Reflections on Aphorisms #34

Got carried away because I got to writing about consciousness. It’s a fascinating subject, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully written about some of my philosophical curiosities about what consciousness is in any serious form, though I might have jotted down a couple quick sketches of ideas a while back.

In any case, Oscar Wilde obliged.

Aphorism 57

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Oscar Wilde

Interpretation

I believe in the immensity of the unknown.

What exists is orders of magnitude greater than what we perceive to exist. This remains true if we cut down the sheer volume of the cosmos by focusing only on the things which have value to us (i.e. those that impact our lives).

I am often fascinated by the amount of unknown information that exists in the world. I’m not sure if this is something that is regular, or if there’s something in me that pushes me toward this. A large part of it is probably down to the fact that I grew up playing video games all the time, and while the games I played were quite complex they were still only knowable.

It terrifies me to think that I do not know what is in other peoples’ heads. That’s a bit of a strong wording, since it falsely implies that I form some distrust of others or have a phobia.

Rather, I think it’s a form of encounter with the sublime. I realize that those around me have things going on internally that are inscrutable to me, even with conversation. I’m not the most socially aware, though I’m not particularly bad at it (I like to describe myself as average in this way, as I am in many things), and while I can catch on-to things when they’re obvious I don’t have any Sherlock-esque mind-reading or subconscious body language mastery.

However, while this will sometimes consume my thoughts, I find it more interesting to see what we know.

I’ve read a few interesting things about consciousness, and all that I really know about it is that it’s quite an incredible thing.

One of two things in particular that I’ve thought a lot about is the classical philosophical question of similarity in perception: that is to say, the question of whether everyone perceives in universally similar ways.

For instance, if the sky is blue to you and blue to me, is the sensation that we get in our eyes the same essential blue, or does each person’s particular perception of it form based on a different conscious structure? It may seem self-evident that all people perceive similarly (since, after all, we can universally represent these concepts barring some barriers in communication), but on the other hand it may simply be that everyone has fundamentally similar responses to the same stimuli but the actual conscious representation of that stimulus is different.

The other is the accuracy of consciousness. How well do we actually perceive our world?

If I see a snake, is my perception shaped by something biological, or is it a strictly absolute perception? The same caveats as above apply (e.g. we can represent a snake in pictures), but again the nature of consciousness itself may play tricks upon us.

I also get to thinking about physics. What are the odds that there are whole phenomenological structures that underlie the fabric of reality that we simply cannot attune ourselves to? Things like time, for instance, are nearly there (since we perceive time only from a particular point at any moment) , but what is to say that there aren’t other systems and rules that we simply will never know because we aren’t the sort of being to interact with them?

We know that the brain is full of cheap hacks and tricks; this is why I see flickers of my cat, who has been deceased for over a month now, in the corner of my eye when I begin to move around. My brain is reminding me to look for the cat lest I trip over her (she was quite fond of causing such accidents, though she usually came out on the worse end of such exchanges), and still expects to see her despite her absence (and the conscious permanence of it, since I held her cold body in my hands). Years of life with her are not easily overwritten by the conscious over-mind.

Another thing that I have questions about is dreams.

There’s a phenomenon with dreams where the dreamer sees the future, or things that they will only see in the future.

There are three possible responses to this:

  1. These people are credible, and they have seen through time.
  2. These people are frauds, and they are delusional or trying out a con.
  3. These people are experiencing a phenomenon from the intersection of the conscious and unconscious mind.

Of these three, I am predisposed to the third option, at least in the majority of cases.

My skepticism prevents me from fully ruling out the first. Just as it does not prescribe me to believe such accounts, I cannot reject them without examination. The only absolutes I hold faith in are moral absolutes, and since I believe in an omnipotent God there’s no reason why one couldn’t get a vision of the future (assuming God chooses to grant it), though I haven’t necessarily believed in any particular case I’ve seen.

The second is the cynical view. It may be true that some people who believe themselves to see the future are delusional, and that some are charlatans claiming to be true believers. However, the knowledge that this is a possibility should not be transferred into an absolute, and delusions are only delusional if evidence exists to the contrary; it is possible that someone believes themselves to have seen the future but has no evidence to the contrary and therefore is perfectly logical in their beliefs, which doesn’t meet the standards for a delusion. In our enlightenment we would frown on this, but I still think that it’s possible.

Carl Jung recounts an event where he was waiting for a book on alchemy and he saw symbols from the book in his dreams before it arrived. He claims to have had no prior exposure to these symbols, and that on multiple occasions similar events occurred.

Now, I’m not a believer in the paranormal (see my skeptical position above), and I don’t think that Jung is necessarily much of one either (though he certainly is a little New-Agey at times), but I think that this is perhaps an example of an intersection of psychological elements.

If we go on the theory that consciousness is a black box; it takes stimuli that are not necessarily known and produces results that may not actually resemble the original stimuli, things that are perceived in dreams may actually be capable of coming true in real life. The memory and perception of the dream will then switch over to match the phenomena as it is observed in consciousness (altered memory being irreversible and effectively as good as the stimulus being altered), or the stimulus will be altered to match the subconscious perceptions from dreams.

A crappy illustration of my theory of perceived dream precognition. Pardon my handwriting. The first is supposed to illustrate a remembered dream being transformed so that the memory , the second the inverse and less likely case that a dream shapes later perceptions of reality.

This could be disproven by a number of tests, like the transfer of one of these dream stimuli to a concrete form before the actual event that the dreamer claims occurred in their dreams before it happened in reality, but I have never seen a credible example of this in my readings or studies. Esoteric accounts, like those cited by the people who claim that Nostradamus had prophetic visions, are unconvincing to me because they do not withstand Occam’s razor.

How perceived dream precognition could be proved to be something other a product of memory revision, though not necessarily ruled out as an unconscious process being mistaken for something else. Pardon my handwriting. I think in the future I will use vector graphics instead of my pen.

The problem with this is that the accurate representation of something within a dream that would be satisfactory as a proper proof of precognition would be too difficult for most people to execute. If we could actually see into dreams it would become a trivial thing to prove, but this is subject to the other issues with consciousness.

Another issue is that the brain is a prediction engine. Dreams can predict something without having absolute foreknowledge of the future; if you know that someone is sick, you may dream of their death without being certain of it, but having enough evidence for an unconscious anxiety to become concrete and break into your psyche.

