Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas

Lebanese-American Essayist, Scholar, Statistician, Former Trader and Risk Analyst, Author of "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable"

Author Quotes

The best way to measure the loss of intellectual sophistication is in the growing disappearance of sarcasm, as mechanic minds take insults a bit too literally.

The consequences are not trivial: It means that rational thinking has little, very little, to do with risk avoidance. Much of what rational thinking seems to do is rationalize one?s actions by fitting some logic to them.

The four most influential moderns: Darwin, Marx, Freud, and (the productive) Einstein were scholars but not academics. It has always been hard to do genuine - and no perishable - work within institutions

The more data we have, the more likely we are to drown in it.

The problem of knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologists than books on birds written by birds and books on ornithologists written by birds

The story of the wheel also illustrates the point of this chapter: both governments and universities have done very, very little for innovation and discovery, precisely because, in addition to their blinding rationalism, they look for the complicated, the lurid, the newsworthy, the narrated, the scientistic, and the grandiose, rarely for the wheel on the suitcase. Simplicity, I realized, does not lead to laurels.

The world in which we live has an increasing number of feedback loops, causing events to be the cause of more events (say, people buy a book because other people bought it), thus generating snowballs and arbitrary and unpredictable planet-wide winner-take-all effects.

There is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner)?likewise there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher.

This anchoring to a number is the reason people do not react to their total accumulated wealth, but to differences of wealth from whatever number they are currently anchored to. This is the major conflict with economic theory, as according to economists, someone with $1 million in the bank would be more satisfied than if he had half a million. But

Those who do too much somewhere do too little elsewhere

Only the autodidacts are free. And not just in school matters?those who decommoditize, detouristify their lives.

People do not realize that the media is paid to get your attention. For a journalist, silence rarely surpasses any word.

Primitive societies are largely free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, dental cavities, economic theories, lounge music, and other modern ailments.

Realism is punishing. Probabilistic skepticism is worse.

Scientists don?t know what they are talking about when they talk about religion. Religion has nothing to do with belief, and I don?t believe it has any negative impact on people?s lives outside of intolerance. Why do I go to church? It?s like asking, why did you marry that woman? You make up reasons, but it?s probably just smell. I love the smell of candles. It?s an aesthetic thing.

So knowledge grows by subtraction much more than by 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.

Statin drugs are meant to lower cholesterol in your blood. But there is an asymmetry, and a severe one. One needs to treat fifty high risk persons for five years to avoid a single cardiovascular event. Statins can potentially harm people who are not very sick, for whom the benefits are either minimal or totally nonexistent.

Technology is the result of anti-fragility, exploited by risk-takers in the form of tinkering and trial and error, with nerd-driven design confined to the backstage.

The best way to prove the arbitrary character of these categories, and the contagion effect they produce, is to remember how frequently these clusters reverse in history. Today?s alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Israeli lobby would certainly seem puzzling to a nineteenth-century intellectual?Christians used to be anti-Semites and Moslems were the protectors of the Jews, whom they preferred to Christians. Libertarians used to be left-wing. What

The contagious creation of nation-states in the late nineteenth century led to what we saw with the two world wars and their sequels.

The fragile wants tranquility, the anti-fragile grows from disorder, and the robust doesn't care too much.

the more interesting their conversation, the more cultured they are, the more they will be trapped into thinking that they are effective at what they are doing in real business (something psychologists call the halo effect, the mistake of thinking that skills in, say, skiing translate unfailingly into skills in managing a pottery workshop or a bank department, or that a good chess player would be a good strategist in real life).

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

The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. So I disagree with the followers of Marx and those of Adam Smith: the reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or incentives for skill. The strategy is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.

The world we live in is vastly different from the world we think we live in.

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Lebanese-American Essayist, Scholar, Statistician, Former Trader and Risk Analyst, Author of "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable"