Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Events both good and bad are becoming more extreme. No one really expects society to be much like today in 50 years, and yet we still predict the future based on theories about how things should work. The truth is that what will really shape the future is inherently unknowable - things like wars, disease, natural disasters, and new inventions.

I find this strangely hopeful compared to reading all the gloomy news. The real world is much more interesting and exciting than our theories and models. We need to pay more attention to reality.

I like how he twitted intellectuals, bankers, and Nobel prize winners. He's a very opinionated writer.

He referenced an ancient writer named Sextus Empiricus that I want to check out. He wrote a book called Against the Professors.

The author's day job is in trading and money management. His financial strategy is to keep almost all of his money in extremely safe investments like Treasuries or CDs. The remaining amount he risks in extremely risky ventures like venture capital. He avoids conventional blue chip stocks and so on because he feels like the risks are hidden there and almost all surprises will be negative.

Simon Foucher's Dissertation on the Search for Truth:

One needs to exit doubt in order to produce science -- but few people heed the importance of not exiting from it prematurely.... It is a fact that one usually exits doubt without realizing it.

The difference between an empirical outlook and a Platonic theoretical outlook:
I care about the premises more than the theories, and I want to minimize reliance on theories, stay light on my feet, and reduce my surprises. I want to be broadly right rather than precisely wrong. Elegance in the theories is often indicative of Platonicity and weakness -- it invites you to seek elegance for elegance's sake. A theory is like medicine (or government): often useless, sometimes necessary, always self-serving, and on occasion lethal. So it needs to be used with care, moderation, and close adult supervision.

Don't run after trains.
Snub you destiny. I have taught myself to resist running to keep on schedule. This may seem a very small piece of advice, but it registered. In refusing to run to catch trains, I have felt the true value of elegance and aesthetics in behavior, a sense of being in control of my time, my schedule, and my life. Missing a train is only painful if you run after it!

And finally...
Very few are intelligent enough to change the opinions effortlessly.


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