Monthly Archives: April 2013

Antifragile – Nassim Taleb: Review

This work lands in my top 10 most enjoyed and effectual books I’ve read in my life.

Among the plethora of interesting and arguments, stories, facts and historical accounts, the main tenant of the book attempts to describe that which, when encountering volatility, is itself improved directly by said volatility. A glass breaks upon shaking enough. A piece of metal does not. But there are things out there that will actually be better off after the shaking.

He applies this idea to numerous facets of life and from it delves into the world of free options, which allow one to take advantage of volatility without the exposure to the downside.

I really don’t want to say much more. It’s very likely the most intelligent book I’ve ever read.

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Taking away the clocks: An experiment

I saw an interesting quote the other day basically saying that we’re the only species that refers to time. It got me thinking how often I check the clock as well as how recent the invention of the clock has been. And so, I wonder if there’s something to be said for removing this thing from life a little.

It has led to some very nice black tape on strategic locations on the screen of my phone and laptop, where I might usually see the time. It’s been one day and it’s delightful. Haha.
As for appointments, I will be putting those in my calendar with alerts. I can still tell the general time of day, so if I know the appointment will probably take me 15 minutes travel time, I will set the alert for 15 minutes ahead of the appointment and travel accordingly.

I’ll let you know what I find, haha.

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The Art of Loving – Erich Fromm: Review

Loving as an art and an effort is a very powerful concept that North America has lost on itself. And Fromm argues it smoothly and beautifully.

I recommend spending some wonderful time with this book. It reframes relationships.

Two points of wonderful interest.
a) Most marriages before the advent of America were arranged through many different mechanisms depending on the geography. And people were meant to come together and learn and work to love eachother and build a family. That’s a wholly different construct from the romantic one much of the world uses now, only a few centuries later.
b) That the primal act in loving someone comes from giving. And that one has the ability to give because he or she has abundance. The richest people are often the least giving even though they ostensibly have the most. It is not about physical quantities at all. It’s a mindset.

Those two tidbits are indicative of the rest of Fromm’s sentiments. Simply reading it will make you feel better, practicing the concepts will make you a better person.

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Cool stories in Taleb’s Antifragile

This is not a review. Just very interesting stories from Taleb’s Antifragile.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca argued that possessions simply make us worry about the downside (losing them). These negative emotions act as a punishment as we depend on the possessions. He went further; that it induces a form of slavery to care for these possessions.

Much of medieval Europe was built without the architects knowing how to divide. According to historian Guy Beaujouan, there weren’t more than 5 people in Europe before the 13th century that knew long division. There were no structural engineers. There were only heuristics and rules of thumb that builders had amassed by trial and error over the decades. Their buildings largely still stand today.

French astronomer Le Verrier postulated the existence of Nepture simply based on his observations of other planet’s movements and Neptune’s effect on their ellipses. When someone finally visually spotted Neptune, he reportedly wouldn’t even look, so sure of his calculations.

Taleb once tried to make a list of all the drugs that have been discovered by serendipity rather than researchers specifically trying to develop a drug for a particular ailment.  He stopped because the list got too long. Instead it’s easier just to talk about the very few that have been created through research with a specific goal. They are mainly AZT and AIDS drugs.

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The natural selection of an idea

Taleb’s new book Antifragile has an awesome passage that efficiently explains the idea of why there is so much knowledge in the natural world (like mystic medicine or truisms/rules of thumb that have been passed on from generation to generation). 

It’s the idea that when there were so many small tribes across the lands, they were all like little testing pots of explanations or remedies for things. They may have thought that some plants cured some ailment but in reality they had no idea why. We are wired to see patterns even in random noise, which allows us to identify patterns early on, using little information. We err on the side of early recognition, not assured accuracy.

And so it were the tribes that got things right (via what was mostly trial and error, though they thought they were recognizing patterns, most of time which were non-existent) that did better than those that didn’t.

It’s not that ideas experience natural selection. It’s that the people carrying good ideas do better than their neighbours and so over time will accumulate knowledge and reproduce more. It’s a beautiful example of natural knowledge gained through trial and error. And Taleb speaks to it wonderfully.

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Taleb – you didn’t speak well of it, but you did the same without acknowledging it

I actually believe a lot of what Taleb talks about. But there’s an interesting aspect to the position he holds about the world.

In one of his previous books (it doesn’t really matter which one, but if you’re really anal and wanna fight ‘boot it, I’ll find it), he states that one of the ways that you can be a ‘not-wrong predictor’ is by predicting that something will eventually happen but just hasn’t yet come to pass. Therefore you can continue to say “Oh, I’m still right, it just hasn’t yet happened.”

Well a continuation of this idea is to say something has certain characteristics, while being able to continue to argue that she or he is correct even though the thing hasn’t displayed those given characteristics, yet. In Taleb’s case, this comes to pass in his determination of some systems as fragile even though they haven’t yet collapsed. And one cannot argue with him because he can simply say that they haven’t done so, yet.

It would be nice to see Taleb at least make acknowledgement of these characterizations. Since they are so similar to an idea which his previous writing didn’t seem to cast in such a wonderful light.

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