There’s also a chance that something that someone thinks they don’t know and have never been exposed to has actually crossed their path before; Jung had possibly witnessed some of the symbols of alchemy in art or literature before he had actually received the book, and had dreamed of unfamiliar symbols that he subconsciously knew to be related to alchemy, which just so happened to also be within the contents of the book.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter in practice (this is the answer to most philosophical questions), but it sure is a fascinating point of study.

In any case, I think that Oscar Wilde is making a point about consciousness being a great mystery, I agree with him entirely, and I can certainly ramble and lose track of my point quite a bit.

Resolution

Don’t take observations for granted.

Don’t worry about what lies behind the veil, take in what I see and understand that.

Stay curious, but don’t let it get in the way of my life.

Reflections on Aphorisms #33

Going to try to write as much as I can and still be coherent. I’ve been going to bed late because of poor self-discipline, and then sleeping in for the same reason (one of the bad things about not having a fixed daily schedule). Today I forced myself to get up early to go on a nice long walk, but I’m in something of a sleep deficit now, so this will be shorter than usual so I can get to bed early.

Aphorism 56

Mathematics demands an uncontrolled hunger for abstraction, philosophy a very controlled one.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Mathematics is something that I struggled with as a child, despite being relatively adept in many ways with the subject. While I certainly didn’t enjoy learning math and I have a propensity to make errors in mental math (solution: write it down and use calculators), I find many of the concepts to be tremendously easy, at least in terms of visualizing and comprehending them.

As a game designer, I’m a fan of math for the simple reason that it leads into good clean designs.

I think that some of this is because it’s abstract. When you’re making a game, you’re really searching for the platonic ideal of something, and it’s not always even something that really exists.

The result of this is that you create broad overarching systems so that each individual event can be represented within those systems. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to do this with great resolution (I write tabletop roleplaying games, so for me I leave almost all of the specifics to the people who play my games), but you do need to have it be coherent in the final picture.

In reality, this coherence is absent. There are broad overarching abstracts (for instance, the concepts of honesty and entropy which illustrate both philosophical and physical abstract concepts), but there is no individual “ideal” because there is no individual who fits the rule.

Even those who fit the rule may actually be nothing more than the creation of a new and individual rule; there is no path to guarantee anything because the universe has never been the same as it is in this moment.

Don’t mistake this for there being no paths; there are paths, and they generally lead in the direction they are supposed to. However, a great hero can be felled by a tragic flaw, and the wicked may be saved by some virtue that is hidden in the depths of their hearts waiting for the right call.

In philosophy, one can’t pass judgment on the basis of abstraction. Montaigne is great about this, because he will find the “general path” (i.e. where something usually leads) and then present both examples and counter-examples in his essays.

I think that there’s a commonality here with the concept of squaring the circle.

Image of squaring the circle, image courtesy of Wikimedia, originally in the public domain. Rasterized by me.

The problem with this is that it’s a matter of precision. You want to try and get a square whose length is equal to the square root of pi, but pi is not something which can be neatly calculated as such (it has infinite length, unless our understanding of it is incorrect).

Squaring the circle is one of the great classical problems of geometry. It has also taken on mystical connotations over the years, as a perceived impossibility, and was one of the common goals of late medieval and Renaissance alchemy.

I think it’s a great illustration for a key point:

Sometimes you have to accept the limits of knowledge.

I want to clarify, because I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

One of the distinctions between an alchemist and modern scientists (and the rational scientism that many espouse) is that the alchemist sought out cosmic mystery (“as above, so below”), and was aware that much of what they knew was unknowable.

There’s something of value to this, because when I say one should accept the limits of knowledge I don’t mean that one should stop dreaming of greater knowledge.

At the same time, it’s simply not always possible to achieve the results one desires dearly. No alchemist successfully completed their magnum opus (and likely none ever will, unless we see people start using particle colliders for alchemy in some weird future), and if they did they were wrong about what they created from a chemical standpoint.

The best example we can get here is that in mathematics, you can hit a “good enough” for the problem of squaring the circle, especially with modern computer-based calculations. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be within tolerance for all but the most demanding applications (and then the better course is error correction as needed, or merely increasing the precision until it’s satisfactory).

In philosophy, however, you can’t get around the abstraction. Squaring the circle is an important concept for a philosopher because it represents the pursuit of the unknowable. The medieval alchemists were trying to find God (at least, the later ones) as much as they were trying to find gold; their texts were esoteric to protect them from a society which failed to appreciate the independent contemplation of the divine and to force them out of comfort in their understandings. They saw in terms of value, not particles.

Philosophy always must in the end pursue the individual. It cannot be abstracted, because within the individual lies meaning.

Resolution

Know when to follow the rule, know when to see the exception.

Don’t be afraid to try either way to square a circle.

Remember that every outcome, good or bad, is unique. Be thankful for the good, overcome the bad.

Reflections on Aphorisms #32

I’ve been trying to get back into reading Montaigne’s essays. They’re a hard thing to get back into the swing of if you let your inertia slip. I figured I’d take one of the quotes from Montaigne that I highlighted in my volume and go over it today.

Montaigne’s tower. Image from Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Henry Salomé.

Aphorism 55

To follow another is to follow nothing: “Non sumus sub rege: sibi quisque se vindicet.

Montaigne

Interpretation

The Latin portion of this quote comes from Seneca (probably not a coincidence that I would highlight this passage, though my conscious appreciation for Seneca is newborn), and from a larger section of the text in which Montaigne talks about the adoption of philosophical tenets.

I’m somewhat of a follower, insomuch as I have found myself in a situation where I have managed to find people that I agree with, at least in part. Jung, Montaigne, Taleb, and the like are all right in at least part of their assays, their attempts to understand the universe.

In the sentence prior to this statement, Montaigne says that he can agree with people without subjecting his self to oblivion because he has come to an agreement by reaching his own conclusions that match theirs.

There’s truth to this.

Followers make poor members of society.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in almost every book on success is that there’s a tendency for successful people to be servant leaders; they take initiative and do things, but they operate with their own priorities subordinated to others’.

There’s a reason why it makes sense to do this: on one hand, the leader still comes out on top (and so it is that servant leaders are looked to as successful people, because their ability to serve makes them valuable), but it also is very pro-social.

The reason why I bring this up is that servant leaders don’t follow. They lead (and not from behind).

Being able to lead and take initiative is what is required to come to one’s own opinions. If you don’t have this, you will be pulled into the philosophical position of a follower, always floating in the wake of a large movement.

