Monday, April 20, 2009

"The Black Swan", Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Platonicity, is our tendency to mistake the map for territory, to focus on pure and well-defined "forms", whether objects, like triangles, or social notions, like utopias, even nationalities. When these ideas and crisp constructs inhabit our minds, we privilege them over other less elegant objects, those messier and less tractable structures. Platonicity is what makes us think that we understand more than we actually do.


Journalists assign the same importance to the same sets of circumstances and cut reality into the same categories - once again the manifestation of Platonicity, the desire to cut reality into crisp shapes... Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revisting their categories. Contagion was the culprit.


Categorization always produces reduction in true complexity. It is a manifestation of the Black Swan generator, that unshakable Platonicity. Any reduction in the world around us can have explosive consequences since it rules out some sources of uncertainity; it drives us to a misunderstanding of the fabric of the world.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Fooled by Randomness", Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Being a hero does not necessarily mean such an extreme act as getting killed in battle or taking one's life - the latter is only recommended in a narrow set of circumstances and considered cowardly otherwise. Having control over randomness can be expressed in the manner in which one acts in the small and the large. Recall that epic heroes were judged by their actions, not by the results. No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word. We are only left with dignity as a solution - dignity defined as the execution of a protocol of behavior that does not depend on the immediate circumstance. It may not be the optimal one, but it certainly is the one that makes us feel best. Grace under pressure for example.


Start stressing personal elegance at your next misfortune. Exhibit sapere vivere ("know how to live") in all circumstances.

Dress at your best on your execution day (shave carefully); try to leave a good impression on the death squad by standing erect and proud. Try not to play victim when diagnosed with cancer (hide it from others and only share the information with the doctor - it will avert the platitudes and nobody will treat you like a victim worthy of their pity; in addition, the dignified attitude will make both defeat and victory fee equally heroic). Be extremely courteous to your assistant when you lose money (as a trader). Try not to blame others for your fate, even if they deserve the blame. Never exhibit any self-pity, even if your significant other bolts with the handsome ski instructor or the younger aspiring model. Do not complain. If you suffer from a benign version of the "attitude problem," do not start playing nice guy if your business dries up.

The only article Lady Fortuna has no control over is your behavior. Good luck.