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Aphorisms, Rules, and Heuristics
NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB
1. Trust those who are greedy for money a thousand
time more than those who are greedy for credentials.
2. You can expect blowups and explosive errors in fields
where there is a penalty for simplicity.
3. Never ask your client for advice.
4. Failure-proof is achievable; failure-free is not.
5. Most mistakes get worse when you try to correct
6. Never rid anyone of an illusion unless you can
replace it in his mind with another illusion.
7. Never show a risk number, even if it is right.
8. Trust those who trust you and distrust those who are
suspicious of others.
9. It is quite a predicament to be both evil and risk
10. Never hire an A student unless it is to take exams.
11. Be polite, courteous, and gentle, but ignore
comments, praise, and criticism from people you
12. Mathematics demands an uncontrolled hunger for
abstraction, philosophy a very controlled one.
13. You can tell how poor someone feels by the number
of times he references money in his conversation.
14. What counts is not what people say about you, it is
how much energy they spend saying it.
15. Almost all those caught making a logical fallacy
interpret it as a "disagreement".
16. Never take an advice from a salesman, or any
advice that benefits the advice giver.
17. If something looks irrational —and has been so for
a long time —odds are you have a wrong definition of
18. I never trust a man who doesn't have enemies.
19. Let us find what risks we can measure and these
are the risks we should be taking
20. Supposedly, if you are uncompromising/intolerant
with BS you lose friends. But these are very good to
lose. For you also make friends, better friends
21. A trader listened to the firm's "chief" economist's
predictions about gold, then lost a bundle. The trader
was asked to leave the firm. He then angrily asked him
boss who was firing him: "Why do you fire me alone
not the economist? He too is responsible for the loss."
The Boss: "You idiot, we are not firing you for losing
money; we are firing you for listening to the
22. If something (say, a stock) looks slightly out of line,
it is out of line. If it looks way out of line, you are
wrong in your method of evaluation.
23. Never take investment advice from someone who
has to work for a living.
24. It is easy for others, but not for you, to detect the
asymmetry between what you gain and what you give
by doing, writing or saying.
25. Being an entrepreneur is an existential, not just a
26. The first one who uses "but", has lost the
27. Virtue is sequence of small acts of omission. Honor
and Grandeur can be a single gutsy, momentous, and
self-sacrificial act of commission.
28. To be a person of virtue you need to be boringly
virtuous in every single small action. To be a person of
honor all you need is be honorable in a few important
things (say risk your life or career or reputation for a
just cause, or live up to your word when nobody else
has guts to do so, etc.)
29. To understand how something works, figure out
how to break it.
30. Never read a book review written by an author
whose books you wouldn't read.
31. When positive, show net, when negative, show
32. Bring the good news in trickles, the bad news in
33. Change anchor to what did not happen rather than
to what did happen.
34. It is easier to macrobullshit than to microbullshit.
35. The problem is that academics really think that
nonacademics find them more intelligent than
36. It takes a lot of skills to be virtuous without being
54. A government stating "we will not stand idle in front
of atrocities committed by (foreign dictator) xxx" is
typically trying to mitigate the guilt for standing idle in
front of more atrocities committed by xxx.
37. If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not
mystical, you're not going to go anywhere.
38. Virtue is when the income you wish to show the tax
agency equals what you wish to show your neighbor.
39. Atheists are just modern versions of religious
fundamentalists: they both take religion too literally.
is perplexing, but amusing to observe people
extremely excited about things you don't care
it is sinister to watch them ignore things you
56. The fact that people in countries with cold weather
tend to be harder working, richer, less relaxed, less
(over)organized and more harried than those in hotter
climates should make us wonder whether wealth is
mere indemnification, and motivation is just
overcompensation, for not having a real life.
40. There is no more unmistakable sign of failure than
that of a middle-aged man boasting of his successes in
41. One of life's machinations is to make some people
both rich and unhappy, that is, jointly fragile and
deprived of hope.
57. If you get easily bored, it means that your BS
detector is functioning properly; if you forget (some)
things, it means that your mind knows how to filter;
and if you feel sadness, it means that you are human.