In my own life, I had a long process that led to me becoming who I am today philosophically. I’m fairly agreeable, and I also tend to believe whatever I’m reading at the moment (though not in place of larger existing notions, merely a sort of credulous trust), so I have this follower trend in me. I’m also not the most self-starting; I’m plenty industrious when given directions, but not what one would call a natural leader.

It took a lot for me to begin to pursue my own path. Some of that is a sign of humility (good) and understanding that other people knew more than me (true), but some of it was also sloth (bad) and feeling unworthy of complex judgment and inspection (false, hopefully).

The greatest skill people can have is to be able to make decisions. Preferably they’d do this well, but making decisions instead of going along passively is good by itself.

Resolution

Act, don’t react.

Lead for the benefit of others.

Inertia is either miserable or great; do what it takes for inertia to be great.

Reflections on Aphorisms #28

I’m changing up the formula for these. I’m merging the sections that I had previously split for interpretation and talking about how I felt the aphorisms applied in my life. They were contributing to rambling because I’d forget something here or there and just go on and on.

Aphorism 46

I recently had a meal in a fancy restaurant with complicated dishes with fancy names ($125 per person), then enjoyed a pizza afterward, straight out of the oven, $7.95. I wonder why the pizza isn’t twenty times the price of the complicated dish, since I’d rather have the former–at any price–over the latter.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from the Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

It is easy to forget that cost and value are not one and the same. It’s a simple enough thing to remember on paper, but in practice one will always find themselves more attracted to something which is expensive than something which is cheap. The exception is in rare cases, like shopping for the best deal or when there is some loyalty to a particular brand or fond memories associated with a particular product.

Remember that value is what we would buy something for and price is what they would sell something for.

Some of this is because we live in a society now where it is easy to create near arbitrary volumes of anything. Barring at the very low end of the market in terms of price, most products don’t get a whole lot better as they increase in cost. Most people buy what meets their needs, and may occasionally splurge on versions of these things that are more pleasant than the alternative. As such, the best possible option is usually not that much more than the standard price, at least within the field of a single standardized good (as opposed to luxury variants of the same thing).

A good example of highly differing performance variants within a field can be found in electronics, but even then the average user gets as much utility from any particular example of a given object.

Take, for instance, a computer.

Computers cost anywhere from around $200, if you insist on buying them new and won’t wait for a sale, to as much as $40,000 for what might be considered the standard “personal computer”. Anything beyond that point leaves the frame of reference. It is either strictly a luxury product, using its price as a source of prestige (probably featuring diamonds or some other useless extravagance), or it has become a more specialized type of machine and ceases to be the sort of thing that we are talking about.

At the very bottom end of this range, you have devices that may not be able to do everything that one would expect a computer to do. It may have limitations in terms of substance, lacking particular hardware (like, say, wireless networking capabilities) or not being powerful enough to run particular software, or it might offer a subpar experience but generally be capable of completing most tasks.

The actual difference of value that a user receives depends on them using the computer to complete tasks that are more difficult on cheaper computers. You could have someone who never uses a computer, but wants to have one so they don’t feel left out, someone who uses it only rarely for correspondence, someone who uses it to play graphically intense video games, and someone who uses their computer to render advanced computer graphics and physical calculations.

A $200 personal computer would not be suitable for all these tasks, but the $40,000 computer may be. However, for the average user, $4,000 could almost always build a PC that would meet their demands and those of every other average user.

Of course, cheaper machines tend to specialize, optimizing their price by sacrificing the elements that a particular target market is not interested in.

We could classify anything above this $4000 point as a luxury or professional example of a computer, with the noteworthy copy out some applications do require more powerful computers. These computers are probably not what we will consider personal computers, being servers or workstations which we have separate expectations and standards for.

This is one of the more extreme scales. Take, for instance, food. Where I live, for between $5 to $8, I can eat dishes from almost anywhere around the world that fit almost any dietary criteria. If I’m not picky, I can get enough food to fill my stomach and a cup of tea for $3 and a little tax on the side. This is before we get into the concept of preparing my own food, which cuts out preparation costs, so we could say then. A meal costing over $8, in the area in which I live, is a luxury. I am not anti-luxury. I don’t seek the adoption of any sumptuary laws or even to guilt-trip anyone who enjoys the finer things in life.

However, luxury is not value. At least, it’s got the diminishing return on value. Wise people don’t buy a sports car if they can’t afford three months rent. The value provided by a car that easily can go faster than the law provides for in most jurisdictions is only a marginal increase in value above that provided by a more humble car, but the cost increases dramatically.

The economy is not a zero-sum game. Since I technically create goods which are entirely luxuries, working on games (to a lesser extent education may be considered a luxury too), I often feel a need to point this out.

The challenge with the luxury is this:

A luxury can be pleasurable, or it may simply be a status symbol. In the case of experimental dining, the cost of luxury can often not buy something which rivals the pleasure of simple comfort food, or even marginally pleasurable but more modestly priced offerings.

In this case, it becomes a simple status symbol. I do not understand the purpose of status symbols like experimental gastronomy in the realm of food (which all winds up the same way in the end), and will not cast premature judgment against them. I would have to try them first, and I am not willing to spend the money to do so.

However, I see them as the food equivalent of paying hundreds of dollars to go to a performance of John Cage’s 4’33”, in which an orchestra does nothing but sit around on stage for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

There are critics who can write wonderful and entirely meaningless treatises on the purpose and value of such a song, if you can call it a song. I don’t find it personally offensive. I have some concerns, perhaps, about the postmodern value structures that it represents, once again with the caveat of asking whether or not one can really call them value structures, but the real flaw that I see in it is that it fails to bring pleasure.

I would listen to anything else first. Heck, if I wanted silence, I’d go with the store brand. However, it’s worth noting that I don’t extend this to the entirety of what’s known as mother. I can appreciate even the very simple and abstract, if it is not entirely devoid of substance. For instance, I appreciate color studies, in which colors are painted without defining characteristics upon a surface. At least this is someone saying “Here, let me show you this color!”

However, I have gotten onto a tangent. To return to the point, any luxury is only as good as the pleasure it provides relative to the price. Anything else is just pretentious. There are, course, aspirational luxuries. I don’t begrudge these to people; they’re those things that you dream of as a kid that you may eventually become successful enough to have as an adult. That has real value to a person, does it represents the fruition of a dream.

