Reflections on Aphorisms #20

I’ve been doing these reflections on aphorisms for what is now two-thirds of a month, and I’m really enjoying them quite a bit.

I’m not sure if they’re good reading, but posting them helps to keep me accountable for actually it, and I’ve found that they bring me some happiness. There’s a sort of satisfaction in quiet contemplation that I don’t think you can get anywhere else.

Aphorism 32

“You can’t go from books to problems, but the reverse: from problems to books.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Note that I got this quote from the audiobook edition of The Black Swan (Amazon affiliate link), so I probably have a different style and punctuation than the printed version.


One of the things that is interesting about education is that we have a concept of reverse design.

The idea is that you start with your objective and then you decide on the actual methods you use to achieve that goal.

I think this is a good way to write a book as well.

When you start writing for the sake of writing, it’s very difficult. As someone who has written daily posts for months at a time, I can say that it is tremendously difficult to keep up with such a schedule.

It really shows when you don’t have a problem that you’re solving.

Another thing is that books and writing are of limited value. There are very few people who can actually take a concept and then apply it from a book.

People often believe they can do this when they can’t. As English (and I’m sure other language teachers notice this as well) teachers worldwide know, students struggle with generalizing information.

What this means is that you can read something and not get its meaning in a concrete sense. If you start with a book in lieu of any worldly experience you end with a lack of deeper understanding. The ability to generalize, or apply information in a context other than it was first received, is one that requires a certain amount of cognitive development. Frustratingly, it is very easy to listen or read and then immediately fail to apply what has been learned. In education, there is a theory that something must be taught five or six different times before it is truly learned. Otherwise, limitations on memory and failures to generalize make the teaching much less effective.

Mind you, this is with practice. Text itself is more difficult by itself. Fortunately many of the people who are reading books will have better generalization and memory techniques than children.

All the same, books work best as reference if someone knows what the problem is that they need to solve. Then the information in a book is fantastic. Trying to learn from a book in the sense of acquiring wholly new skills is not an easy task.

My Life

I am working on a book on game design. I do not have a whole lot of on paper qualifications for this (though I do actually have more than I sometimes give myself credit for), but I have tinkered with games for more or less my entire life.

One of the challenges here is how to make the book valuable to people. I have faith that my skill is sufficient to make it worth reading, but transferring that skill in book form is the difficult endeavor. Since I write a blog on game design both here previously and now elsewhere, I have written about the subject and done research to such a point that I have gotten my process down well enough to translate to a full-length book.

My plan is to use techniques that one would use while teaching more than using techniques that one would use while writing a traditional book. I’ve noticed that I learned poorly from textbooks, but very well from books written by people with an intuitive grasp of human knowledge. My plan is to use anecdotes, case studies, and other methods including including both basic and deep overviews of various concepts.

There’s also something more personal about the book. When I wrote a Blog, I found it there were things that I wanted to include but could not because of time and length restrictions. If you go too long in a Blog, it’s really easy to lose readers. My average length is something between 1000 and 2000 words, which falls on the longer side for most blogs. I’ve given some thought to the best structure for the book and my plan is to have it be nonlinear.

Concepts will be explained in a simple overview, long-form analysis, and case studies. I will probably not do an individual case study for each concept, but rather for each of the overarching ideas since there will be a couple overarching categories into which the concept will be assigned.


Don’t write a meaningless book.

Craft learning objectives for each chapter I write.

Remember the limits of human learning.

Aphorism 33

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes


A problem with modern life is that it is difficult to even be sure what is a factor in any particular part of our overly complex lives. It is an artificial life that we live. Lest I sound overly alarmist, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something we need to be aware of.

Modern life requires caution. With so much of our life being defined by metrics that have been created and designed, rather than naturally occurring, we run the risk of compounding errors in judgment.

Our prevailing social mode is one of preventing change, or at least that change which we perceive to be undesirable. In doing so, we have created systems that govern our lives and embraced over-dependence on them, knowing that we will resist change tooth and nail.

The problem is that these things will inevitably change.

Our comfort has become an addiction. The salary is a good example of this because it stopped actually useful work instead tried to abstract the value. the danger in this is that at some point we may lose our value not our wage.

At first, this sounds almost reassuring. After all, it is certainty. The problem is that it’s false certainty.

Because salaries blind us to our actual product, we don’t see the value of what we create. At best, we provide better value than we receive in return. Even if this goes unrewarded, at least it generally assures some level of appreciation and job security.

