Taleb’s limitations

I’m sorry for calling Batman a failed loser. I got emotional. It was unnecessarily harsh. Sand over it.

Next in our iconoclasm series: Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Judging from his twitter fights Taleb is definitely a righty. So this is not so much a personal attack on him as it is a rectification of his ideas.

Taleb is a very intelligent man. I wager he must’ve heard of Moldbug, perhaps even Spandrell, that he probably sees the merit of reactionary arguments. But as far as I know he has not explicitly spoken out in favor of them. This might be politically motivated, since his books are all NY Times bestsellers and he does not want to risk going the way of books-banned-from-Amazon uncle Roosh. Which is fair game.

My minor issue is with Taleb’s 2 main ideas: black swans and antifragility. Both are interesting concepts. But they are not as profound as we are led to believe. They are limited.

Take antifragility. The core idea is that, in life, nature has 3 responses to stress: fragile, robust, antifragile. Fragile is something that breaks, like a vase or your employment when you are fired. Robust is something that does not change in the face of stress, like a rock, or government employment. Antifragile is something that benefits from stress, like lifting iron increases muscle strength or a self-employed man specializing in one skill. Taleb’s conclusion is that, naturally, you want your life to be as antifragile as possible.

Now, this all makes sense to me. But my issue is that very few things, if any, are completely antifragile. Apply enough pressure and everything breaks. All antifragile systems operate within an overarching fragile system. Thus, muscles break when you lift too much iron. Thus, even though self-employed uncle Roosh built his life as antifragile as possible, the Amazon ban still hurts him and, although he loves to travel, can not travel to a bunch of countries.

The silent promise in antifragility is that by restructuring your life, you can somehow overcome man’s inherent fragility. You can’t. Antifragility exists and while it should be exploited as much as possible, a cure for human fragility it is not. Anti-fragility goes into the category of ‘good self-development’.

Next up, black swan events, which are, and I’m completely lifting this from Infogalactic, events that come as a surprise, have a major effect, and are often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Like antifragility, black swan events are real, but really, are just a synonym for: ‘weird stuff happens’. The future is unpredictable. Duh. The coining of the phrase ‘black swan events’ is not wrong, it’s just that it’s cookie cutter wisdom proven with math.

Seems to me the reasons the black swan meme became so popular is that it provided progs with a politically correct reason to explain 9/11, as opposed to the in hindsight obvious ‘muslims gonna muslim’ explanation. So for the politically correct, black swans are great at explaining politically incorrect truths. But again, not so much the category of ‘timeless truths’. Black swan events go into the category of ‘selling lefties sugar-coated red pills’. Which, it has to be said, is still a pretty cool category.

So, no hate, just wanted to point that out.

9 thoughts on “Taleb’s limitations

    1. Yes I still stand by that. But as much as my apology is a bit tongue in cheek, could’ve called Batman a failed hero instead of a failed loser.

  1. Fat tail events:

    Survivorship bias:

    We systematically underestimate large impact events of low probability, because no such event has happened in our lifetime in our nation.

    Assume an event of impact X has probability X^(-r)

    If r is large, larger than one, then the impact will be dominated by many small events of high probability, and the total impact will have normal distribution.

    If r is between zero and one, then the total impact will be dominated by very large, very rare events.

    This is a fat tail distribution. (non normal distribution, fat tail distribution)

    The impact of wars involving mass confiscation and mass destruction of property is dominated by very large, very rare events.

    The social order is likely to be dominated by a nation that has not experienced such a disastrous outcome in a thousand years or so, so we imagine that the likelihood of such an event is of the order of one in a thousand per year, even though ever other nation has suffered such an event quite recently.

    This is survivorship bias.

    Taleb estimates the probability of such events to be quite high, having himself experienced such an event.

    1. Sure, people don’t expect war because it hasn’t happened in their lifetime, don’t expect catastrophe because it hasn’t happened in their lifetime.

      Yet I would not be surprised by catastrophe or war, and I’m pretty sure I’d have arrived at that conclusion without reading Taleb, even if Taleb puts the idea in words very nicely.

      I read a book once called Mastery by George Leonard. It described how, when you want to get good at something, you do not get good at it in a linear progression, instead you hop from plateau to plateau. The idea described what I already knew, but put it in words better than I could. Taleb’s black swan events fall in the same category.

  2. Meanwhile, the news is still more boring than I ever remember. And it’s been boring a LONG time.

    I almost can’t imagine that changing now.

    1. The election of Trump was not business as usual.

      The current struggle over Kavanaugh is not business as usual.

      Therefore, expect the mid terms to not be business as usual.

      One very possible outcome is that the Democrats lose, claim to have won, and proceed to attempt govern and impeach the president on their basis that they supposedly have the numbers, when the Republicans deny that they have the numbers. Maybe that particular crisis is unlikely, but a crisis of some kind, further undermining the already collapsing legitimacy of our political system, is likely.

      1. Has happened before at the end of a democratic system that the opposing blocks cannot agree on an election result or that the losing block just happens to loose its belief in the legitimacy of the election or perhaps even in elections generally.

        If it doesn’t happen in the midterms, it will happen a few years later.

    2. What is happening is not boring, is pretty exciting. The way the news covers what is happening is horribly boring. So, in that sense we are replacing them.

  3. yeah I agree hes hugely overrated as a public intellectual and he’s not that conservative either. He reveres Hume, who was a liberal philosopher and whose ideas are congruent with much modern postmodernist liberalism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.