However, I’ll close on this:

To hell with the fear of missing out. I have had more pleasure drinking a $0.20 cup of tea and sitting on a $20 plastic chair next to my cat than I’ve had in experimentation with the sorts of novelties that will be impossible to find in 20 years, going in and out of vogue as quickly as it was thought up. I’d take that $8 pizza with Taleb.

Resolution

Don’t waste money on something that you’re only buying because of a name.

Be content with what is good, but humble.

Don’t be afraid of missing out, be afraid of waste.

Aphorism 47

If there is any good in philosophy it is this: it never inspect pedigrees.

Seneca, as quoted in the Viking book of aphorisms.

Interpretation

I give very little thought to people’s reputations. Of course, if someone is notorious for something or other I make sure to adjust appropriately. However, there is an expression that no man is a prophet in his own land. The unspoken corollary is that in his own land the prophet is a dissident.

This is one reason why pedigrees can be dangerous. There are many great people who are virtuous, but who don’t meet the particular performance metrics of the day.

The other reason, of course, is that pedigrees are often bestowed upon those who have not really earned them.

I work in education, or rather once did and plan to again, and one of the things that struck me about many of my classmates in college is that they were not the sort of people one would trust with a room full of children. Of course, this may be uncharitable since my judgments are based solely on what I understood of them from my brief acquaintance with them, and I had no knowledge of how effective they were in the classroom barring practice sessions prepared for classes which none of us were overly concerned with.

However, while educational licensing is perhaps up there with medical licensing in terms of importance (namely, one of a few fields where one can even justify it), I do have to say that it seems at times too easy to get a license to teach.

Of course, in principle it would be nice to be able to do away with licenses and simply inspect people on their merits. I am skeptical that such a system will really be any improved over the current model.

The point is that one can become an English teacher with little knowledge of English, a teacher of history with little knowledge of history (or at least the objective and practical application of history, not just canned interpretations), and so forth. I haven’t had as bad an experience with my colleagues once I graduated as I did with many of my classmates, so there is a chance I merely judged too harshly, but I found the licensing tests and requirements to be insufficient to bar the path for the unworthy.

What I found among my colleagues, most of whom were more veteran teachers than I, is that they tended to be much better than most of my classmates. Perhaps some of that is molded in the student teaching process which takes place during the final semester of the teacher preparation program. This also happens to be the point at which you stop connecting with your fellow students, since it is a full-time position to the exclusion of other classes.

All the same, then it goes to show that the actual education side, that is to say the education one receives in the classroom, of our program was mostly meaningless for us. Ostensibly, we got grades for these classes (mine were rather impressive and probably undeserved) as a sort of pedigree, but save for a couple classes which I remember fondly they dealt mostly with theories. Some of these theories had already been proven wrong when we were taught them, to make the matter even worse!

As a result of this experience, I can’t help but feel that many people are overrated, at least in the sense that they have pedigrees that they do not deserve. Rather, I don’t think it’s that the people don’t deserve a pedigree.

It’s just that the pedigree is meaningless. And this, I think, is Seneca’s point. It’s hard to give a one word label that indicates actual ability.

Even the best possible option, which I would think would be to call someone virtuous, is not descriptive enough in its own right. Someone may be virtuous in one context, but not universally so. They may be perceived to be virtuous but really just lack the power to be anything else. In such cases, the approval of those around oneself is more important than following one’s own compass and even the unscrupulous turn to virtue.

It is for this reason that Seneca’s statement rings true. By isolating itself from arbitrary displays, philosophy can become greater than any other field. I do not think Seneca would enjoy the state of modern philosophy, but then who does? The laypeople interested in philosophy remain true to Seneca’s vision and satisfy his criteria, even if those who consider themselves professional thinkers do not always appreciate the true nature of labels.

Resolution

Don’t worry about the label if the contents are good.

Always watch out for pretense in myself.

Accept that on a certain level everyone is equal.

There are diamonds in the rough.

Aphorism 48

Nature does not bestow virtue, to be good is an art.

Seneca, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms.

Interpretation

I think of virtue as being that which exceeds the standards.

In the Bible, there is an account in which Christ says something along the lines of “Which father among you would give his son a snake if he asks for bread?”

This line, from the Gospel of Luke, is the bottom threshold above which one must rise to be considered virtuous. It’s not virtuous to do a good thing for someone if doing so is in your interest. It’s not woefully wicked, but it’s not virtuous

Virtue is doing things that make life better for everyone. However, it goes a step further.

One who is virtuous makes the world a better place for everyone else. They themselves may or may not be included in this improvement.

Someone who is virtuous may have such an incredibly positive impact that without self-interest they manage to transform the whole world so that it is better for literally every person. Whether this has ever happened, I do not know. Of course, if one has a virtuous mindset, which cannot be acquired from nature since it requires self-sacrifice (sacrifice is natural, self-sacrifice is not), perhaps one could argue that death and incredible suffering is still an improvement for oneself if the reward is a significant benefit for everyone else.

And this is where it is important to note that virtue cannot be a natural process (in the sense of coming from the world rather than the spirit).

I think that it can be cultivated through self-evident outcomes, that is to say that one does not need divine inspiration to be virtuous (though it sure helps), but it would never be mistaken for acting according to one’s natural impulses.

The 20th century bears this out in crimson letters. When confronted with the greatest atrocities mankind has ever perpetrated, humanity was largely silent. We have actually chosen to do away with virtue rather than the horrors, at least if the postmodernists have their way.

This is because virtue can never be impulsive without the gift of conscience.

Virtue must be striven for, must be intentionally brought into being. It cannot suddenly exist following a sort of Big Bang of goodness.

One virtuous moment, a single virtuous impulse, does not create virtue. The good life, if consistent, creates virtue. Compromise destroys it.

Resolution

Wage a conscious war to pursue virtue in lieu of my nature.

Deliberately examine moral choices.

Do not be fooled by randomness; only accept as virtuous that which consistently bears the fruit of virtue.

Reflections on Aphorisms 26

Shorter reflections today on just one aphorism because I procrastinated and I generally didn’t get a whole lot done. It was a good day of rest, though.

Aphorism 44

Your duty is to scream those truths that one should shout but that are merely whispered.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Truth is the best antidote to corruption. It is not just corruption in the sense of governance but also moral corruption which is undone by truth. If one decides to be honest in all things, it creates a need to bring one’s life in tune with honesty.

Truth is associated with a fearless encounter of reality. Philosophers and religions have agreed since they came into being that truth is a virtue.

