive someone for harming me; I can't possibly forgive anyone for boring me. 36. How superb to become wise without being boring; how sad to be boring without being wise . [looking at Bernanke]. 37. It is as difficult to avoid bugging others with advice on how to exercise and other health matters as it is to stick to an exercise schedule. 38. Half of what we call arrogant is arrogant; the other half is conviction and beliefs. 39. When a woman says about a man that he is intelligent, she means handsome; when a man says about a woman that she is dumb, he means attractive.
  • 7. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 7 40. It is only by accident that what ordinary people say they will do corresponds to what they will actually do. 41. Most of the unhappiness in the modern world is the injustice that, in the past, only some of the males, but all the females, were able to procreate. Equality was made for females, not males. Success, Insuccess, Happiness, and Stoicism 42. Success is becoming in middle adulthood what you dreamed to be in late childhood. The rest comes from loss of control. 43. You are rich if, and only if, money you refuse tastes better than money you accept. 44. Success is when you switch from the camp of the hating to the camp of the hated.
  • 8. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 8 45. To see if you like where you are, without the chains of dependence, check if you are as happy returning as you were leaving. This also applies to work, relationships, and many things. 46. The difference between love and happiness is that those who talk about love tend to be in love; but those who talk about happiness tend to be not happy. 47. I have been the luckiest man in the world in my selection of enemies. 48. Money earned speculating against the crowd and the common man does not feel as sordid and vulgar as money coming from other forms of commerce, and not as lowly as money coming from employment. It is as if it came entirely from the purest philosophical insights. 49. It is much harder to be a Stoic when wealthy, powerful, and respected than when destitute, miserable, and lonely. 50. Ordinary men regret their words more than their silence; finer men regret their silence more than their words. 51. A good foe is far more loyal, far more predictable, and, to the clever, far more useful than any admirer 52. Modernity: We created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur. 53. You can tell how uninteresting a person is by asking him who he finds interesting.
  • 9. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 9 54. Most people are made for insuccess; they lose their charm and become unbearable when they succeed. 55. The two most celebrated acts of courage in history aren't Homeric fighters, but two Eastern Mediterraneans who died, even sought death, for their ideas. 56. If existence were about happiness, more would accept to be "happy imbeciles". 57. I wonder if anyone measured the time it takes, at a party, before a mildly successful stranger who went to Harvard makes others aware of it. Aging 58. The only objective definition of aging is when a person starts to talk about aging. 59. Decline starts with the replacement of dreams with memories, reverses with the replacement of dreams with other dreams, and ends with the replacement of memories with other memories. 60. Since Cato, a certain sign of aging has been when one starts blaming the new generation for "shallowness" and praising the previous one for its "values" 61. Pomponius Atticus, severely ill, tried, the Stoic way, to take his own life. Having chosen starvation, he was cured of his illness.
  • 10. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 10 62. I read nothing from the past 300 years; I drink nothing from the past 4000 years (just wine and water); but I talk to no ordinary man over 40. A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of 30. 63. I never understood why they wrote the obituaries of bureaucrats after their death. 64. Some pursuits are much duller from the inside than outside; even piracy can be terribly uninteresting. Unless you are good at detecting dullness you will be trapped for life. The Republic of Letters 65. Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing. 66. Most people write so they can remember things; I write to forget. 67. Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but, to the nonsucker, not exactly the same thing. 68. What they call philosophy, I call literature; what they call literature I call journalism; what they call journalism I call gossip, and what they call gossip I call voyeurism.
  • 11. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 11 69. Writers are remembered for their best work, politicians for their worst mistakes; and businessmen are almost never remembered. 70. Charm lies in the unsaid, the unwritten, and the undisplayed. It takes mastery to control silence. 71. No author should be considered as having failed until he starts teaching others about writing. 72. Hard science gives sensational results, with a horribly boring process; philosophy gives boring results with a sensational process; real literature gives sensational results with a sensational process; and economics gives boring results with a boring process. 73. An aphorism is the poetry of ideas. 74. The imagination of the genius vastly surpasses his intellect; the intellect of the academic vastly surpasses his imagination 75. A maxim allows me to have the last word without even starting a conversation. 76. A good maxim should 1) surprise you, 2) be true (counter- intuitively true), and 3) be either symmetric (one assertion, one negation) or rhythmic. 77. Just as there are authors who enjoy "having written" and others who enjoy writing, there are books you enjoy reading and others you enjoy having read. 78. Giving business readers my book is like giving vintage Bordeaux to drinkers of Diet Coke and listening to their comments about it.
