Taleb’s aphorisms

Here is a selection of aphorisms from The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

To bankrupt a fool, give him information.

Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but, to the nonsucker, not exactly the same thing.

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

Those who think religion is about “belief’ don’t understand religion, and don’t understand belief.

Don’t talk about “progress” in terms of longevity, safety, or comfort before comparing zoo animals to those in the wilderness.

They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your  looks, for your status—but rarely for your wisdom.

The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind’s flaws,  biases, contradictions, and irrationality without exploiting them for fun and profit.

Since Cato the Elder, a certain type of maturity has shown up when one starts blaming the new generation for “shallowness” and praising the previous one for its “values.”

Most people fear being without audiovisual stimulation because they are too repetitive when they think and imagine things on their own.

Asking science to explain life and vital matters is equivalent to asking a grammarian to explain poetry.

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.

Restaurants get you in with food to sell you liquor; religions get you in with belief to sell you rules (e.g., avoid debt). People can understand the notion of God, not unexplained rules, interdicts, and categorical heuristics.

The Web is an unhealthy place for someone hungry for attention.

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

Social media are severely antisocial, health foods are empirically unhealthy, knowledge workers are very ignorant, and social sciences aren’t scientific at all.

Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.

For pleasure, read one chapter by Nabokov. For punishment, two.

Hard science gives sensational results with a horribly boring process; philosophy gives boring results with a sensational process; literature gives sensational results with a sensational process; and economics gives boring results with a boring process.

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

With regular books, read the text and skip the footnotes; with those written by academics, read the footnotes and skip the text; and with business books skip both the text and the footnotes.

Literature comes alive when covering up vices, defects, weaknesses, and confusions; it dies with every trace of preaching.

Corollary to Moore’s Law: every ten years, collective wisdom degrades by half!

The tragedy is that much of what you think is random is in your control and, what’s worse, the opposite.

Medieval man was a cog in a wheel he did not understand; modern man is a cog in a complicated system he thinks he understands.

The role of the media is best seen in the journey from Cato the Elder to a modern politician.”‘ Do some extrapolation if you want to be scared.

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

The rationalist imagines an imbecile-free society; the empiricist an imbecile-proof one, or, even better, a rationalist-proof one.

I find it inconsistent (and corrupt) to dislike big government while favouring big business but (alas) not the reverse.

They read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall on an eReader but refuse to drink Château Lynch-Bages in a Styrofoam cup.

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).

There are designations, like “economist,” “prostitute,” or “consultant,” for which additional characterization doesn’t add information.

The main difference between government bailouts and smoking is that in some rare cases the statement “this is my last cigarette” holds true.

Public companies, like human cells, are programmed for apoptosis, suicide through debt and hidden risks. Bailouts invest the process with a historical dimension.

What organized dating sites fail to understand is that people are far more interesting in what they don’t say about themselves.

One of the problems with social networks is that it is getting harder and harder for others to complain about you behind your back.


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