42. You can almost certainly extract a "yes" from
someone who says "no" to you, never from someone
who says nothing.
43. High Modernity: routine in place of physical effort,
physical effort in place of mental expenditure, & mental
expenditure in place of mental clarity.
58. The good life -the vita beata - is like reading a
Russian novel: it takes 200 pages of struggling with the
characters before one can start enjoying things. Then
the agitation starts to make sense.
44. It is a sign of weakness to avoid showing signs of
59. What we commonly call "success" (rewards, status,
recognition, some new metric) is a consolation prize for
those both unhappy and not good at what they do.
45. Never trust a journalist unless she's your mother.
46. You will never know if someone is an asshole until
he becomes rich.
60. It is a great compliment for an honest person to be
mistaken for a crook by a crook.
47. Life is about execution rather than purpose.
61. The only problem with the last laugh is that the
winner has to laugh alone.
48. The natural benefit of a cell phone, laptop, and
other indispensable modern items is the joy one gets
finding the object after losing it. Lose your wallet full of
credit cards and you will have a chance to have a great
62. There is nothing more hideous than excessive
refinement (in food, dress, lifestyle, etc.)
63. The ultimate freedom lies in not having to explain
"why" you did something.
49. The general principle of antifragility, it is much
better to do things you cannot explain than explain
things you cannot do.
64. Life is about early detection of the reversal point
beyond which belongings (say a house, country house,
car, or business) start owning you.
50. If you are only bad-mouthed by people who prefer
your company over those of many others, only critiqued
by those who scrutinize your work, and only insulted by
persons who open your email as soon as they see it,
then you are doing the right thing.
65. People tend to whisper when they say the truth and
raise their voice when they lie.
66. The first, and hardest, step to wisdom: avert the
standard assumption that people know what they want.
51. When you cite some old wisdom-style quote and
add "important truth", "to remember" or "something to
live by", you are not doing so because it is good, only
because it is inapplicable. Had it been both good and
applicable you would not have had to cite it. Wisdom
that is hard to execute isn't really wisdom.
67. An enemy who becomes a friend will always be a
friend; a friend turned enemy will remain so forever.
68. People reveal much more about themselves while
69. Saying someone good at making profits but not
good at managing risk is like saying someone is a great
surgeon except for cases when the patients die.
52. Used skillfully, a compliment will be much more
offensive than any disparagement.
53. The ones who refer to you repeatedly as "my
friend" are most likely to betray you.
70. People laugh out loud and broadcast their laughter
when they're worried about the statement that they
purportedly find funny. They would smile - perhaps
in school requires absence of common sense, 4) To
understanding of probability, risk, or 2nd order effects
and about anything, 5) To succeed in journalism
requires inability to think about matters that have an
infinitesimal small chance of being relevant next
January, ...6) But to succeed in life requires a total
inability to do anything that makes you uncomfortable
when you look at yourself in the mirror.
71. If someone is making an effort to ignore you, he is
not ignoring you.
72. A good man is warm and respectful towards the
waiter or people of lower financial and social condition.
73. Journalists feel contempt for those who fear them
and a deep resentment for those who don't.
88. An economist is a mixture of 1) a businessman
without common sense, 2) a physicist without brain,
and 3) a speculator without balls.
74. When someone starts a sentence with the first half
containing "I", "not", and "but", the "not" should be
removed and the "but" replaced with "therefore.”
75. The only valid political system is one that can
handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.
89. A prostitute who sells her body (temporarily) is
vastly more honorable than someone who sells his
opinion for promotion or job tenure.
76. Journalists cannot grasp that what is interesting is
not necessarily important; most cannot even grasp that
what is sensational is not necessarily interesting.
90. Those with brains no balls become mathematicians,
those with balls no brains join the mafia, those w no
balls no brains become economists.
77. Never buy a product that the owner of the company
that makes it doesn't use, or, in the case of, say,
medication, wouldn't contingently use.
