Sep 3, 2021

No one knows shit: The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This book was a challenge for me because the author is such a repellant narcissist. His self-assurance and contempt for anyone that doesn't confirm his theories oozes from every page. He structures the book as a hero's journey, explaining how his life perfectly prepared him to uncover the truths of the world and subjecting us to sagas of his victories over fools and charlatans. He creates fictional characters, puts his words in their mouths, and tells stories of their vindication against all odds and triumphs over naysayers. But I'm glad someone made his points:

1. We all predict the future by the past. But imagine the turkey who is fed and housed every day by a farmer. He will grow more and more confident the farmer has his best interests at heart. Then one Christmas Eve, he will undergo a radical revision of belief

2. Imagine all the self-satisfied economists and politicians on September 10th 2001, or in December 2019, issuing projections about the future of stockmarkets, geopolitics, and Western society. Few admit the possibility of rare impactful events - Black Swans

3. Most of their predictions and models are based on extrapolations of linear trends, Gaussian modelling, and bell-curved outcomes, which cannot account for Black Swan outliers, despite their oft-enormous impact in history and economics. Think of the massive impact of individuals like Muhammad, firms like Amazon, or technologies like the steam engine

4. Many inventions and discoveries come from serendipity. Many are the result of lone tinkerers. Rarely can they be directed, planned, or predicted. Think penicillin or microwave ovens

5. Pundits and leaders are no better than cab drivers at predicting the future, they are just better at propagandizing and cherry picking their past pronouncements and narratizing their ideas. We all retrospectively find ways to explain total surprises and forget that unknown unknowns exist, and that we could be the turkey

6. The beauty of capitalism is that CEOs don't need to know the future - the evolutionary system will select for firms that fit new circumstances. The fragility of central planning is that planners don't produce a whole ecosystem of strategies that can respond to outlier events

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