  • 12. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 12 79. A genius is someone with flaws harder to imitate than his qualities. 80. With regular books, I read the text and skip the footnotes; with those written by academics I read the footnotes and skip the text, and with business books I skip both the text and the footnotes. 81. "Business books": a category invented by bookstores for writings that have no depth, no style, no empirical rigor, and no linguistic sophistication. 82. I wish to say some day about someone "Voilà un homme!" as Napoleon said upon meeting Goethe: a mixture of passion, intellect, and elegance. 83. Just like poets and artists, bureaucrats are born, not made; it takes normal humans extraordinary effort to keep attention on such boring tasks. 84. The costs of specialization: Architects build to impress other architects; models are thin to impress other models; academics to impress other academics; filmmakers to impress other filmmakers, painters to impress art dealers; but authors who write to impress book editors tend to fail. 85. I aim to never answer critics, just plan to stay in print as long as possible --insure that I will be on the shelves long after these critics are dead. 86. I can predict when someone is about to plagiarize me, and poorly so, when they claim that Taleb "popularized" the theory of Black Swan events. 87. Journalism is what disappears a day after it is printed; electronic journalism is what dies even before it is posted; literature aims to never go out of print.
  • 13. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 13 88. You are as alive as the ratio of clichés in your writing. 89. BusinessBookReaders with my prose are like deaf persons in a Puccini opera: they may like a thing or two while wondering "what's the point?" 90. Businessmen hire people to write books for them; I discovered that they also hire people to read books for them (with abstracts) The Universal and the Particular 91. Common minds find similarities in stories (and situations), finer minds detect differences. 92. There is nothing deemed harmful (in general) that cannot be beneficial in some particular instances, and nothing deemed beneficial that cannot harm you in some circumstances. Universals are weaker under complexity. 93. We unwittingly amplify commonalities with friends, dissimilarities with strangers, and contrasts with enemies.
  • 14. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 14 Fooled by Randomness 94. Never rid anyone of an illusion unless you can replace it in his mind with another illusion. But don't work too hard on it; the replacement illusion does not even have to be more convincing than the initial one. 95. Corollary to Moore's laws: every ten years, collective wisdom degrades by half. 96. The tragedy of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits. 97. The fool views himself more unique, and others more generic; the wise views himself more generic and others more unique 98. The sucker's trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don't know, rather than the reverse. 99. Medieval man was a cog in a wheel he did not understand; modern man is a cog in a more complicated system he thinks he understands. 100. The role of the media is best seen in the journey from Cato the elder to Sarah Palin. Do some extrapolation if you want to be scared. 101. Using, as excuse, others' failure of common sense is in itself a failure of common sense. 102. Before checking the news today, check how much the 400-700 hours of nongossip media exposure in 2007 helped you make sense of 2008, etc.
  • 15. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 15 103. Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way around. Comment: The biggest error since Socrates has been to believe that lack of clarity is the source of all our ills, not the result of them. 104. Finer men tolerate others' small inconsistencies though not the large ones; lesser men tolerate others' large inconsistencies though not small ones (Re)Becoming Free 105. The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. 106. I wonder if a lion (or a cannibal) would pay a high premium for free-range humans. 107. Someone who says "I am busy" is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you. 108. The difference between slaves (in Roman and Ottoman days) and today's employees is that slaves did not need to flatter their boss.
