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Nassim Nicholas Taleb excerpts from Antifragility

April 1, 2017

The avoidance of small errors makes the large ones more sever.

No true stability without volatility.

Focus on actions and avoid words which can lead to a health eroding dependence on external recognition. People are cruel and unfair in the way they confer recognition, so it is best to stay out of the game. Stay robust to how others treat you.

A man is honorable in proportion to the amount of downside he is exposed to for acting on his opinions.

Possession makes us worry about downside, this acting as a punishment as we depend on them. Success brings asymmetry: you now have a lot more to lose than gain. You are hence fragile.

When you have nothing to lose, you are anti-fragile at best, robust at worst.

Nothing can be done hastily and safely – almost nothing.

Anti-fragility is the combination of paranoia and aggressiveness.

Prepare for the worst, the best can take care of itself. Yiddish proverb

Being reviewed or assessed by others matters if and only if one is subjected to judgement by future – not just present – others.

A free person does not to win arguments – just win.

Anything that smacks of a competition is a destruction of knowledge.

The most convincing statements are those in which someone stands, ones in which one has maximal skin in the game; the most unconvincing ones are those in which one patently ( but unknowingly) tries to enhance one’s status without a tangible contribution. Show off if fine, it is human, as long as the substance exceeds the showoff content.

Stay human, take as much as you can, under the condition that you give more than you take.

It is easy to scam people by getting them to complication.

Some things can be, simply, to large for you heart.

Skepticism has traditionally been of expert knowledge rather than abstract entities like God.  Skeptic fideists like the Sufi El Ghazali were part of this tradition.

Avoidance of boredom is the only worthy mode of action.

When it comes to sustaining healthy and ethical activity, the trick is to be bored with a specific task rather than give up the whole project.

‘What is the payoff?’  – negative or positive – is often a better question than ‘what is true ?’ The answer to the former depends on the fragility continuum. Modify your exposure according – adjust your targets. Learn to get out of trouble. Vastly more effective.

Precautionary principle: if we don’t understand something and it has a systemic effect, just avoid.

Ask yourself how many things you need to disregard in order to act.

Just worry about Black Swan exposures, and life is easy. Exploit the positive one and protect against the negative ones.

Robust to error decisions require no more than a single reason.

One small observation can disprove a statement, while millions can hardly confirm it.

What we know to be right today may turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily.

It’s not about what to do, but having a way to remove the bad.

Innovation is saying no to 1000 things. Steve Jobs.

It doesn’t matter how often you are wrong, just that you are right when it counts. Suckers try to win arguments, non-suckers try to win. We know we will be wrong most of the time when we check people for weapons at an airport. One side has larger consequences than the other. It is rather a good thing to lose arguments.

Never put your enemy’s back to the wall. Hope your enemies, your circumstances, put your back against the wall. Back against the wall folks tap all their resources, ones they didn’t know they had.









Soothe it or suck it

March 30, 2017

Helping someone seems harmless enough in the beginning. But past a certain point helping them can keep them from learning.  A person who isn’t learning becomes more and more vulnerable to harm over time.   And you become vulnerable over time as you surround yourself with people you have inadvertently worked hard to keep stupid. Most of us understand this.

But understanding is often not prevention. If reading this you recognize some resentment and exasperation about a current situation, it is probably a sign that you are the cause of the problem, not them.  Maybe you are becoming kind of an asshole to boot. People don’t like you even though you do a lot for them. To make matters worse, in this weakened state you have to find a way to do the thing you fear most, letting things go badly for awhile – stop fixing.  Instead, what I am proposing in this post,  is that to replace fixing with being soothing to folks as they go through the pain that accompanies most learning. You actually need to be nicer, a more beautiful person, because to break the cycle you are going to have to let things around you get ugly. You have to offset that ugliness with kindness and compassion.

It is a hard trap to escape though. We are actually addicted to repetitively using  ‘the fix’ to soothe pain and stress, theirs and ours.  We kill two birds with one stone, preventing their pain and our own with our fixes. It is pretty satisfying, we get to see ourselves as benevolent,  but ultimately, it is not too wise, and not really so benevolent

There is a time for everything:  a time to learn, a  time to fix, and a time to soothe. Of these three we are most likely to dismiss the importance of soothing others and ourselves. It does not feel productive, and seems like a waste of time to soothe.  Our deficits in understanding about how to soothe actually results in us becoming weaker and more fragile because we reflexively go to for the quicker fixes and block learning.  We develop asymmetries of knowledge and skill in families and organizations, making them more fragile.