It is also possible to deduce what is right from the fruit it bears. Kant’s categorical imperative applies here at least in a corollary: The world is never harmed by truth.

Of course, this doesn’t mean truth is necessarily going to have great short-term outcomes, and it may at times be necessary to use deception to forestall evil. Of course, Kant’s response to this would be if you need to use deception to pursue merit you may actually simply lack the perspective you need, and I think that’s probably better than deceiving others, though in the event that one is incapable of doing so a deception for virtue may be a better solution than artlessness, with the acceptance that one should improve to the point that deception becomes unnecessary.

There’s a thought experiment where he is asked what one would do if one encounters a murderer searching for someone, they ask you where their victim can be found. If you have this information, according to the categorical imperative, you cannot lie.

The correct response, according to Kant, would be to say that you are not going to tell the murderer where their victim is. He may even express in a more extreme version of his regular argument that you are supposed to tell them that you know where the victim is before refusing to disclose the location, but this seems like a forerunner to unpleasant things.

Much like the shouted truths of Taleb’s aphorism, this shifts the cost for honesty onto the individual who is being honest. It’s a sacrifice, but, I think that radical honesty is a virtue to be desired. It pushes us towards moral perfection, and I have heard multiple people involved in psychoanalytical practice (such as Carl Jung and Jordan Peterson) say that one of the best thing someone can do for their mental health is to avoid doing things that they cannot tell people about. That is, at least, to avoid shameful things.

Keeping a secret for confidentiality’s sake, or of some altruism that might otherwise be rewarded, does not seem to have any negative side effects. This might depend on the severity of the secret. If one witnesses a great horror, it might be hard to remain quiet. Let us assume that the confidential material that one handles is not subject to any moral responsibility for disclosure. The correct course of action in these cases would likely vary from case to case.

One of the things that scares me about the 20th century is that people died with the praise of dictators on their lips. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, or any respectable history of the Soviet era, can provide countless examples of this taking place.

Even in death, people returned to a great lie. They may have done this for reasons of personal benefit, seeking to protect their families from charges of disloyalty, but that does not mean that it was not a dereliction of their Duty.

I am convinced that if everyone told the truth, especially if they tell painful truths, the world would be a better place. It is not sufficient to do this quietly, in private. It must be done in such a way that others are required to confront the truth.

Mario Savio gave a great speech on standing for a cause during the Free Speech Movement, which I will include part of below in text along with the YouTube link:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

Mario Savio, “On the Operation of the Machine”

The sort of honesty which transforms the world comes at the cost. If it didn’t, then everyone would participate in the virtuous endeavor. I feel that every moral person has a duty to be willing to sacrifice. Truth is a reflection of cosmic existence, to risk of sounding New Age-y. What we perceive as truth is really our subconscious and conscious understanding of being coming together.

Savio wound up on an FBI watch list for his troubles. I am sure that there are many great and valiant people who will wind up on watch lists for the things that they say these days. Those whose words are so powerful that they can shake the world need to use them carefully, but it is also a moral dereliction to not use them.

My Life

I have a problem with telling the truth. Does not for a lack of desire to do so, and in fact, I strive for honesty in all things. However, my central issue is that I am a coward.

I think one example of this is shown in the way that I write about China. I followed news sources like Foreign Policy (which I have grown less fond of as their coverage seems to be drifting more political and less factual) and China Uncensored, to try and get an honest look at what’s going on in China, and while I am not the greatest mind at international policy, I have to say that what I see in China resembles the 20th Century’s greatest horrors to a frightening extent.

I understand that my public stance on this matter will have at most minor consequences in my life, and I have in the past actually had some minor friction with a co-worker who objected to some of what I said. However, I think that I have a duty to speak up when I see something that I feel is dangerous.

I try not to say anything simply because it is in vogue. For this reason, I don’t talk about things like the surveillance state, race relations, add some other political hot button issues. People generally know more about this then I can communicate anyway, which is a great excuse to stand back and avoid it. Me talking about it would just be trying to look like an expert, but there is also an element to which I have to admit cowardice here.

I have not discussed politics openly in a long time.

This is not because of the absence of beliefs, though I like to think of myself as a moderate in the vein of Cicero, but rather because I’ve grown tired of politics. I always took a more philosophical approach to political issues. I believe that what is right should take the highest value over any other consideration, but I’m not often willing to go to the lengths it takes to discuss such things. It results in wasted air, but it also could mean danger for me. We live in an era of political extremism, whether we want to admit it or not, and it is not one-sided. A cool head is the first one in line for the guillotine.

I also sometimes worry that I simply do not have the pursuit and striving in my daily life that is required to be able to shout truths to those who have not heard them. I consider this every bit as much a moral failing as being too afraid to speak up when the time comes. The difference between failing to prepare to do something and failing to do it when the time comes is morally insignificant. There is no absolution based on negligence.

Resolution

Never seek expiation by claiming unpreparedness. The duty is not to do the best at the time, but to do the best before and after.

Remember that truth is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing. After all, in a mystical sense God may be truth.

Use every word you speak to cultivate virtue, never diminishes.

Reflections on Aphorisms #23

I had some spontaneous thoughts earlier about the Good Samaritan, but I’m also going to keep up the reflections on aphorisms.

I’m finding this to be a very meaningful process, and I’d encourage anyone to do the same. I’m using a fair amount of time on it, but since I’m now a semi-professional writer I don’t think that’s too much of a sacrifice.

Aphorism #38

Regular minds find similarities in stories (and situations); finer minds detect differences.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Maslow’s axiom is truer than most people realize.

People like things to be easily understood and explained away. When we understand the universe, we are confident. When it surprises us, we are lost to perdition. One of the best ways that you can make yourself feel certain his to relate what is currently important things that had importance in the past. I’m not just referring to tradition here. Rather, the way that we view the world tends to become unyielding over time.

We have an intuitive understanding that our worldview hardens and becomes brittle. In his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (Amazon affiliate link), Jordan Peterson uses the example of a businessman who is called into his boss’s office to discuss his performance. At first, he expects great praise and is already prepared to negotiate with his boss for a raise.

However, his boss tells him to pack his stuff and prepare to leave the company, as his service will no longer be required. What the businessman saw as positive contributions to the company were instead overbearing, and his co-workers developed resentment towards him that he had earned with his hypocritical criticism of other people and his inability to be a member of the team.

This is the sort of realization about ourselves that we have a hard time coming to.