  • 16. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 16 109. You have a real life if & only if you do not compete with anyone in any of your pursuits. 110. You will be civilized on the day when you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt. 111. I never see the world with more clarity than when I misplace my eyeglasses. 112. You have a real life when most of what you fear has the titillating prospect of adventure. 113. If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead -the more precision, the more dead you are. 114. There is no intermediate state between ice and water but there one is between life and death: employment. 115. Only in recent history has "working hard" signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse and, mostly, sprezzatura. 116. Their idea of the sabbatical is to work six days and rest for one; my idea of the sabbatical is to work for (part of) a day and rest for six. 117. What they call play (gym, travel, sports) look like work; what I call work (effortless daydreaming) looks like play. They lose freedom trying harder; the harder they try, the more captive they become. 118. In nature we never repeat the same motion. In captivity (office, gym, commute, sports), life is just repetitive stress injury. No randomness.
  • 17. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 17 119. Technology's double punishment is to make us both age prematurely and live longer. 120. Most modern technologies are deferred punishment. 121. We are better at (involuntarily) doing out of the box than (voluntarily) thinking out of the box. Thinking is largely ornamental, for show-off, ex post justification, or for ego-propping narratives. 122. We are hunters; we are only truly alive in these moments when we improvise; no schedule, just small surprises and stimuli from environment. 123. For everything, I use my feeling of boredom in place of a clock, as a biological wristwatch, though under constraints of politeness. 124. Competitive athletes are closer to animals than men; though never as fast as a cheetah or as strong as an ox.
  • 18. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 18 Aesthetics 125. The genius of Mandelbrot lies in showing that we can achieve aesthetic clarity without the cost of smoothness. 126. Beauty is enhanced by a touch of imperfection. 127. It is a great feat to reach simplicity without recourse to smoothness. 128. Almutanabbi boasted that he was the greatest poet; but he did so using the greatest poetry. 129. Wit seduces by signaling intelligence without nerdiness. 130. In classical renderings of prominent figures, males are lean & females are plump; in modern photographs, the opposite.
  • 19. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 19 Ethics 131. You can only convince those persons who think they can benefit from being convinced. 132. I trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down. (From a flâneur who reads in bed). 133. Don't trust a man on a salary -except if it is minimum wage. Those on bondage and βάναυσοι would do anything to "feed a family". 134. I'd rather be a janitor in a philosophy department than chaired professor at the Harvard Business School; better be a flâneur in New York than a hotshot at Davos 135. Ethical man accords his profession to his beliefs, instead of according his beliefs to his profession. Rarer and rarer since middle ages. 136. I trust everyone except those who tell me they are trustworthy. 137. People often need to suspend their self-promotion, and have someone in their lives they do not need to impress. This explains dog ownership. 138. I wonder if those who advocate generosity for its rewards notice the inconsistency, or if what they call generosity is an investment strategy. (Comment: A generous act is precisely what should aim at no reward, neither financial nor social nor emotional; deontic not utilitarian. There is nothing wrong with "generous" acts with "warm glow" or salvation; these are not to be linguistically conflated with deontic actions)
  • 20. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 20 139. I wonder if crooks can conceive that honest people can be shrewder than them. 140. Pure generosity is when you help the ingrate. Every other form is self-serving , [Kantian ethics] 141. In Proust there is a character, Morel, who demonizes Nissim Bertrand, a Jew who lent him money; he becomes anti-Semitic just so he could escape the feeling of gratitude. 142. Promising someone good luck as return for good deeds sounds like a bribe; perhaps the remnant of archaic, pre-deontic pre-classical morality. 143. Greatness starts with the replacement of hatred with disdain 144. The difference between magnificence & arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.
  • 21. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 21 Epistemology 145. My problem of knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologists than books on birds written by birds and books on ornithologists written by birds. 146. Since Plato Western thought has focused on the notions of True- False; as commendable as it was, it is high time to shift the concern to Robust-Fragile, and social epistemology to Sucker-Nonsucker. 147. Knowledge is subtractive, not additive; what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do). 148. Substractive epistemology: the sucker thinks Truth is search for knowledge; the nonsucker knows Truth is search for ignorance. 149. Corollary: The best way to spot a charlatan: someone who tells you what to do, instead of what NOT to do. (Stockbrokers, Consultants...) 150. Happiness; we don't know what it means, nor how to reach it; but we know extremely well how to avoid unhappiness. 151. Hard science gives sensational results, with a horribly boring process; philosophy gives boring results with a sensational process; but literature gives sensational results with a sensational process. 152. Platonic minds expect life to be like film, with defined endings. APlatonic ones expect film to be life and, except for death, distrust all ending.
