Foreword for Cut the Knot: Probability Riddles by Alexander B.

Image for post
Image for post
In New jersey, an Italian restaurant

How do you learn a language? There are two routes; the first is to memorize imperfect verbs, grammatical rules, future vs. past tenses, recite boring context-free sentences, and pass an exam. The second approach consists in going to a bar, struggling a little bit and, out of the need to blend-in and integrate with a fun group of people, then suddenly find yourself able to communicate. In other words, by playing, by being alive as a human being. I personally have never seen anyone learn to speak a language properly by the first route. …

1) Religions map to highly differentiated belief clusters and mentalities that have little to do with their theologies, 2) Heresies are separatist movements, often ethnic, and have little to do with religious doctrine.

“This city,” [Constantinople] says he [Gregory of Nyssa], “is full of mechanics and slaves, who are all of them profound theologians; and preach in the shops, and in the streets. If you desire a man to change a piece of silver, he informs you, wherein the Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply, that the Son is inferior to the Father; and if you inquire, whether the bath is ready, the answer is, that the Son was made out of nothing.”, via Gibbon, Hist. of The Decl. …

About two years before the recent collapse, at a dinner, a then (slow thinking) member of the Lebanese parliament kept bugging me for an economic forecast. There was already some anxiety in the air. My answer was that we were facing imminent financial disaster, but that it was not necessarily bad news, long term. Why? Because such a total collapse could lead to natural responses that are better than the one we would have spontaneously, going from patching bad stuff to patching worse stuff. The lira was artificially kept too strong for any industry to survive and the financial system (the Ponzi) was sucking up all the money and destroying the economic substructure. But my point was that the (unavoidable) collapse would lead to an adaptation, the weaning from chronic foreign “loans” and, possibly, a huge bounce. De-financializing the country was a necessity, and people never do that spontaneously. Nothing was going to be fixed without a collapse. Was I optimistic? pessimistic? …

Incompetence and Errors in Reasoning Around Face Covering

SIX ERRORS: 1) missing the compounding effects of masks, 2) missing the nonlinearity of the probability of infection to viral exposures, 3) missing absence of evidence (of benefits of mask wearing) for evidence of absence (of benefits of mask wearing), 4) missing the point that people do not need governments to produce facial covering: they can make their own, 5) missing the compounding effects of statistical signals, 6) ignoring the Non-Aggression Principle by pseudolibertarians (masks are also to protect others from you; it’s a multiplicative process: every person you infect will infect others).

In fact masks (and faceshields) supplemented with constraints of superspreader events can save us trillions of dollars in future lockdowns (and lawsuits) and be potentially sufficient (under adequate compliance) to stem the pandemic. …

(With Mark Spitznagel)

The U.S. government is enacting measures to save the airlines, Boeing, and similarly affected corporations. While we clearly insist that these companies must be saved, there may be ethical, economic, and structural problems associated with the details of the execution. As a matter of fact, if you study the history of bailouts, there will be.

Image for post
Image for post
Saving Those on th Medusa

The bailouts of 2008–9 saved the banks (but mostly the bankers), thanks to the execution by then-treasury secretary Timothy Geithner who fought for bank executives against both Congress and some other members of the Obama administration. Bankers who lost more money than ever earned in the history of banking, received the largest bonus pool in the history of banking less than two years later, in 2010. …

For some technical backbone to this piece,see here.

(Revised draft: added comments on sinister country profiling. Also 1) Used the same data as researchers to find that R² for IQ-wealth and IQ-income is effectively 0 in spite of the circularity. 2) Turns out IQ beats random selection in the best of applications by less than 6%, typically <2%, as the computation of correlations have a flaw and psychologists do not seem to know the informational value of correlation in terms of “how much do I gain information about B knowing A” and propagation of error (intra-test variance for a single individual). 3) Added information showing the story behind the effectiveness of Average National IQ is, statistically, a fraud. The psychologists who engaged me on this piece — with verbose writeups —made the mistake of showing me the best they got: papers with the strongest pro-IQ arguments. They do not seem to grasp what noise/signal really means in practice. …

Clearing the discourse of abuses and abusers. The more you institutionalize rules of ethical behavior that should be voluntary (say, anti-racism, anti-sexism), the more they will be used as a cover for unethical actions.