Carl Jung describes it as the Shadow, truths about ourselves that are not consciously recognized. They are not obvious to us without intentional searching, sometimes because they are so painful that we choose not to think about them and sometimes because we are less self-aware than we believe ourselves to be.

When everything in the current is similar to everything in the past, we can ignore self-examination. Assuming that we are already marginally successful, the logical assumption is that we will continue to be successful. However, the world is a changing and chaotic place.

It is better that we put our fingers to the pulse of the universe, to be aware of the changes that it brings our way. It requires more effort than staying blindly with tradition (not to be rude to tradition; what has worked typically continues to work), but since we will enter into territory that no one else can help us through, at least not that we know of, it is important to reach that level of self-awareness.

This is the goal of philosophy. It is the art–it is worth noting that an art is not less dignified than a science–of attempting to understand the universe. Of course, the first good philosophical assumption is usually that one knows nothing, or at least that one can be certain of only a very little part of the universe.

This is not to surrender to chaos. Philosophers still expect the sun to rise every day, they simply admit that it would be foolish to assume that everything will always be as it has been.

My Life

I’m not honestly sure how this applies to my life. I like to think that I’m pretty productive, and that I’m aware of what goes on around me and how it changes from the previous things. I certainly make a conscious effort to keep an eye on it. However, this is one of those things where you can’t really know how good you are at something. Even others may be fooled in the short-term by how they perceive you to be, so that what they tell you does not match what you really are. They may assume based on their perceptions of you something which is not fully based on truth, but rather on how they value you.

When I say value here, I do not necessarily refer to basic idea of appreciation, but rather the role that you play in someone else’s life. People have sometimes told me that I seem quite intelligent. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, since I have simply devoted more time to the art of the word than most other people my age have. Since we typically consider communication a sign of intelligence, they are naturally predisposed to assume that I am smart.

Lest I seem overly humble, I have come to the conclusion that I may be up above average, I simply do not believe that I am so smart as to be exceptionally intelligent. I consider it good fortune on my part, and the product of a good education. Occasional spurts of self-discipline contribute to this as well.

Resolution

Don’t fall into a rut.

Do not fear chaos, but seek to master it.

Make every day a chance to grow.

Aphorism #39

It is far easier to act under conditions of tyranny than to think.

Hannah Arendt, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

In an ideal world, thought and action are linked. However, there is nothing natural about this. There is no rule that one must think before they act, and that their actions will follow what they have thought about.

In extreme circumstances, where order or chaos becomes predominant, it becomes difficult to think. The prevailing mode becomes an overriding fashion. For chaos, we often see this reflected in the mob mentality, I didn’t order we see the abandonment of personal responsibility and the complete submission to authority.

In both extreme chaos and extreme order, the tendencies to forego moral responsibility–to abandon contemplation and examination–lead to terrible outcomes. We return to the primal fallen state, guided by instinct instead of morality.

If people think while in these states, they tend to focus on rationalization, making sense of an untenable situation. Life, that is to say the true life of meaning, cannot exist in either extreme. They are machines which consume, not environments which nurture. People excel in the middle ground, though it is not necessarily easier to live there. It is only there that they can pursue heroism (without great sacrifice).

It is worth noting that while Arendt writes about the totalitarianism of the 20th century, it is not necessary to have such extremes in governance to achieve similar disorders in an individual’s life. We are capable of creating our own tyranny in our spirits. The same goes for chaos that extends beyond that which is useful for nurturing growth.

My Life

I have always felt drawn to philosophy, but I have not always been good at living life. Not only is it difficult to appreciate one’s circumstances, but it also requires language with which to discuss greater things. Despite my desire to live a life of wisdom, I rarely had terms in which to consider the success of such an endeavor.

I think the single greatest success with my adult has been coming to an understanding what’s the balance between things. This has moderated the oft-fiery temperament of my youth, I think it helps me live in accordance with my values. I’m not perfect, of course, but I feel like I can honestly say that I continue to improve, which is really the best humans can hope for.

At various points in my life, I have felt myself sinking into either exceptional order or exceptional chaos to the point of dysfunction. Only recently have I had the understanding to see those for what they are. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, haven’t really had any situations that put my new convictions to test as significantly as those events tried me.

Some of this may be my newfound stoicism, and increased degree to which I can philosophically appreciate the world, but I do feel blessed and fortunate that is the part of life that I find myself in is one without any raging storms.

I follow politics, and in my youth I would allow myself to be consumed by fervor. I was convinced that my way of seeing things was correct. I believed that anyone who disagreed with my views must have simply been idiotic, because they could not appreciate the true nature of existence. While I remain convinced that most of my beliefs are correct, because if I feel they are incorrect I change them, I have gained more empathy.

I appreciate more of myself as well, since I now have a conscious understanding of why I believe what I believe, and I understand why others disagree with me when they do disagree with me. This has been a humbling process, not because of any failure on my behalf (I was merely young and naive), but because it has been an awakening to how much more complex the universe is.

Resolution

Stand outside the mainstream when the mainstream becomes extreme. (This is Montaigne’s great achievement)

Don’t be afraid of the unknown; don’t be attached to the known.

Be always at the start of an adventure.

Reflections on Aphorisms #8

Just one today, but it’s one that I can write about a fair deal.

Aphorism 15

To become a philosopher, start by walking very slowly.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed Of Procrustes

Interpretation

I don’t think this is meant to be taken in a strictly literal sense, though it might not be the end of the world to do so.

I think it has to do with understanding value.

If you value things that are related to activity, you will live a life of activity.

This is not bad. Actions prove ideals.

However, ideals cannot flow from actions (or, perhaps it is better to say: ideals that are good do not typically flow from action).

By pursuing action rather than ideal, you put the cart before the horse.

Philosophers devote intentional time and effort to deliberate thought, and they are willing to invest the time to do so. That’s time spent reading and reflecting, time spent ruminating on concepts.

If you want to become a philosopher, taking a more passive approach is good. You don’t observe when you are obsessed with the change you want to bring.

My Life

I was (briefly) nicknamed “The Terminator” in high school because I have a tendency to power-walk, a trait which, when combined with a trench coat, led to the nickname. I also tended to be fairly expressionless because I was lost in thought most of the time, but I don’t think that was the origin.

The fact that I am a mostly harmless nerdy kid probably contributed to the end of the nickname, since the only way that anyone was in danger because of my actions was myself on account of poor diet (I wasn’t fantastically overweight, but the only way my diet could have been considered balanced would have been if I held it funny).

