Nassim Taleb Excerpts with John Boyd
April 24th, 2015
These are excerpts of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile. I use Maestro’s words as a skeleton to build upon some ideas synthesized by Col John Boyd and Miyamoto Musashi. Themes include: Knowledge as intuition built from engaging with reality, understanding when an adversary is employing the Art of the Advantage against you and when to call bulls*t, and why it’s important to embrace uncertainty and randomness in order to affirm life and accomplish life’s aim.
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Note 1: Distillation into Intuition
Students pay to write essays on topics for which they have to derive knowledge from a library as a self-enhancement exercise; a professional who is compensated to write and is taken seriously by others should use a more potent filter.
If I was a professional writer, I would feel corrupt and unethical if I have to look up a subject in a library as part of the writing process. This feeling is a filter. If the subject is not interesting enough for me to look up independently, for my own curiosity, then I should not be writing about it. This does not mean libraries — physical or virtual — are not acceptable; it means that they should not be the source of my ideas.
Only distilled ideas, the ones the sit with us for a long time after using them—of obtaining them—while interacting with the reality that unfolds around us, are acceptable. It is time to revive the not so well-known philosophical notion of doxastic commitment, a class of beliefs that go beyond talk, and to which we are committed enough to take personal risks.
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Note 2: The Art of the Advantage
If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.
Modernity has replaced cultural ethics with legalese. Any good lawyer trained in the Art of the Advantage knows to design the environment around him which maximizes his—and his clients—potential for victory. Because such an advantage exists, the system must expose the transfer of fragility, or rather the theft of anti-fragility by those unethically arbitraging the system. These people must be named by name.
Poets and painters are free, liberi poetae et pictores, and there are severe moral implications that come with such freedom.
Just as being nice to the arrogant is no better than being arrogant towards the nice, being accommodating toward anyone committing a nefarious action condones it.
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Note 3: Embracing Uncertainty and Randomness
Modern life is akin to a chronic stress injury.
The way to combat chronic stress is to embrace uncertainty and randomness.
Students trained in the institutions of modernity—mostly academicians and grade school students—are ill-equipped to embrace uncertainty and randomness; it breaks them. With it, is the stench of nihilism: Like a dog, they have learned to become dependent on these institutions.
The aim should be to improve our ability to shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances, so that we as individuals can survive on our own terms. To do this requires the development of a trunk of knowledge—a mastery of the fundamentals.
Building a trunk of knowledge is not easy: It will require you to love losing and hate winning, to confront malevolence, and to remain patient in the face of adversity.
Do this and you will affirm life and accomplish the aim.
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