I'm slowly making my way through Antifragile (slow because I've been busy and slow because the wisdom density [wisdom per page] of the book is extremely high, so I'm taking the time to process and examine it). In the middle of this slow and steady progress, though, I spent a couple hours going through Taleb's shorter book of aphorisms, which was a real delight and made me laugh out loud (and really question a lot of things) several times.
The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Procrustes is named after an owner of an inn in Greek mythology who wanted his guests to sleep in a perfect-fitting bed; those who were too tall had body parts cut off, and those who were too short were stretched. The book of aphorisms (pithy sayings that need little explanation) is about the various Procrustean bed reductions we make as humans because we're limited in our knowledge and prone to lapses of rationality. We resolve the tension of uncertainty by just making the world look simpler to us (to make us feel better) instead of embracing the uncertainty and benefiting from it (which Antifragile is all about).
Below are a sampling of my highlights from the book. I liked how the author found Procrustean reductions in all parts of life and offered funny and poignant observations of how foolish we are about certain things and how hard it is for us to sometimes just get out of our own way.
few realize that we are changing the brains of schoolchildren through medication in order to make them adjust to the curriculum, rather than the reverse.
it’s mostly that inverse operation of changing the wrong variable, here the person rather than the bed.
The person you are the most afraid to contradict is yourself.
An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.
To understand the liberating effect of asceticism, consider that losing all your fortune is much less painful than losing only half of it.
To bankrupt a fool, give him information.
Modernity’s double punishment is to make us both age prematurely and live longer.
An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant, the opposite.
If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead—the more precision, the more dead you are.
Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.
The best revenge on a liar is to convince him that you believe what he said.
If you want people to read a book, tell them it is overrated.
Nothing is more permanent than “temporary” arrangements, deficits, truces, and relationships; and nothing is more temporary than “permanent” ones.
The opposite of manliness isn’t cowardice; it’s technology.
You remember emails you sent that were not answered better than emails that
It is as difficult to avoid bugging others with advice on how to exercise and other health matters as it is to stick to an exercise schedule.
THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE
People used to wear ordinary clothes weekdays and formal attire on Sunday. Today it is the exact reverse.
To mark a separation between holy and profane, I take a ritual bath after any contact, or correspondence (even emails), with consultants, economists, Harvard Business School professors, journalists, and those in similarly depraved pursuits; I then feel and act purified from the profane until the next episode.
The book is the only medium left that hasn’t been corrupted by the profane: everything else on your eyelids manipulates you with an ad.
it is easier to fast than diet.
To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.
CHANCE, SUCCESS, HAPPINESS, AND STOICISM
Modernity needs to understand that being rich and becoming rich are not mathematically, personally, socially, and ethically the same thing.
I went to a happiness conference; researchers looked very unhappy.
Read nothing from the past one hundred years; eat no fruits from the past one thousand years; drink nothing from the past four thousand years (just wine and water); but talk to no ordinary man over forty. A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty.
Karl Marx, a visionary, figured out that you can control a slave much better by convincing him he is an employee.
The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.
People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels—people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up.
Preoccupation with efficacy is the main obstacle to a poetic, noble, elegant, robust, and heroic life.
They are born, then put in a box; they go home to live in a box; they study by ticking boxes; they go to what is called “work” in a box, where they sit in their cubicle box; they drive to the grocery store in a box to buy food in a box; they go to the gym in a box to sit in a box; they talk about thinking “outside the box”; and when they die they are put in a box. All boxes, Euclidian, geometrically smooth boxes.
Another definition of modernity: conversations can be more and more completely reconstructed with clips from other conversations taking place at the same time on the planet.
CHARMING AND LESS CHARMING SUCKER PROBLEMS
It seems that it is the most unsuccessful people who give the most advice, particularly for writing and financial matters.
Rumors are only valuable when they are denied.
There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.
Over the long term, you are more likely to fool yourself than others.
For so many, instead of looking for “cause of death” when they expire, we should be looking for “cause of life” when they are still around.
THESEUS, OR LIVING THE PALEO LIFE
The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.
My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.
If you need to listen to music while walking, don’t walk; and please don’t listen to music.
Men destroy each other during war; themselves during peacetime.
Sports feminize men and masculinize women.
Technology can degrade (and endanger) every aspect of a sucker’s life while convincing him that it is becoming more “efficient.”
The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.
You have a real life if and only if you do not compete with anyone in any of your pursuits.
With terminal disease, nature lets you die with abbreviated suffering; medicine lets you suffer with prolonged dying.
We are satisfied with natural (or old) objects like vistas or classical paintings but insatiable with technologies, amplifying small improvements in versions, obsessed about 2.0, caught in a mental treadmill.
Only in recent history has “working hard” signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse, and, mostly, sprezzatura.
Their idea of the sabbatical is to work six days and rest for one; my idea of the sabbatical is to work for (part of) a day and rest for six.
What they call “play” (gym, travel, sports) looks like work; the harder they try, the more captive they are.
Most modern efficiencies are deferred punishment.
The Google Self-Driving Car.
Maybe it's because of the Udacity Self-Driving Car programming course I took. Maybe it's because I hate traffic and inefficiencies. Maybe it's because I'm sad every time I hear about human errors leading to death and major injury, especially from car accidents.
I did a bit of research into the leading causes of death, and while more people still die of age-related medical problems, car accidents are the leading cause of injury-related death (though this may have been surpassed by suicide in recent years). In any case, car crashes kill over 30,000 people per year, and in my book that means they still suck.
Time recently wrote a case study about Google's initiative. With this post, I wanted to simply express my own excitement for this invention and why I think it's cool.
I can't wait to buy one when it comes out. I also believe this will drive tremendous value for Google as a company.