web analytics

I was going to call Nassim Taleb my favorite philosopher, but it occurred to me that would have been kind of dumb because he is skeptical of any universal claims to truth or any overarching philosophical system describing reality.  He is more concerned with what we don’t know rather than what we do know. 

He is especially skeptical of any academic discipline that does not regularly interact with reality, whether it be in the marketplace or any other domain.  He is also skeptical of our ability to predict the future, most importantly our ability to predict large unexpected negative adverse events, which he calls “Black Swans.”

In short, of any thinker, I think he best captures knowledge as it is in actual every day experience.  Even though he is skeptical of any overarching claims to truth, he does offer some nice guide posts to living.

  1. Because we can’t predict what the future holds, especially bad events, live your life with as much financial, emotional and mental resilience as you can.  This means if those bad things aren’t happening right now, save, avoid debt, exercise, and build a resilient social network. 
  2. The best business strategy is to stay in business.  Don’t take any action would result in failure of the business if that strategy results in death of business.  Avoid large bets that kill the business if they fail.  
  3. Double or triple up your systems.  Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.   Redundancy in planning and living. 
  4. While you shouldn’t take risks on big things, you should probably take be taking more small bets on things where the gains are asymmetric.    Podcasts are like that.   Nothing bad happens if people don’t listen.  Very little downside with failure, just the pleasurable time making them, but the upside is huge if it grows exponentially.  Hint.  Internet is the essence of exponential.
  5. If you are going to rely on philosophical systems, rely on the ancients from throughout the world rather than the recent philosophies from academic departments.   He has more respect for systems that have stood the test of time.  
  6. Trust people that have skin in the game, meaning that their own fate is tied to recommendation to you.
  7. If you have to make a prediction, trust a practitioner rather than academic.  
  8. Too much or too little stress are both bad, but a little stress is good.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Get exercise, get out of your comfort zone, gain new skills, save money, pay debts.
  9. I don’t think he claims to be Stoic, but he frequently quotes the Stoics, with Seneca being the most frequent.  So he also has that going for him.  
  10. Before you replace the old, you’d better make sure the new is better than the old through constant trial and error through repeated experiments.

These are just a few principles.  He would probably criticize for me even trying to classify his work because it implies that you can know about the world.  The irony of that is your ability to “not-know” makes you more cautious, more experimental, and more likely to start very small to see if it works before trying anything big.  That skepticism makes you better at identifying actual real knowledge, the kind of knowledge you can depend on.  

The other irony, or maybe not, is that although he is very skeptical about predicting the future, he is actually very good at it since his un-philosophical system is so tied to reality as it is rather than how we wish it to be.  When he starts insulting a large investment banking firm, or publicly traded company, you should consider selling, especially if they have large debts. You can be sure it is probably vulnerable to any systemic shock.   

Finally he is just plain hilarious and fun to read.  You know you’ve hit the big time when he insults you and no one is immune, even Nobel Laureates in Economics especially.  It is like going to college in the world as it is rather than how we wish to be.  You’ll be a better decision maker after reading him.  

Here’s a link to his books.  You can start with Fooled by Randomness.  My favorite one is probably Black Swan, with Skin in the Game being a close second.    

Tomorrow, I am going to cover one very curious omission to the traditional skepticism to both fasting and keto.  I am not going to cover either keto or fasting risks (or lack thereof), but what they clearly do accomplish.