  • 22. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 22 The Generalized Sucker Problem 153. In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it. 154. Education makes the wise slightly wiser; but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous. 155. It seems that it is the most unsuccessful people who give the most advice, particularly for writing and financial matters. 156. Rumors are only valuable when they are denied.
  • 23. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 23 157. There are two types of people; those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same. 158. You are guaranteed a repetition when you hear the declaration "never again". 159. People usually apologize so they can do it again. 160. Those who do not think that employment is systemic slavery are either blind or employed. 161. The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free. (Generalized Sucker Problem). 162. Mathematics is to knowledge what an artificial hand is to the real one. Some frauds, like Robert C. Merton, amputate to replace. 163. Mediocre men tend to be outraged by small insults, but passive, subdued, and silent in front of very large ones We gloss over great financial crimes (bankers), great cases of incompetence (Bernanke and the economics establishment)... 164. It is easier to disguise ignorance than knowledge.
  • 24. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 24 Robustness and Fragility 165. You are only secure if you can lose your fortune without the additional worse insult of having to become humble. (My great-great-great-grandfather's rule). 166. They have a hard time accepting my idea that the only robust society is the imbecile proof society. I call it more politely epistemocracy. 167. Academics are only useful when they try to be useless, (say, as in mathematics and philosophy); and dangerous when they try to be useful. 168. For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error. 169. The best test of robustness to reputational damage is your emotional state (fear, joy, boredom) when you get an email from a journalist. 170. One should first pick a destination for which one has a good map, instead of travel first then use “the best” map, "because there is nothing else".
  • 25. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 25 The Ludic Fallacy and Its Extensions 171. Just as smooth surfaces, competitive sports, and specialized work fossilize the mind and body, competitive academia fossilizes the soul. 172. They agree that chess training only improves chess skills, but disagree that classroom training (almost) only improves classroom skills. 173. Upon arriving to the hotel the fellow had a porter carry his luggage; I later saw him lifting weights in the gym. 174. Technology is the unrelenting mollification of man, a self- inflicted injury. 175. Compliance with the straightjacket of narrow (Aristotelian) logic and avoidance of fatal inconsistencies are not the same thing. 176. Real mathematicians understand completeness; real philosophers understand incompleteness; the rest don't really understand anything. 177. Sadly, Obama is talking and dreaming about going to the Moon and Mars (these belong to the linear domain) when we know nothing about the complex (volcanoes, economics, climate, etc). Space builds hubris. (How? errors in space program are Gaussian; errors in fields that matter are Black-Gray-Swannish; governments have exhausted the Gaussian domains).Sorry.
  • 26. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 26 The Sacred and the Profane 178. You cannot express the holy in terms made for the profane; but you can discuss the profane in terms made for the holy. 179. Atheism/materialism means treating the dead as if they were unborn. I won't. By respecting the sacred you reinvent religion. 180. If you can't detect (w/out understanding) the difference between sacred and profane you'll never know what religion means. Same with art . 181. People used to wear ordinary clothes weekdays, and formal attire on Sunday. Today it is the exact reverse. 182. I now take a hot bath after reading emails from businessmen or journalists; I then feel purified from the profane until the next email. 183. In 2500 years, no human came with the brilliance, depth, elegance, wit, and imagination matching Plato to displace him and protect us from that Platonic legacy. 184. The book is the only medium left that hasn't been corrupted by the profane: everything else on your eyelids manipulates you with an ad. Comment: after a long media diet I realize that there is nothing that's not (clumsily) trying to sell you something. I only trust my library. There is nothing wrong w/book as peacock tail signaling of superiority and ego trip; it's the commercial agenda outside the book that corrupts it.
  • 27. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 27 185. The economy, in brief: they are calmly waiting in line to be slaughtered while thinking it is for a Broadway show. 186. You can replace lies with truth; but myth is only displaced with a narrative. Dealing with the Future 187. For the ancients, forecasting historical events was an insult to the God(s); for me it is an insult to man --that is, for some, to science. 188. I never voice a forecast unless I have taken action on it and I have something at risk. I go down with the ship. 189. They would take forecasting more seriously if it were pointed out to them that they were producing prophecies. 190. For Seneca, the Stoic sage should withdraw from public efforts when unheeded and the state is corrupt beyond repair. It is wiser to wait for self-destruction.
