Over the past 18 months or so I’ve become a huge fan of Nassim Taleb.
He got me by discussing Frederic Bastiat, of course. But a lot of wonderful writers cite Bastiat and they don’t challenge me the way Taleb does. It’s his worldview which has me hooked. So, I figure I’m just going to post some randomness from what I’ve been reading. I imagine you’ll enjoy some of these.
First, though, is a challenge to all you smarty pants out there.
You are an insurance underwriter, which event below is more likely to happen: (page 76 of The Black Swan):
A. A massive flood somewhere in America in which more than a thousand people die.
B. An earthquake in California, causing massive flooding, in which more than a thousand people die.
Post your answer if you’re so inclined. Just don’t read the answers before you think this through.
Oh man how I’d love to watch a discussion on the state of economics by Thomas Sowell and Nassim Taleb. Just let them sit there, over dinner, talk economics, video tape it and put it on YouTube for all to see. It would be the most educational experience the vast majority of students would ever receive.
Some Quotes from Nassim Taleb’s books:
“What has gone wrong with the development of economics as a science? Answer: There was a bunch of intelligent people who felt compelled to use mathematics just to tell themselves that they were rigorous in their thinking, that theirs was a science (emphasis mine). Someone in a great rush decided to introduce mathematical modeling techniques (culprits: Leon Walras, Gerard Debreu, Paul Samuelson) without considering the fact that either the class of mathematics they were using was too restrictive for the class of problems they were dealing with, or that perhaps they should be aware that the precision of the language of mathematics could lead people to believe that they had solutions when in fact they had none…. Indeed the mathematics they dealt with did not work in the real world, possibly because we needed richer classes of processes — and they refused to accept the fact that no mathematics at all was probably better.”
“Empirically, sex, social class, and profession seem to be better predictors of someone’s behavior than nationality (a male from Sweden resembles a male from Togo more than a female from Sweden; a philosopher from Peru resembles a philosopher from Scotland more than a janitor from Peru; and so on.)”
You cannot do anything with knowledge unless you know where it stops, and the costs of using it. Post-Enlightenment science, and its daughter superstar science, were lucky to have done well in (linear) physics, chemistry and engineering.
But at some point we need to give up on elegance to focus on something that was given short shrift for a very long time: the maps showing what current knowledge and current methods do not do for us; and a rigorous study of generalized scientific iatrogenics, what harm can be caused by science(or, better, an exposition of what harm has been done by science).