In any case, I hope that this does not disqualify me from being a philosopher. I still have a tendency to be ruthlessly efficient, and I try to avoid navel-gazing over everyday events.

Of course, the reason why I do this is because I know that I have the counter-part to it in me. I have the Millenial fixation with losing sleep over something that happened over a decade ago (like basically anything I did in middle school which I can still remember; embarrassment seems to be a strong driver of memory, which I should know from reading so much psych), and I have to work hard to not spend too much time looking into an infinite void of potential and doubt.

In any case, I think I definitely need to consider slowing down a little, not necessarily in terms of work but in terms of other things. I’ve noticed that I’m afraid of being bored, and I’m not sure that’s a way I want to be.

Resolution

Be willing to commit to quiet.

If my cat were still around, I’d spend time cuddling her. As is, a quiet cup of tea may have to suffice.

Cut out noise, find signal.

Reflections on Aphorisms #7

Another day, another bunch of aphorisms.

I’m moving up to four, because I think that’s a good number for a day. I don’t know if I’ll keep this pace forever, but today’s a day I feel like doing more writing than usual.

Aphorism 11

To understand how something works, figure out how to break it.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

One thing I remember from a book on psychology is that there is a tendency to ignore that which works as expected.

Many of the things which we observe are the product of processes that are opaque to us.

When something breaks, we get to see inside it in a special way. We do not even need to break it entirely, but just contemplate the breaking, anticipating what the consequences of an unusual event would be on something we otherwise take for granted.

My Life

I tend to be prone to anxiety, so I maybe have an alternate side of this equation: I obsess over how things can break, and that means I don’t always even see how they work.

However, I think there’s also something to be said for my life being a product of a comfortable routine. I tend to do the same things day after day.

One of the things that also could be applied to this is that I’m so prone to rigidity that I don’t permit myself a chance to consider what could otherwise be if something were to change.

We often think of people who view the world as opportunities for the strong to triumph over the weak as cynical, but there’s also something to be said for looking for vulnerabilities so that they can be healed: this is the origin of all reform.

Resolution

Don’t fear chaos.

Subvert my expectations.

Search for weakness everywhere.

Aphorism 12

A prophet is not someone with special visions, just someone blind to most of what others see.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Much of what we regard as innovation comes from trying to do something without following previous paths.

For every person who has managed to invent a new technology by incremental improvement, there is another person who has found the way by going through a paradigm shift from others’ approaches.

For a darker twist, prophets don’t have the good sense to leave good enough alone. The saying that no man is a prophet in his own country is because the prophets get killed in their own countries.

Also, Taleb’s known to be something of a contrarian, and one could probably point out that seeing differently does not necessarily differ from seeing in a special way.

My Life

A friend of mine told me that I was a man of vision the other day.

I’m not entirely sure what that means.

I do, however, identify with the being blind to what others see.

I’ve never felt a need to follow others or conform (aside from the agreeable part of my personality, which is strong; the difference is that I hate confrontation, not that I like conforming), and that may have something to do with it.

I also have a spirit of “I’ll do it myself.”

Like, as a game designer I want to make my own thing. I’ve occasionally built off of something someone else created, but only for smaller projects.

When I take inspiration, it’s often from the most minute of sources. I’ll borrow a dice mechanic, but not a lot of the intervening structure.

That’s not to say I throw everything away and strive to be different, I just have no qualms with ignoring how other people do things. Often I blend a bunch of little pieces together.

Resolution

Go against the flow.

Look beyond conventional wisdom.

Never forget that what you know to be right is not necessarily right.

Aphorism 13

The man who listens to reason is lost: reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.

George Bernard Shaw, quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

I think that this ties in to the things that Taleb said about approaching from vulnerabilities in the sense that we tend to look at things from a very fixed perspective.

Shaw is an interesting figure, given that he tended to be a bit of a political loudmouth in his day, and he was perhaps one of the people who we would consider a defender of reason, which makes this quote seem paradoxical.

Chesterton would argue that Shaw just doesn’t have any consistent worldview, and the two were frenemies in that way, but I think there’s maybe something more deep here.

Shaw isn’t saying that logic is bad, but that we have a tendency to rationalize. Our reasoning is easily bent to corrupt purposes, rather than the best path.

My Life

I am someone who tends to be what I would describe as “rational” in focus.

I don’t have the hubris to believe that everything I believe or think is correct. This may not be clear to an outside observer (after all, I write prolifically about my life and what I think), but keep in mind that most of my writing is more of an exercise in holding myself accountable than an exercise in proclaiming mastery in wisdom and knowledge (when I write a book, that’ll be the statement of mastery).

I was thinking about this the other day, because my intuition is really repressed. It’s not that I don’t get feelings about things, it’s that I’ve become so used to just squelching them that I ignore what could be good opportunities to break out of patterns (e.g. not applying for freelancing work for basically forever until it just fell into my lap).

Resolution

Don’t justify things. If they can’t stand on their own, they shouldn’t stand.

Break the mold and throw it away.

Follow passion.

Aphorism 14

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Socrates, quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

For most of my life I’ve thought this was sort of self-serving.

However, now I think I interpret it differently.

This is perhaps history’s most profound way of saying “Don’t be an idiot.”

We like to see this saying as a cornerstone of Western philosophy, but I don’t think that the Greeks necessarily thought of their philosophy in the same way that we do.

I think they were going after better ways of life (this is non-controversial), but that there wasn’t really any elevation to it. Being a philosopher was just another way to say that you were prominent in public morality and ethics, not that one was set apart.

My Life

I like to think that my life’s pretty well examined.

Of course, I don’t know how true this is, strictly speaking. I’ve got a lot of things that I have to work through, and I’m pretty self-reliant in my efforts.

I’ve often thought about psychoanalysis. I’ve never been psychoanalyzed, and I don’t (believe myself to) have any symptoms of psychological disruption. That’s not to say that I’m particularly free of vice, but my vice is natural and mainline (e.g. I’m typically pretty lazy and I don’t resist the temptation of sweets well).

I’ve read a lot of Jung (relative to the average person), and also some of his followers’ work, a little Freud, and other modern psychology books, and not just the pop psych stuff. This has just been for casual enjoyment, not as a student or future practitioner, but I find it interesting.

