I saw Taleb’s critic and the response from Pinker. While the arguments are heavy reading for me as well, it was very clear to me who was arguing in good faith and trying to find common ground and who was trying to “win” through intellectual grandstanding. Pinker summarized the exchange like this:
“Something other than intellectual disagreement is going on here, since the conclusions of Better Angels are in wide agreement with Taleb’s major themes, such as the dangers of being fooled by randomness and the unpredictability inherent in fat-tailed distributions. When I tried to clarify the differences with him in correspondence I just got back semi-coherent abuse, and a complaint that I had been unfair to Malcolm Gladwell (who had written a fawning piece on Taleb).”
The debate I saw with Taleb showed similar behaviors and I haven’t found any reason since to take him seriously when there are so many others you can listen to or read. With that said, he clearly has people who like his books and if they get value from them there is nothing wrong with that.
Taleb is an definitely abrasive asshole on Twitter (and in all likelihood in real life as well), and he’s horrible in media appearances, but to me it’s indicative of the strength of his ideas that they come through despite being presented by a…well, an asshole.
These paragraphs for example struck a chord in my case:
There is inequality and inequality.
The first is the inequality people tolerate, such as one’s understanding compared to that of people deemed heroes, say Einstein, Michelangelo, or the recluse mathematician Grisha Perelman, in comparison to whom one has no difficulty acknowledging a large surplus. This applies to entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, heroes, the singer Bob Dylan, Socrates, the current local celebrity chef, some Roman Emperor of good repute, say Marcus Aurelius; in short those for whom one can naturally be a “fan”. You may like to imitate them, you may aspire to be like them; but you don’t resent them.
The second is the inequality people find intolerable because the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system, and getting himself into rent seeking, acquiring privileges that are not warranted –and although he has something you would not mind having (which may include his Russian girlfriend), he is exactly the type of whom you cannot possibly become a fan. The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don’t just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller.
There may be something dissonant in the spectacle of a rich slave.
The author Joan Williams, in an insightful article, explains that the working class is impressed by the rich, as role models. Michèle Lamont, the author of The Dignity of Working Men, whom she cites, did a systematic interview of blue collar Americans and found present a resentment of professionals but, unexpectedly, not of the rich.
I have found that people who are defensive about things act that way to hide the weakness. Taleb might be the exception to that rule, but when looking at his content (such as the debate I saw and a few articles) along with his attitude, I concluded he was not. Other people I respect have said similar things, Sam Harris has an amusing 8 min summary on an Ask-Me-Anything podcast regarding Taleb: http://www.blackswanreport.com/media/20160104-Sam-Harris-on-Nassim-Taleb.mp3
Again, if you (or others) get something from him and he strikes a cord with you, that’s fine. I’m only stating how I came to my conclusion.
I think there’s some overlap in the kinds of things they talk about, but from what I know about them, I see Taleb and Pinker as experts in different things.
Taleb applies math and probability in human decision making, behavioral economics types of things, heuristics. I see him as more on the economics side, even talking about financial markets. You guys know I like Dan Ariely for that kind of thing.
Pinker is WAY more of a cognitive science guy, down to talking evolution, brain anatomy and function in The Blank Slate. I first got interested in Pinker because my son who likes linguistics and languages had read his book, The Language Instinct.
Anyway, there’s overlap, and that’s part of what makes these books so interesting. Bringing ideas from these various fields together, applying economics to human history for example. Pinker gets into anthropology, and sociology and history but looking at it through a cognitive science lens I guess. I assume Taleb does the same kind of thing, but maybe more through the lens or probability and economics?
@ The Tim Ferriss book Tribe of Mentors. I was thinking about what successful people do. It sounds a bit like Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Maybe.
Related. @ Mentors
Having good IRL mentors is really important. It’s one of the things that has helped me most, finding people who could teach me things, show me the ropes in any new thing I’m trying to develop competency in.
It’s always been worth it to take classes, get a coach, have someone further along the path help me. Pay attention to what they do, and adopt their ideas. Save myself from inventing the wheel. There’s that saying about standing on the shoulders of giants. If you can stand on the shoulders of a giant in your real life, you should take the opportunity.
I’ve been lucky in this regard. I’ve had two 40+ year experienced guys beat on me for the last five years. One time, before a big meeting, we ha dbreakfast before and one of them walked me through what he was going to do and why… then, to start off the meetjng he says “thanks for coming everyone, it’s 10am so let’s start. Chris why don’t you jump right in…”
I’d suggest reading his books. I know what you (others) are talking about, when they say he is loud, obnoxious and incoherent. Aside from being from Lebanon (not sure if they are a louder people), he comes across as high-functioning-autistic. His books are great though.
Regarding the audio, he stated he didn’t plan on talking about Taleb, but that was the most rehearsed response I’ve heard. He was calmly and cogently doing the same thing Taleb does. Not really impressed by the audio clip.
It was an Ask-Me-Anything, so it’s not rehearsed and responding to a question. As far as calm/slow response, that is how Sam talks. I bump the podcast up to 1.5x or 2x, unless there is a fast talker he’s talking to. He spoke to Ben Shapiro and on 2x it was like a squeaking mouse.
@ The Great American Read
We started watching the PBS series last night. It’s fun. I’m not sure if it’s still available to stream without a PBS subscription, but I think so.
@ The list of 100 books, they surveyed people and asked them for their favorite book, so many are just light fiction, not fine literature. I was a little bit surprised. I’ve read 37 of the 100 books on that list, and it gave me some ideas for things I’d like to read.
@usmccds423, one more thing! If I remember correctly, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of your favorite books? My husband just put it on my kindle last night. He’s reading it now. Book group at my house. Haha.
EDIT - Decided to expand after reading the whole thread after returning from vacation.
I was a golf pro for a while. The joke was that there were a whole lot of people out on the range trying to find answers in the dirt while I was standing right there with the answers. They would spend thousands on clubs and equipment when, with a proper swing, they could play well with off the shelf Sears clubs. I haven’t played in five years, but with two weeks I can shoot in the 70’s again - because I have been there.
I think a mentor is the same. Call it a coach, teacher, mentor, it’s all the same. If someone has been there, and done it, you can learn from them, and you should.
Brilliant AF. You should totally listen to these cats, and I can tell you do because you’re pretty bright, even if you are from Beaverton.
My brother Joe was homeless fifteen years ago - started a landscape company after graduating from NYU with an LLM in Tax and Estate planning. My other brother Jon had evicted him to make room for me and Joe was literally sleeping in his warehouse - no AC in Orlando, just him and his Basset hound.
He’s worth almost $15M now. He’s really an accountant and has made money by using a sharp pencil. If it doesn’t pencil, it doesn’t work.
Mentors = brilliance.
I feel very inadequate reading this thread, you fuckers are very smart.