91. To have a great day: 1) Smile at a stranger, 2)
Surprise someone by saying something unexpectedly
nice, 3) Give some genuine attention to an elderly, 4)
Invite someone who doesn't have many friends for
coffee, 5) Humiliate an economist, publicly, or create
deep anxiety inside a Harvard professor.
78. Injuries done to us by others tend to be acute; the
self-inflicted ones tend to be chronic.
79. We often benefit from harm done to us by others;
almost never from self-inflicted injuries.
92. The saying goes "those who can, do; those who
can't do, teach". But I've shown that those who can't
do shouldn't teach.
80. When someone writes "I dislike you but I agree
with you", I read "I dislike you because I agree with
(Green lumber fallacy)
93. Mistakes detected by copy editors are not likely to
be noticed by readers, and vice versa.
81. For a free person, the optimal - most opportunistic route between two points should never be the shortest
94. Accept the rationality of time, never its fairness and
82. Just as eating cow-meat doesn't turn you into a
cow, studying philosophy doesn't make you wiser.
95. Swearing on the occasion, amid rich vocabulary, is
costly signaling that you are self-owned. But don't
83. I wonder how many people would seek excessive
wealth if it did not carry a measure of status with it.
96. Bureaucracy is a construction designed to maximize
the distance between a decision-maker and the risks of
84. If the professor is not capable of giving a class
without preparation, don't attend. People should only
teach what they have learned organically, through
experience and curiosity… or get another job.
97. Remove all empty words from resume,
conversation, except when they aim at courtesy.
85. Do not socialize with people much richer than you;
but if you do, do it in your own territory (restaurants
you can afford, wine, etc.)
98. I want to write books that only those who read
them claim they did.
86. Corollary: If you socialize with someone with a
smaller bank account than yours, you are obligated to
converse exactly as if you had the same means, eat in
the places where he eats, at no point in time show the
pictures of your vacation in Provence or anything that
hints at the differential in means.
99. People are much less interested in what you are
trying to show them than what you are trying to hide.
87. Success in all endeavors is requires absence of
specific qualities. 1) To succeed in crime requires
absence of empathy, 2) To succeed in banking you
need absence of shame at hiding risks, 3) To succeed
101. When people say "I am investing for the long
term", it means they are losing money.
100. Stiglitz understands everything about economics
except for tail risks: like knowing everything about
flight safety except for crashes.
102. Did you notice that collecting art is to hobbypainting as watching pornography is to doing the real
thing? Only difference is status.
121. I am rather fed up with those who tell me to be
nice & try to convince charlatans. The FDA didn't "try to
convince" charlatans to stop selling snake oil.
103. Statisticians understand the risks of roulette better
than carpenters; probabilists understand the risks of
GMOs better than biologists.
122. If a pilot crashes a plane, N=1 is not anecdote, if
he doesn't crash the plane, N=100 is anecdote.
123. France took Algeria, hoping for a country to eat
cassoulet and instead France is now eating couscous.
Inverse effects are the norm.
104. Real life (vita beata) is when your choices
correspond to your duties.
105. The problem with the idea of "learning from one's
mistakes" is that most of what people call mistakes
124. All rumors about a public figure are to be deemed
untrue until he threatens to sue.
125. In a conflict, the middle ground is the least likely
to be correct.
106. Never call someone an imbecile (or fucking idiot)
unless he causes harm to others/system; there must be
a moral dimension to insults.
126. The ancient Mediterranean : people changed rites
as we do w ethnic food.
107. Probability is the intersection of the most rigorous
mathematics and the messiest of life.
127. Risk takers never complain. They do.
128. You are as good as how nice you are to people
you don't have to be nice to.
108. We invented language to be vague, if you can sort
of see what I mean.
129. Intellect without balls is like a racecar without
109. Someone said "We need more women in academic
philosophy." But we also need more men in academic
110. If you detect a repressed smile
salesperson's face, you paid too much for it.
130. The idea is to be virtuous without being boring.
131. When I die, I want the highest number of firemen,
risk takers, & other real people and the smallest
number of academics to attend my funeral
111. Economics is about making simple things more
complicated, mathematics about making complicated
132. Multiplicative generosity- Limit your generosity to
those who, in turn, given the circumstances, would be
equally generous towards others.
