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May 9, 2008
Taleb is a slippery customer.
He makes a huge number of mistakes, but
they're usually only incidental issues
and I imagine if you tried to make a big
deal about this, he'd just accuse you of
being a quibbling nerd.
But then, he himself comes
down awfully hard on the New Yes I know: pity
York Times reviewer (Gregg the poor NYT-wit. What is the quantum
Easterbrook) who missed a of violin size?
footnote explaining a trick
Taleb pulled (inventing a
fictional author to write
That bit is from
Taleb's web site:
Taleb ducks back and forth a lot:
He gets up a head of steam, ranting
in a particular direction, but
stops to throw in just enough
qualifiers and denials that if you He shows a funny
were to accuse him of going that syndrome of leading
way, he'd file a counter-charge his sentences with
that you're exaggerating, connecting clauses
over-simplifying, or perhaps worst that don't work.
of all, being "Platonic".
"Simply," followed by
something that isn't.
"To summarize," followed
by a repetition that's
At least you can't accuse him
of being lukewarm: any name "To repeat," followed
he drops he either worships by something that isn't
or reviles. a repetition.
He's either kissing feet,
of spitting on heads, there's
no in-between with him.
Let us consider the tale of a
"fictional" trader, from p.98:
"He made sure after a long string of
losses, that they did not think he was
apologetic-- indeed, paradoxically, they
became more supportive that way. Humans
will believe anything you say provided
you do not exhibit the smallest shadow of
diffidence; like animals, they can detect
the smallest crack in your confidence
before you express it. ... The trick is
to be as smooth as possible in personal
manners. It is much easier to signal
self-confidence if you are exceedingly
polite and friendly; you can control
people without having to offend their There is no question in my
sensitivity. The problem with business mind that this is essentially
people, Nero realized, is that if you act correct. The question that
like a loser they will treat you as a arises is do you really want
loser ..." to resort to these tactics?
I submit that this is Do you really want to
Taleb being upfront associate with people who
about his tactics, and I are impressed by these
suggest that he writes maneuvers?
in much the same spirit.
His tone of certainly is Speaking for myself, someone
nearly always pure coming on like this might
bluster. impress me briefly, but only
briefly: very quickly they're
There's no point in trying going to get refiled under
to argue him around on any the "con-artist" label.
detail, because as a matter
of principle-- or rather, Now, there's no particular
tactics-- he won't back down reason why you should want
on any point. to live your life to impress
me-- but why would you want
to live your life to impress
What will it do
to your own
live this way?
Just as I was beginning to MASKS
read "The Black Swan", I
was getting the feeling
that Taleb is a bit of
charlatan, with defenses
set-up in advance on all
lines of attack --
On the one hand, one must
distrust appearances, on
the other hand, one must
avoid delving into
essences (the "Platonic").
To rise above our animal nature,
we must avoid narrative (Animals are well known
for their story-telling
And we must learn to avoid abilities.)
(Animals are well
known for wasting time Chimps may
on mathematics.) be good chess
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