Nassim Taleb asserts that, on average, old technologies have longer life expectancies than younger technologies, which helps explain why books are still around and CD-ROM magazines aren’t.
For example: Let’s assume the sole information I have about a gentleman is that he is 40 years old, and I want to predict how long he will live. I can look at actuarial tables and find his age-adjusted life expectancy as used by insurance companies. The table will predict he has an extra 44 years to go; next year, when he turns 41, he will have a little more than 43 years to go.
For a perishable human, every year that elapses reduces his life expectancy by a little less than a year.
The opposite applies to non-perishables like technology and information. If a book has been in print for 40 years, I can expect it to be in print for at least another 40 years. But — and this is the main difference — if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another 50 years.
This is adapted from Taleb’s recent book, Antifragile. Anyone read this yet? I really liked The Black Swan.
New Statesman has an excerpt of the new-for-the-paperback postscript from Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, which book was probably the most interesting one I’ve read in quite some time (if you can handle some of the ridiculous posturing).
An economist would find it inefficient to carry two lungs and two kidneys — consider the costs involved in transporting these heavy items across the savannah. Such optimisation would, eventually, kill you, after the first accident, the first “outlier”. Also, consider that if we gave Mother Nature to economists, it would dispense with individual kidneys — since we do not need them all the time, it would be more “efficient” if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis. You could also lend your eyes at night, since you do not need them to dream.
Read through to the end for Taleb’s list of ten principles for a Black Swan-robust society.
When I first saw the headline, I thought “this is amazing…Darren Aronofsky’s directing a movie based on the book by Nassim Taleb and Natalie Portman’s gonna star in it!” The plot of the actual movie is only slightly less implausible:
“Swan” centers on a veteran ballerina (Portman) who finds herself locked in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it’s unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions.
Hey, they’re making Blink and Moneyball into movies, why not The Black Swan?
Update: An additional important note about this film:
In this movie, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have sex. Yeah. You read that right. And not just nice sweet innocent sex either. We’re talking ecstasy-induced hungry aggressive angry sex.
From the introduction of part one of The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Presumably Eco’s two groups of visitors — the librarians and antilibrarians — annihilate each other when in close proximity.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb lists ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world. Most points relate directly to the current economic situation in the US.
No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.
It was difficult to choose just one of Taleb’s points to excerpt; they’re all worth considering. BTW, a Black Swan is an event that is rare, has a large impact, and is deemed predictable after the fact. I might have to push Taleb’s book of the same name to the top of my reading list.
A comparison of the rules for living of writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Republican political operative Roger Stone.
Taleb: “6. Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.”
Stone: “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.”
The NY Times has an excerpt of the first chapter of The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. Accompanying the excerpt is a review by Gregg Easterbrook. “History, he writes, proceeds by ‘jumps,’ controlled by ‘the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted.’” Sounds like punctuated equilibrium.
Short interview by James Surowiecki of Nassim Taleb about his new book, The Black Swan. “History is dominated not by the predictable but by the highly improbable — disruptive, unforeseeable events that Taleb calls Black Swans. The effects of wars, market crashes, and radical technological innovations are magnified precisely because they confound our expectations of the universe as an orderly place.” Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article on Taleb for the New Yorker in 2002, which Taleb said “put too much emphasis on the far less interesting, more limited — and rather boring — applications of my ideas to finance/economic, & less on the dynamics of historical events/philosophy of history, artistic success, and general uncertainty in society”. See also an interview in New Scientist, a NY Times op-ed, and a long piece on the Edge site about the black swan idea.