112. If powerful assholes don't find you "arrogant", it
means you are doing something wrong.
133. We tend to define "rude" less by the words used
(what is said) than by the status of the recipient (to
whom it is addressed).
113. Anything people do, write, or say to enhance their
status beyond what they give others shows like a mark
on their foreheads, visible to others but not to them.
134. Studying neurobiology to understand humans is
like studying ink to understand literature.
114. To insult a barbarian, use his own language: Cum
care carizas, rustice agis cum rustico, barbare loqueris
barbaro ,crasse cum crasso.
135. Since its inception, academia has been grounded
in the idea that knowledge of the chemical composition
of ink will improve one's writing.
115. I was told to write medium sized books: The 2
most successful French novels in history: one is very
short (Le Petit Prince, ~80 p), other extra long (Proust's
Recherche, ~ 3200 p), following the Arcsine law.
136. A golden saddle on a sick horse makes the
problem feel worse; pomp and slickness in form (TEDstyle) makes absence of substance nauseating
116. Never get into a business partnership with a
retired lawyer unless he has another hobby.
137. Another marker for charlatans: they don't voice
opinions that can get them in trouble.
117. There is this prevailing illusion that debt is a
138. Increasingly, people don't become academics
because of intelligence, rather because of lower grasp
118. To say it bluntly, all the critics of my tail risk ideas
and strategies still work and have to work for a living.
139. The only people who think that real world
experience doesn't matters are those who never had
real world experience.
119. Polemic is a lucrative form of entertainment, as
the media can employ unpaid and fiercely motivated
140. Automation makes otherwise pleasant activities
turn into "work".
120. The rational heuristic is to avoid any market
commentary from anyone who has to work for a living.
141. Much of the difference between what is heaven
and what is hell is branding.
158. When you say something you think are just saying
something, but you are largely communicating why you
had to say it.)
142. I recently had a meal in a fancy restaurant with
complicated dishes ($125 per person), then enjoyed a
pizza afterwards (straight out of the oven), $7.95. I
wondered why the pizza isn't 20x the price of the
complicated dish, since I'd rather have the former over
159. If your beard is gray, produce heuristics/advice
but explain the "why". If your beard is white, skip the
why, just say what should be done.
160. Humans need to complain just as they need to
breathe. Never stop them; just manipulate them by
controlling what they complain about & supply them
with reasons to complain.
143.Contra the prevailing belief, "success" isn't being
on top of a hierarchy, it is standing outside all
They will complain but will be thankful.
Or, even better, for those who can, not being aware of,
or not giving a f*** about hierarchy.
161. The ultimate test of freedom is whether you *have
to* explain why you did something.
144. In the medical and social, domains treatment
should never be equivalent to silencing symptoms.
145. A happier world is one in which everyone realizes
that 1) it is not what you tell people, it is how you say it
that makes them feel bad, 2) it is not what you do to
them but how you make them look that gets them
angry, 3) they should be the ones putting themselves in
a specific category.
146. Any action one does with the aim of winning an
award, any award, corrupts to the core.
147. The rules you explain are less convincing that the
ones you don't explain- or have to explain.
148. When you say something you think are just saying
something, but you are largely communicating *why*
you had to say it.
149. Complaints don't deliver complaints, they mostly
reveal your weakness.
150. Envy, like thirst for revenge, is the wicked person's
version of our natural sense of injustice.
151. It takes some humanity to feel sympathy for those
less fortunate than us; but it takes honor to avoid
envying those who are much luckier.
152. A good book gets better at the second reading. A
great book at the third. Any book not worth rereading
isn't worth reading.
153. The alpha person at a gathering of "high status"
persons is often, detectably, the waiter.
154. Money corrupts those who talk (& write) about it
more than those who earn it.
156. The main reason to go to school is to learn *how
not* to think like a professor.
157. General Principle: the solutions (on balance) need
to be simpler than the problems.