Two comments on two quotes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb

posted by Mike on July 20th, 2008

The first quote is from NNT’s book The Black Swan:

These were the days when it was extremely common for traders to break phones when they lost money. Some resorted to destroying chairs, tables, or whatever would make noise. Once, in the Chicago pits, another trader tried to strangle me and it took four security guards to drag him away. He was irate because I was standing in what he deemed his “territory.” Who would want to leave such an environment? Compare it to lunches in a drab university cafeteria with gentle-mannered professors discussing the latest departmental intrigue.

This reminds me of part of the reason I miss living in a Catholic Worker community in those times (like now) when I’m not. The world of finance gave NNT plenty of firsthand opportunities to practice his philosophy of uncertainty, just like a CW house gives someone interested in ethics/religion/politics more than enough real world confrontation with these issues in a given day. Praxis, praxis, praxis.

Also reminds me of a quote from this interview with Steve Van Evera on Iraq:

I felt the neoconservatives were the wrong crowd to be assigned a tough task like this. I think they’re almost congenitally incompetent. For reasons having to do with the way they function as a group. They’re kinda like a cult. They don’t talk much to outsiders. They have great suspicion of the rest of the foreign policy community, so they don’t rub shoulders with others. They don’t share thoughts with people they don’t agree with. And to me, if you want to be smart, you’d better talk to people you don’t agree with. Cause that’s the way you get smart.

The second quote comes from the profile “Nassim Nicholas Taleb: the prophet of boom and doom.” He explains why he’s still a practicing Christian:

Scientists don’t know what they are talking about when they talk about religion. Religion has nothing to do with belief, and I don’t believe it has any negative impact on people’s lives outside of intolerance. Why do I go to church? It’s like asking, why did you marry that woman? You make up reasons, but it’s probably just smell. I love the smell of candles. It’s an aesthetic thing.

I admire his honesty and self-awareness.


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