If the value in one’s work falls, and the situation is not remedied, they’re actively destroying their own sense of security and may not realize it. This can happen regardless of an individual’s merits, salaried workers are unlike an artisan who could see that there is less demand for their work they may not have their ear to the ground.

Heroin I do not feel much of a need to talk about. Especially in the modern day, there is such an epidemic of drug abuse that it’s dangers are clearly known. Not using drugs and being a teetotaler, I haven’t had any significant personal experiences in this field.

My Life

My own relationship with carbohydrates is complex. I went on a diet where I consume less than 20% of my calories as carbohydrates and I lost more than 10% of my body weight. Since then I’ve lost discipline to keep up with it, and I’m a little ashamed to say that I may simply not have the willpower (until I get back into it; I’ve been trying to get better about it).

There is something to be said for an addictive quality in the things that we eat. When I was more focused on eating meat and nuts and other high protein foods, I found it I was much less hungry. Many of my favorite unhealthy foods are high in sugar, so cutting out sugar meant that I stopped indulging some of my more Dangerous tastes.

I think the real danger isn’t the fact that all of these tend to be associated with unexamined lives. Strong painkillers take us out of our own minds.


Stick to a diet that builds my well-being.

Recognize when I have become dependent on something that does not provide value.

Bring value, rather than seeking rent.

Reflections on Aphorisms #4

Figured out yesterday’s aphorism that I couldn’t get a satisfying break-down of, so that’ll be one of the two today (it’s the Taleb one).

Aphorism 5

The most depressing aspect of the lives of the couples you watch surreptitiously arguing in restaurants is that they are almost always unaware of the true subject of argument.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (Amazon affiliate link)


I’m not really in a significant relationship, so I’m not going to cover the relationship aspect of this so much as a simple truth here:

You don’t necessarily know what you’re looking at until you put it into words, and even then you might have done it wrong.

I think that a lot of arguments arise from what goes unsaid on purpose, and what goes unsaid on accident, and this aphorism deals with the latter.

You need to have a good identification with a life of meaning to really notice when things have gone astray.

My Life

Today was my last regular day as a classroom teacher for the foreseeable future. I’m doing some freelance writing in the immediate future and then I’ll be getting back to school to complete a master’s or maybe a doctorate program.

And, to be honest, it’s painful to say goodbye. It’s been an emotionally draining week for a variety of reasons, and teaching is just emotionally draining in general, but the fact remains that it’s still something that brings a lot of meaning to my life.

I wouldn’t say that I regret leaving; this is the perfect time to make a move for me, since I still retain almost no financial obligations except to myself.

However, it’s certainly not easy. Most of the kids were pretty sad to see me go, even more so than I expected (to be honest, since almost none of them were going to have me next year unless something changed in my position, I didn’t expect quite so much of a response).

I’ve probably had something like two hundred and fifty or three hundred students in the past couple years, and it’s sort of crazy to think about not seeing most of them after next week.

But, of course, such is the nature of things. If there is any lesson I’ve learned at a dear cost this past week, it’s that you can’t always anticipate change, so the best you can do is accept it.


Find the hidden and secret things that have a tendency to sneak up on my life.

Never forget how meaningful the teaching experience has been in my life, even if more lucrative opportunities come along later.

Value authenticity, pierce the veil of easy explanations.

Aphorism 6

A book calls for pen, ink, and a writing desk; today the rules is that pen, ink, and a writing desk call for a book.

Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms


This is another aphorism that begs context. I think that it’s referring to the way in which we interact with books, namely comparing the act of reading and reflecting on things.

Nietzsche is often very concerned about the advent of modernity, and I think that part of this is the transition from having eyes on the past to focusing on the future.

Part of the old tradition is to go into texts as an end to itself. The contemplation on and analysis of the old masters is got necessarily lower than striving for personal mastery.

This is a lot of what Montaigne does in his essays, but while Montaigne may be “the first modern” in his philosophy and interests, he is also distinctly classical in his methods.

Now the fashion is to create and change, to pursue power before wisdom and influence before virtue.

My Life

I am beginning to write a book. I may not finish it, since I may find it unfit, but I am perhaps falling into what Nietzsche is warning about here.

However, I think that I’m not all bad.

Obvious self service aside, I feel blessed to have an inquisitive mind. I enjoy digging deep into everything, and I am reaching a point soon where I can pursue self perfection as a primary goal.


Don’t waste my current shot at self improvement.

Learn from others.

Make sure that nothing I do stems from mere desire to do but rather from purpose.