  • 28. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 28 191. I went to Saudi Arabia to pick up wisdom from old people about forecasting. A few idiots criticized me because of the Saudi treatment of women. These hypocrites drive a car with a tank full of Saudi oil, while critical their gender policies, but don't want me to take what wisdom I can find. Being a Philosopher and Managing to Remain one 192. To be a philosopher is to know by reasoning, and reasoning only, a priori, what others can only learn from their mistakes, a posteriori. 193. True philosophers only need long walks to figure out what others need crises, accidents, and bankruptcies to determine. 194. Something finite but with unknown upper bound is epistemically equivalent to something infinite. I call this epistemic Infinity.
  • 29. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 29 195. Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinite. 196. There is no strictly "rational" definition of "rationality", which is why I cringe when I hear the word used by social scientists. 197. I threatened to walk out of a lecture hall under Seneca's dictum that philosophers should avoid speaking like mountebanks. 198. Academia is as close to sophistry today as the sophists were in Socrates' day; in fact ironically the academy was there to counter sophistry. 2400 years and we've learned nothing. Politics, Economics, and Other Very Vulgar Subjects 199. You can be certain that the CEO of a corporation has a lot to worry about when he announces publicly that "there is nothing to worry about". 200. The 20th C was the bankruptcy of the social utopia. The 21st will be that of the technological one. From one Procrustean bed to another: efforts at building social, political, and medical utopias have caused nightmares; many cures and techniques came from martial efforts. 201. The main difference between government bailouts and smoking is that in some rare cases the statement "this is my last cigarette" holds true.
  • 30. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 30 202. Economics cannot digest the idea that the collective (and the aggregate) are disproportionately less predictable than individuals. 203. The four most influential moderns: Darwin, Marx, Freud and (the early) Einstein were scholars but not academics. It is hard to do genuine work within institutions. 204. What makes us fragile is that institutions cannot have the same virtues (honor, truthfulness, courage, loyalty, tenacity) as individuals. 205. An individual has a conscience, feels shame and honor. The collective (that is, institutions) does not aggregate them -despicable bureaucrats. 206. The worst damage has been caused by competent people trying to do good; the best welfare has been brought by incompetent ones trying to harm. 207. City-states organize by tinkering; nation-states produce bureaucracies, empty suits, Bernankes, deficits, and the too big to fail. 208. The Lebanese (and other Mediterraneans) scorn instructions but bow to authority; Northern Europeans bow to instructions but scorn authority. 209. The differences between Goldman Sachs and the mafia are as follows: GS has a better legal-regulatory expertise; but the mafia understands public opinion. 210. We worry about "too big", but the biggest error-prone centralized top-down institution in the world is the US Gov. It keeps getting bigger.
  • 31. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 31 211. "It is much easier to scam people for billions than for just millions". (Some thoughts on the Madoff story). 212. At a panel in Moscow, I saw Edmund Phelps who got the "Nobel" for writings no one reads, theories no one uses, and lectures no one understands. 213. Dubai borrowed to put vanity buildings on postcards; America and Western Europe need to borrow to just survive. 214. "Don't cross a river because it is on average four feet deep". More generally, the average of expectations is different from the expectation of averages. 215. CNBC journalists are imbeciles. "You need skills to get a BMW, skills and monstrous luck to become a Warren Buffet" was turned into "Taleb says Buffet has no skills". Imbeciles. 216. Socializing with an academic will lead you to avoid confronting him from fear of losing a friend; you will end up putting your social instinct above truth. 217. The curious mind embraces science; the gifted & sensitive, the arts; the practical, business; the leftover becomes an economist. 218. Companies, like human cells, are programmed for apoptosis, suicide through debt and hidden risks. Bailouts make the process more entertaining.
  • 32. POETIC & PHILOSOPHICAL APHORISMS 5/17/10 © Copyright 2009 by N. N. Taleb. This draft version cannot be disseminated or quoted. 32