I often find that I’m more interesting than I think I am, and my motives are more complex than I believed them to be. I often have vivid dreams that I’m willing to say are my subconscious, and I’ve often seen recurring symbols and patterns in them. Not just the common “Oh crap, I’m late to class!” anxiety dream, but some really surreal things.

For instance, I’ve noticed animal symbolism; the cat seems to represent some aspect of my subconscious, and mythical and realistic cats feature prominently in my dreams as guides. Birds are another recurring symbol, often of chaos or naive desirous destruction (think of the depiction of Frankenstein’s monster accidentally killing an innocent–something which is a later invention and not in the original story–I often play such a role, often to a hawk or eagle).

There are places that feature prominently in my dreams as well; my childhood home (no surprise there), but also places that I know but have never seen. I was told as a child that nobody could invent something wholly from their own mind and would require a stimulus to invent something. This bothered me quite a bit, because my vivid dreams, which my studies of Jung have convinced me are a function of the subconscious, have been with me most of my life, and have indeed dwindled and fallen off over the years.

When I was a child, I was often convinced that these dreams had a prophetic quality, that there was something about the dream world that could reflect unseen elements of a larger reality. I only raised these beliefs once or twice, and both times the response was such that I never mentioned them again.

The story of Joseph, who interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh, was one that resonated strongly with me for this reason. As a devout Christian, I follow the orthodox position that God sent Joseph the gift of interpreting dreams, but that does not mean that the Jungian method of viewing the dream as a channel to the subconscious is necessarily incorrect, and psychoanalysis may actually have a very similar practical effect.

Of course, fortune tellers can always be right if you wait for the situation to fit the prediction.

Resolution

Don’t do anything I can’t explain (though I don’t have to justify it).

Look deeply at things.

Never run when a walk suffices.

Review and Reflection: Skin in the Game

I listened to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Grow from Disorder a while back (you can find my write-up about it here) and found it to be tremendous, so I got Skin in the Game on Audible (it seemed to be the next-closest thing to my interests).

Continue reading “Review and Reflection: Skin in the Game”

Review and Reflection: Antifragile

I listened to the book Antifragile (affiliate link) last week, and it has some really interesting lessons. Although the author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, might be classified in some ways as an economist (though not in the traditional sense–he writes about the economy but he rejects the notion of it as a field to be studied–classifying him as simply a scholar is probably the best definition), he applies his theory of antifragility to more than just one discipline.

One of the big takeaways I got from the book is a very different way of viewing risk.

The antifragile approach is to identify things that thrive under change. Obviously, change may still cause problems for these if it is a large negative change, but such things tend to change for the better under the sorts of changes that are common and not generally catastrophic.

When combined with robust things, which can persevere through change, the antifragile becomes highly valuable.

I am afraid, however, that much of the greater wisdom of the book is lost on me. This is not to say that I learned nothing, but rather that there are depths that I have not been able to explore.

Part of the reason for this is simple: the book is complex and broad, and while it uses anecdotes and common sense to great effect it also is willing to move very quickly. It is challenging, and for this reason I intend to return to it again at a later date.

However, even with the partial knowledge that I have gained of Taleb’s ideas, there are still many great lessons to be drawn from the book. One of them is to consider carefully actions. Many of Taleb’s assertions are nothing particularly controversial, but when viewed in total, Antifragile becomes a sort of philosophical treatise against thinking that you are more clever than you are.

To use an example, Talib cites traders on the stock market who have no formal economic training, but who make incredibly good decisions. Of course, for every success there are failures, but Taleb notes that there are common trends in these successful traders that would cause economists to tear their hair out.

They overwhelmingly use heuristics, rather than more complicated methods of coming to decisions. This means that rather than using abstract theories, they make decisions based on gut instinct.

This is perhaps more important outside the field of stock trading.

Heuristics, going with available information but not seeking to over rationalize it. Taleb shows through various examples that heuristics can be as useful as complicated theories. For starters, they are much more easy to adjust.

When a theory is wrong, it is easy to rationalize the reason for its failure, to blame problems on unconsidered external factors. This allows the shifting of blame away from the people who make the decisions and toward abstract theories. A person can avoid responsibility, and the theory need not necessarily be abandoned, because it can still be dressed up in new clothes and given a new name. If they made a decision that will cause consequences for others, they only pay the price if they had put their money where their mouth is.

On the other hand, by going and blaming theories, someone who makes foolish decisions can they restore their credibility by attaching themselves to a different school of thought, often not even so much a different school of thought as a rebranded version of the same foolishness.

Taleb is brutally honest. He is also brave enough to make enemies, since he openly names people who he believes to be guilty of infractions against good ethics. Where his skepticism may initially be perceived to cloud his judgment, it quickly becomes clear that his skepticism is based off of experience.

I find it difficult to call Taleb’s work full of wisdom. This is not because of absence of good ideas, but rather because it seems to contain something almost different than wisdom itself. It would definitely warrant the title of philosophical. Rather than simply call the notion that Taleb’s work pursues wisdom, I would call it meta-wisdom. It looks at patterns to determine how wisdom can be found and applied in many different ways.

An example of this is Taleb’s distaste for intervention in fundamental affairs (for instance, using gym machines when more natural workouts are available). While some intervention is praised (vaccines, for instance, are great in Taleb’s eyes), others are derided (an unnecessary surgery carries risks beyond just financial cost).

The fundamental notion of antifragility is this: find things in which loss is limited, but potential gain is not.

Another key notion of determining fragility is to look for places where people gain antifragility at the expense of others: bureaucrats who keep their jobs even if the systems they control fail, and indeed go back to ask for more money to overcome the difficulties their idiocy caused are a major target of Taleb’s ire.

Of all the books I’ve gotten into so far this year, none has inspired me quite so much as Taleb in a sense that I think I can apply his teachings to daily life. He cites Montaigne, who is probably my other top writer I’ve read this year (go figure), and has a sort of similar wisdom and methodology.

I don’t have the time and experience to make a categorical statement about whether all of Taleb’s ideas work, but his work was recommended to me by someone whose intellect and savvy I respect, and the read or listen is itself enjoyable. The Audible audiobook I have is read by Joe Ochmann, and I’d say that it’s pretty well-done.

I’ve picked up his book Skin in the Game (affiliate link) on Audible as well, so expect to see a review and reflection on it once I’ve finished it in a few weeks.

My current listening material is Age of Ambition (affiliate link) by Evan Osnos, which I’m enjoying, and Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections (affiliate link). I’m reading through Montaigne’s essays, as well, though I’ve had less time to just read of late.