Monday, August 7, 2017

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Rereading my notes on this book after a recent contretemps that Nassim Nicholas Taleb involved himself in, his twitter battle with historian Mary Beard, I realized that Taleb cultivates enemies as a self-development tactic or, possibly, strategy.  Interesting way to go through life;  however, having met Taleb at one of his readings, he is probably the most arrogant man I've ever met and perhaps that is  the only real use he has for other people.

The Bed of Procrustes:  Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
NY:  Random House, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4000-6997-2

(6)  A generous act is precisely what should aim at no reward, neither financial nor social nor emotional;  deontic (unconditional observance of duties), not utilitarian (aiming at some collective - or even individual - gains in welfare).  There is nothing wrong with “generous” acts that elicit a “warm glow” or promise salvation to the giver;  these are not to be linguistically conflated with deontic action, those emanating from pure sense of duty.

(11)  You never win an argument until they attack your person.

(12)  I wonder whether a bitter enemy would be jealous if he discovered that I hated someone else.

(21)  To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.

(23)  You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave;  you also need to avoid becoming a master.

(26)  The differences between slaves in Roman and Ottoman days and today’s employees is that slaves did not need to flatter their boss.

(27)  You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

(31)  The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of the social utopia;  the twenty-first will be that of the technological one.

(39)  sprezzatura

(40)  We are hunters;  we are only truly alive in those moments when we improvise;  no schedule, just small surprises and stimuli from the environment.

For everything, use boredom in place of a clock, as a biological wristwatch, though under constraints of politeness.

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

(50)  We are better at (involuntarily) doing out of the box than (voluntarily) thinking out of the box.

(53)  Many are so unoriginal they study history to find mistakes to repeat.

(56)  The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don’t know, rather than the reverse.

(58)  Randomness is indistinguishable from complicated, undetected, and undetectable order;  but order itself is indistinguishable from artful randomness.

(62)  My biggest problem with modernity may lie in the growing separation of the ethical and the legal.*
*Former US Treasury secretary “bankster” Robert Rubin, perhaps the biggest thief in history, broke no law.  The difference between legal and ethical increases in a complex system… then blows it up.

(64)  You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.

Trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down.

(65)  If you lie to me, keep lying;  don’t hurt me by suddenly telling the truth.

(68)  Just as dyed hair makes older men less attractive, it is what you do to hide your weaknesses that makes them repugnant.

(71)  When conflicted between two choices, take neither.

(73)  Passionate hate (by nations and individuals) ends by rotation to another subject of hate;  mediocrity cannot handle more than one enemy.  This makes warring stateliness with shifting alliances and enmities a robust system.

(75)  Games were created to give nonheroes the illusion of winning.  In  real life, you don’t know who really won or lost (except too late), but you can tell who is heroic and who is not.

(76)  Fragility:  we have been progressively separating human courage from warfare, allowing wimps with computer skills to kill people without the slightest risk to their lives.

(78)  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.

They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns);  in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).

The best way to spot a charlatan:  someone (like a consultant or a stockbroker) who tells you what to do instead of what _not_ to do.

(80)  The ancients knew very well that the only way to understand events was to cause them.

(88)  You can be certain that the head of a corporation has a lot to worry about when he announces publicly that “there is nothing to worry about."

(96)  A verbal threat is the most authentic certificate of impotence.

(99)  Bad-mouthing is the only genuine, never faked expression of admiration.

(102)  You will get the most attention from those who hate you.  No friend, no admirer, and no partner will flatter with as much curiosity.

(103)  A good foe is far more loyal, far more predictable, and, to the clever, far more useful than the most valuable admirer.

(106)  Counter to the common discourse, _more information means more delusions_…

(109)  Outside of what we now call religion, take the aphorisms of Heraclitus and Hippocrates;  the works of Publilius Syrus (a Syrian slave who owed his freedom to his eloquence, expressed in his _Sententiae_, potent one-line poems that echo in the maxims of La Rochefoucauld), and the poetry of the poet who is broadly considered the greatest of all Arab poets, Almutanabbi.

(111)  As a teenager, I was mentored by the poet Georges Schéhadé (his poetry reads like proverbs)…

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