Some Thoughts On Black Swans From Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“When you develop your opinions on the basis of weak evidence, you will have difficulty interpreting subsequent information that contradicts these opinions, even if this new information is obviously more accurate.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The Black Swan asymmetry allows you to be confident about what is wrong, not about what you believe is right.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“I know that history is going to be dominated by an improbable event, I just don’t know what that event will be.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Recently Read Books 2014

I thought I would take a minute and let you know the books that I have read thus far in 2014. Each of these is excellent in its own way and I don’t know about you but I try to put some thought into each selection since I am making an investment of my time. I have read The Black Swan and The Signal And The Noise twice and I really believe I need to read The Black Swan a third time to get a complete understanding.

(1) The Black Swan     Nassim Nicholas Taleb

(2) The Smartest Kids In The World     Amanda Ripley

(3) The Signal And The Noise     Nate Silver

(4) The Sixth Extinction     Elizabeth Kolbert

(5) The Sports Gene     David Epstein

(6) Average Is Over    Tyler Cowen

Finished Up Antifragile By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

English: This is a photograph from the assortm...

English: This is a photograph from the assortment of freely available pictures at Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s web site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I finished up analytically reading Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and I get the sense that I understand his philosophy of volatility and fragility much better. I would be lying if I said that I have a complete understanding of antifragility but what it has done in this reading is make me look around in my corner of the world and look for examples of fragility that are affecting my life. I happily recommend this book on that basis. I have set aside this book for now with the intentions of picking it up again within the next year and hopefully getting an even better understanding. I am determining whether I need to go back and read The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness based on whether that will help my understanding of these principles. I do feel these principles are very important in understanding our modern world.

I found this quote from page 349 to be quite thought-provoking and I wanted to share it with you:

“Let me phrase the last point a bit differently. If there is something in nature you don’t understand, odds are it makes sense in a deeper way that is beyond your understanding… what Mother Nature does is rigorous until proven otherwise; what humans and science do is flawed until proven otherwise.”

Once again, you are missing a reading experience by not picking up this book and devoting the necessary time in understanding these principles. Make the commitment!!!

Subtractive Knowledge From Antifragile

Black swan Nederlands: Zwarte zwaan Français :...

Black swan Nederlands: Zwarte zwaan Français : Cygne noir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Taleb the definition of subtractive knowledge is that you know what is wrong more than you know anything else. On page 303 Taleb states this:

“So the central tenet of the epistemology (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge)  I advocate is as follows: we know a lot more what is wrong than what is right, or, phrased according to the fragile/robust classification, negative knowledge (what is wrong, what does not work) is more robust to error than positive knowledge (what is right, what works). So knowledge grows by subtraction much more than addition—given that what we know today might turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily. If I spot a black swan (not capitalized), I can be quite certain that the statement “all swans are white” is wrong. But even if I have never seen a black swan, I can never hold such a statement to be true. Rephrasing it again: since one small observation can disprove a statement, while millions can hardly confirm it, disconfirmation is more rigorous than confirmation.

Taleb On Procrastination

Side view of mature adult showing characterist...

Side view of mature adult showing characteristic “S” neck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never thought of procrastination in this way and Taleb does a great job in explaining intervention vs. procrastination on page 123 of the book Antifragile.

“There is an element of deceit associated with interventionism, accelerating in a professionalized society. It’s much easier to sell “Look what I did for you” than “Look what I avoided for you”. Of course a bonus system based on “performance” exacerbates the problem. I’ve looked in history for heroes who became heroes for what they did not do, but it is hard to observe nonaction; I could not easily find any. The doctor who refrains from operating on a back (a very expensive surgery), instead giving it a chance to heal itself, will not be rewarded and judged as favorably as the doctor who makes the surgery look indispensable, then brings relief to the patient while exposing him to operating risks, while accruing great financial rewards to himself. The latter will be driving the pink Rolls-Royce. The corporate manager who avoids a loss will not often be rewarded. The true hero in the Black Swan world is someone who prevents a calamity and, naturally, because the calamity did not take place, does not get recognition—or a bonus—for it.

Readers, I don’t know if you had ever thought about procrastination in this way but for me this paragraph was worth the entire price of the book in helping me determine some of my decision making and their consequences.

Mistakes and Antifragility

English: This is a photograph from the assortm...

English: This is a photograph from the assortment of freely available pictures at Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s web site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am really enjoying analytically reading Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and must say that I am understanding the concepts in the book much better and feel that I can apply these principles to my situation.

On Page 85 Mr. Taleb makes some great points:

Yogi Berra once said: “We made the wrong mistake” . Nature loves small errors ( without which genetic variations are impossible), humans don’t—hence when you rely on human judgment you are at the mercy of a mental bias that disfavors antifragility.”

I love this quote from Page 85 also and it has really taught me a lesson on mistakes and how I should handle them.

“In other words, a point worth repeating every time it applies, this avoidance of small mistakes make the large ones more severe.”

And finally:

“The more variability you observe in a system, the less Black Swan-prone it is.”

I encourage all readers in whatever subject they enjoy to find a book and analytically read it until you have the best understanding of the subject and can explain it completely when you are asked about it. This will truly make you an expert!!!

Currently Reading July 8, 2013

amioun clock tower.jpg

amioun clock tower.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently analytically reading Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and finally am starting to get a handle on what he is trying to get across. From Chapter 14 and page 203, I am finally understanding the meaning of antifragile from this illustration.

“I saw ancient wisdom at work in the exact opposite of the situation in Abu Dhabi. My Levantine village of origin, Amioun, was pillaged and evacuated during the war, sending its inhabitants into exile across the planet. Twenty-five years later, it became opulent, having bounced back with a vengeance: my own house, dynamited, is now bigger than the previous version. My father, showing me the multiplication of villas in the countryside while bemoaning these nouveaux riches, calmly told me, ‘You, too, had you stayed here, would have become a beach bum. People from Amioun only do well when shaken.’ That’s antifragility.”

This illustration has made me take a look at things I am involved with and look at their fragility as well as antifragilty. I am getting a better idea about antifragility and its effects on me. I highly recommend this book (again!!!) but if you are similar to me you must be prepared to put in time to get a complete understanding of what Mr. Taleb is trying to get across.

I also have decided to go back and analytically read Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan to make sure I understand the principles.