The Bed Of Procrustes – Nassim Nicholas Taleb


The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones.

Your brain is most intelligent when you don’t instruct it on what to do – something people who take showers discover on occasion.

Work destroys your soul by stealthily invading your brain during the hours not officially spent working, be selective about professions.

If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead – the more precision, the more dead you are.

There is no intermediate state between ice and water but there is one between life and death; employment.

You have a calibrated life when most of what you fear has the titillating prospect of adventure.

Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.



Your reputation is harmed the most by what you say to defend it.

Most people fear being without audiovisual stimulation because they are too repetitive when they think and imagine things on their own.



You exist if and only if you are free to do things without a visible objective, without no justification and, above all, outside the dictatorship of someone else’s narrative.



To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.



The opposite of success isn’t failure; it is name-dropping.

You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.

“Wealthy” is meaningless and has no robust absolute measure; use instead the subtractive measure “unwealth,” that is, the difference, at any point in time, between what you have and what you would like to have.

Older people are most beautiful when they have what is lacking in the young: poise erudition, wisdom, phronesis, and this post-heroic absence of agitation.

I went to a happiness conference; researchers looked very unhappy.

What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.

Decline starts with the replacement of dreams with memories and ends with the replacement of memories with other memories.

You want to avoid being disliked without being envied or admired.

Read nothing from the past one hundred years; eat no fruits from the past one thousand years; drink nothing from the past four thousand years (just wine and water); but talk to no ordinary man over forty. A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty.

You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.

Someone who says “I am busy” is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.

You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

For most, success is the harmful passage from the camp of the hating to the camp of the hated.

You can tell how uninteresting a person is by asking him whom he finds interesting.

People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels – people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up.

Preoccupation with efficacy is the main obstacle to a poetic, noble, elegant, robust and heroic life. (TRUST THE PROCESS)

Most feed their obsessions by trying to get rid of them.

Fitness is certainly the sign of strength, but outside of natural stimuli the drive to acquire fitness can signal some deep incurable weakness.

Charm is the ability to insult people without offending them; nerdiness the reverse.



It seems that it is the most unsuccessful people who give the most advice, particularly for writing and financial matters.

There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.

Modernity inflicts a sucker narrative on activities; now we “walk for exercise,” not “walk” with no justification; for hidden reasons.

For so many, instead of looking for “cause of death” when they expire, we should be looking for “cause of life” when they are still around.



My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.

Technology can degrade (and endanger) every aspect of a sucker’s life while convincing him that it is becoming more “efficient.”

The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.

You have a real life if and only if you do not compete with anyone in any of your pursuits.

Only in recent history has “working hard” signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse, and, mostly, sprezzatura.

For everything, use boredom instead of a clock, as a biological wristwatch, though under constraints of politeness.

You exist in full if and only if your conversation (or writings) cannot be easily reconstructed with clips from other conversations.



A good maxim allows you to have the last word without even starting a conversation.

Losers, when commenting on the works of someone patently more impressive, feel obligated to unnecessarily bring down their subject by expressing what he is not (“he is not a genius, but…”; “while he is no Leonardo…”) instead of expressing what he is.

The exponential information age is like a verbally incontinent person: he talks more and more as fewer and fewer people listen.

Literature comes alive when covering up vices, defects, weaknesses, and confusions, it dies with every trace of preaching.



The fool views himself as more unique and others more generic; the wise views himself as more generic and others more unique.

The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don’t know, rather than the reverse.

Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way around.

Knowledge is reached (mostly) by removing junk from people’s heads.



Wit seduces by signaling intelligence without nerdiness.



If you find any reason why you and someone are friends, you are not friends.

Life’s beauty: the kindest act toward you in your life may come from an outsider not interested in reciprocation.

We are most motivated to help those who need us the least.

To value a person, consider the difference between how impressive he or she was at the first encounter and the most recent one.

Trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down.

Don’t trust a man who needs an income – except if it is minimum wage.

Weak men act to satisfy their needs, stronger men their duties.

Ethical man accords his profession to his beliefs, instead of according his beliefs to his profession.

The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.

English does not distinguish between arrogant-up (irreverence toward the temporarily powerful) and arrogant-down (directed at the small guy).



Robustness is progress without impatience.

Robust is when you care more about the few who like your work than the multitude who dislike it (artists); fragile is when you care more about the few who dislike your work than the multitude who like it (politicians).

For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error. (For the antifragile, an error is…)



Just as smooth surfaces, competitive sports, and specialized work fossilize mind and body, competitive academia fossilizes the soul.

They agree that chess training only improves chess skills but disagree that classroom training (almost) only improves classroom skills.

I suspect that IQ, SAT, and school grades are tests designed by nerds so they can get high scores in order to call each other intelligent.



Knowledge is subtractive, not additive – what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what we do).*

*The best way to spot a charlatan: someone (like a consultant or stockbroker) who tells you what to do instead of what not to do.

The imagination of the genius vastly surpasses his intellect; the intellect of the academic vastly surpasses his imagination.



Anyone voicing a forecast or expressing an opinion without something at risk has some element of phoniness. Unless he risks going down with the ship this would be like watching an adventure movie. (SKIN IN THE GAME)



To become a philosopher, start by walking very slowly.

To be a philosopher is to know through long walks, by reasoning, and reasoning only, a priori, what others can only potentially learn from their mistakes, crises, accidents, and bankruptcies – that is, a posteriori.

Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinite.



A mathematician starts with a problem and creates a solution; a consultant starts by offering a “solution” and creations a problem.

What they call “risk” I call opportunity; but what they call “low risk” opportunity I call sucker problem.

The best of whether someone is extremely stupid (or extremely wise) is whether financial and political news makes sense to him.



The only definition of an alpha male: if you try to be an alpha male, you will never be one.

The weak shows his strength and hides his weaknesses; the magnificent exhibits his weaknesses like ornaments.

The traits I respect are erudition and the courage to stand up when half-men are afraid for their reputation. Any idiot can be intelligent.

By all means, avoid words – threats, complaints, justification, narratives, reframing, attempts to win, arguments, supplications; avoid words!



You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.

Bad-mouthing is the only genuine, never faked expression of admiration.



At any stage, humans can thirst for money, knowledge, or love; sometimes for two, never for three.



By setting oneself totally free of constraints, free of thoughts, free of debilitating activity called work, free of efforts, elements hidden in the texture of reality start staring at you; then mysteries that you never thought existed merge in front of your eyes.


Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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