Image for post
Image for post


Definition: Argument involving children to prop up a rationalization and make the opponent look like an asshole, as people are defenseless and suspend all skepticism in front of suffering children: nobody has the heart to question the authenticity or source of the reporting. Often done with the aid of pictures.

Can also describe the exploitation of babies by professional beggars who rent them from their parents and use them as potent appendage in their trade(remember that children tend to grow and need to be replaced).

When selecting a surgeon for your next brain procedure, should you pick a surgeon who looks like a butcher or one who looks like a surgeon? The logic of skin in the game implies you need to select the one who (while credentialed) looks the least like what you would expect from a surgeon, or, rather, the Hollywood version of a surgeon.

The same logic mysteriously answers many vital questions, such as 1) the difference between rationality and rationalization, 2) that between virtue and virtue signaling, 3) the nature of honor and sacrifice, 4) Religion and signaling (why the pope is functionally atheist) 5) the justification for economic inequality that doesn’t arise from rent seeking, 6) why to never tell people your forecasts (only discuss publicly what you own in your portfolio) and, 7) even, how and from whom to buy your next car. …

(Skin in the Game was embargoed (meaning no copy was sent to reviewers), as the book explains the agency problem of reviewers. Three UK journos got hold of it and hurriedly wrote revenge reviews, perhaps too hurriedly. This note exposing their errors of reading comprehension made them accountable, and led to no further journalist reviewing the book: only end users and specialists. Note that, something I wasn’t seeking, the book still made the top of the bestseller list in both countries, meaning neither nasty attacks (UK) nor silence (US) seems to affect it).

Skin in the Game is another addition to the Incerto, now volume 5; I avoided duplication by referring to where in the Incerto some points were developed such as via negativa or monoculture of forecasters or expert problems. You simply don’t repeat in chapter 23 what was said in chapter 5, but can make reference to it. …

Traduction par Emilio El-Dib, auteur du Liban expliqué à mes proches.

Les Libanais disent « bét » depuis au moins 3200 ans. Encore aujourd’hui, ils continuent de dire « bét » pour désigner une maison, mais tout d’un coup, ce mot est supposé provenir d’un « dialecte » arabe. Il est insensé de penser qu’une population peut parler une langue, par exemple un cananéen araméisé avec des variantes locales, puis soudainement, tabula rasa, passer à une nouvelle langue avec les mêmes mots.

Il serait anachronique d’affirmer que l’italien est un dialecte catalan. En revanche, on peut dire que l’italien provient du latin (vulgaire). Mais quand il s’agit du libanais — et plus généralement du levantin du nord-ouest — le sujet est traité différemment. Afin de ménager certaines susceptibilités, des think-tanks arabisants et « politiquement corrects » (constitués d’Occidentaux simples d’esprit, formés à quelque chose qu’on appelle « études moyen-orientales ») soutiennent que le libanais est un dérivé de l’arabe. Pour eux, ce serait un « dialecte » arabe. Même des linguistes trouvent des arguments circulaires pour inverser la flèche du temps et servir ainsi les intérêts du panarabisme. Dans les situations où il existe des similitudes entre des mots libanais et arabes, ils insistent sur le fait que ces mots proviennent de l’arabe et non d’une racine commune aux deux langues. (La plupart des Libanais sont eux-même désorientés par leur propre diglossie car une langue parlée n’est pas censée être écrite.) Contrairement aux langues indo-européennes, les langues sémitiques présentent un croisement de racines et une diffusion aréale considérables. Affirmer qu’une langue sémitique est issue d’une autre est donc très délicat. Et des propos tels que « A est un dialecte de B » n’ont pas le même degré de certitude et de netteté que dans d’autres familles de langues. Cela requiert, comme nous le montrerons, des facteurs orthogonaux. Même le mot « arabe » est mal défini (historiquement, il se référait possiblement à une population occidentale non-péninsulaire) et la signification « d’arabe » est largement circulaire. Pour compliquer encore plus les choses, ce que les linguistes appellent « arabe » n’est pas l’arabe classique mais une construction hypothétique nommée « proto-arabe. …

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store