Friday, April 18, 2014

Twenty-Five Quotes and Aphorisms from Nassim Taleb

1.  Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.

2.   An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant the opposite.

3.   You never win an argument until they attack your person.

4.   You don't become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.

5.   The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.

6.   Deficits are similar to carbs: the more you eat, the hungrier you get.

7. You have a real life when most of what you fear has the titillating prospect of adventure.

8.  I wonder if a lion (or a cannibal) would pay a high premium for free-range humans.

9.   You may not be able to change the world but can at least get some entertainment and make a living out of the epistemic arrogance of the human race. 

10.    Wittgenstein's Ruler: "Unless you have confidence in the ruler's reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler."

11.   If you want to get an idea of a friend's temperament, ethics, and personal elegance, you need to look at him under the tests of severe circumstances, not under the regular rosy glow of daily life. Can you assess the danger a criminal poses by examining only what he does on an ordinary day? Can we understand health without considering wild diseases and epidemics? Indeed the normal is often irrelevant. 

12.   Consider that the turkey's experience may have, rather than no value, a negative value. It learned from observation, as we are all advised to do (hey, after all, this is what is believed to be the scientific method). Its confidence increased as the number of friendly feedings grew, and it felt increasingly safe even though the slaughter was more and more imminent. Consider that the feeling of safety reached its maximum when the risk was at the highest! 

13.   The same past data can confirm a theory and its exact opposite! If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death.

14.   Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

15.   A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty. 

16.   A good maxim allows you to have the last word without even starting a conversation.

17.   It takes extraordinary wisdom and self-control to accept that many things have a logic we do not understand that is smarter than our own.

18.   If humans fight the last war, nature fights the next one. 

19.   Daily news and sugar confuse our system in the same manner. 

20.   A man is honorable in proportion to the personal risks he takes for his opinion.

21.   The weak shows his strength and hides his weaknesses; the magnificent exhibits his weaknesses like ornaments.

22.   You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

23.    In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it.


24.    Unlike a well-defined, precise game like Russian roulette, where the risks are visible to anyone capable of multiplying and dividing by six, one does not observe the barrel of reality.

25.   It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.



  1. Some of Taleb's aphorisms are eerily prescient. Unfortunately, it seems to me that very, very few people who read his books actually take action on the information. They nod their heads in knowing agreement, and the proceed to do business as usual.

    On an unrelated note - are you planning to flesh out more of the Septivium?

  2. Hey, David---I agree with you re: Taleb and lack of follow-through on the practical ramifications of the "antifragile" approach. Re: Septivium. Absolutely, Septivium will be the main focus of the blog for the foreseeable future. Please help me shape and refine it as we move ahead.