What intellectually stimulating conversations look like

Nicholas Taleb’s Reddit AMA has been, by far, the most intellectually stimulating “ask me anything” that I’ve ever read. I don’t agree with everything that he says (see last question below, for example). Nevertheless the whole thread was thoroughly enjoyable. Here are excerpts of bits that made me pause and think:

R: What kind of risks do you think we overlook most in day to day life?

T: The answer to your question is in the following: 7000 Americans die every day, many, many of preventable causes. What we talk about is usually the sensational. Do the math: they die from lack of stressors (activity), corn syrup, cigarettes, etc. So the real risks/killers are discernible; they map to the risks for your life.

R: Is your freedom the only source to go on fighting with such fervor?

T: I have always been fighting… But my freedom gives me more moral obligations, make me feel more guilt for not shouting fraud when I see it.

R: What kind of system would you set up in order to promote anti-fragility?

T: Rule: any company that would cause a national emergency requiring a bailout should it fail should be classified BAILABLE-OUT and employees should not be allowed to earn more than civil servants. That would force companies to 1) be small, 2) not leech off the taxpayer.

R: What is the most important skill or trait a human being can have in the modern world?

T: A sense of honor. It puts you above everything else.

R: What is one thing that a recent college graduate can due to be Antifragile?

T: Get passing grades and follow voraciously your curiosity on the side instead of competing in school. In the end what matters is your curiosity, nothing else. And read nothing that doesn’t interest you but interests someone else.

R: You’ve talked a lot about financial issues and health issues. You have touched on the environment, but not said much about energy use.

T: The problem is the nonlinearity of harm. We have too many people on the planet, with too much concentration of pollutants. And these people are converging to the same habits.. We are not supposed to be eating the same thing. Any concentration harms.

R: What can the average joe do to make sure “skin in the game” is enforced on those in power?

T: Decentralization is where we start. Vote for that and for people promoting it.

R: What have you been reading recently?

R: You can check out his amazon reviews if you haven’t seen that yet. Link

R: How many books in your library have you not read?

T: Actually, only 40% partially read.

R: Can you begin to be antifragile while being poor or you should first make some money and plan ahead?

T: The poor is more antifragile than the rich: less to lose, both economically and psychologically.

R: As an engineer and technologist, I’m exposed to a lot of neophilia. Do you have any suggestions for heuristics besides reading the classics as an inoculation against neophilia?

T: Yes, use the Lindy effect as a testing rule… that is, look for solutions from simpler technologies.

The longer a technology has been around, the longer it’s likely to stay around.

R: according to your principles, how would you deal with the obesity epidemic hitting the U.S.?

T: The general problem is that we are not made to control our environment, and we are designed for a degree of variability: in energy, temperature, food composition, sleep duration, exercise (by Jensen’s inequality). Depriving anyone of variations is silly. So we need to force periods of starvation/fasts , sleep deprivation , protein deprivation, etc. Religions force shabbats, fasts, etc. but we are no longer under the sway of religions… The solution is rules…


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