It turns out being able to recognize your own pain and being able to soothe yourself is not really an optional skill. We have been duped by the promise that we are in a rat race that we can win and all this stress will be worth it in the end.   Our society shits on the skill of soothing ourselves and others, but since it is not optional to human functioning to be soothed, we instead spend billions on it:  alcohol, drugs, quackery, social media, infidelity, pornography, etc. We also self-soothe when we procrastinate, call in sick to work a lot, and avoid tough but important decisions and activities.






Overcoming your opponent

March 28, 2017

When Hatim al-Asamm of Afghanistan went to Baghdad, people surrounding him saying, ‘You are a non-Arab of halting speech, yet you silence everyone.” He answered, ‘Three things allow me to overcome my opponent. I am happy when he is right, and I am sad when he is wrong, and I try not to behave foolishly towards him.’

from Learning How to Learn

Idries Shah

What things will save humanity from the world?

March 26, 2017

There are 4 things. Accept the ignorance of others and spare them yours; spare for them from your substance, and do not expect any of theirs.

Hatim al-Asamm

from Learning How to Learn

Idries Shah



Commonsense thinking, artificial intelligence, and the future of the human mind

January 26, 2016

Marvin Minsky died this week. This is a blog post from 2011 that discuss his ideas.

Wim Chase

I am reading a book by Marvin Minsky called The Emotion Machine.

I feel it applies to my work as a therapist and recommend it to anyone interested in the mind and its workings.

Machine is a bit of a misnomer as it tends to imply power and efficiency rather than flexibility and flow. I like this quote from the introduction:

If you “understand” something in only one way, then you scarcely understand it at all- because when you get stuck, you’ll have nowhere to go. But if you represent something in several ways, then when you get frustrated enough, you can switch among different points of view, until you find one that works for you!

He goes on about human dignity:

I see our dignity as stemming from what we have made of ourselves: a colossal collection of different ways to deal with different situations and predicaments. It is that diversity…

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Giving credit to your ‘self’ weakens the mind

January 26, 2016

Marvin Minsky just passed away. This is one post where I mention him.

Wim Chase

What is this ‘self’ that you give credit to?   It is not really a question that you can answer in any useful kind of way. Our ‘selves’ vary according to our purposes. Our purposes vary according to context. If you attribute some success you have had to your ‘self’ without sufficient specifity, that success may be hard to sustain or repeat.

So how do you strengthen the mind?  Marvin Minsky suggests we gain more from each experience by forgetting much of it, namely , details that were not relevant to our goals. What we learn can be more profound if we assign credit not only to the final act that led us to our success or failure – or even to the strategy that has led to it – but to whatever earlier choices we made that slected our winning strategy. Our abilities to make good credit assignments could be among…

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Humility acknowledges the potential for wrongness

January 18, 2016

…. but that doesn’t mean it excludes the potential for rightness. It allows you to pay proper attention to the context – time, place, people.

Gratitude alerts us to opportunities. Ingratitude blinds us to them. Neither replace critical thinking.

October 2, 2014

The title of this post is for your reflection.

You can share it but please cite me.

Copyright 2014, All rights reserved.

Beware anything you do or believe that makes you feel special. Appreciate the significance of ordinary challenges

September 14, 2014

John 5:21-26

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Pay attention to the details of your particular life situation and make good decisions. Religious rituals and beliefs exist to support your efforts to love your neighbor as yourself. God does not need you to believe in him or your rituals. They are there to support you, to give you comfort and rest after your hard work being a peacemaker in this world. You may face some scorn and be tempted to retaliate. You will feel like you are making no progress. You will be tempted to spend too much time absorbed in religious ritual and words. Jesus is pretty clear that you will be missing the boat, in this world, and the next.

Lessons from the Vikings : The wisdom of being more honest about the role of luck to success

September 7, 2014

HAP is an old Norse word that means ‘luck’. The Vikings added it to the what has evolved into the English language we speak today, and it is the root of several words such as happy, happening, and hapless.  The Vikings put a lot of stock on luck, they even considered luck to be a part of what made up their self, much in the way we consider intelligence or strength to be essential parts of the self. But certainly, like us, they saw luck as coming about by chance. I think the advantage they had was that they saw it as something they could pay attention to and develop.  

By definition,  you can’t put conditions on luck. It seems like something that you either have or not. We call luck by other names now – like opportunity. The word opportunity  is one of those buzz words used by business people that has tried to render everything in terms of logic and intellectual analysis. I prefer the word luck. We have less trouble seeing luck as bad or good.  Seeing the possibility of bad or good in anything is a better motivator for us to pay attention so that whatever luck comes our way so we won’t miss out. And that’s really a way to happiness…just being open to seeing things as clearly as you can no matter what. The more you engage with life in this way, the more skilled you become in taking advantage of more and more of what comes your way. You begin to look to others like you have a lot of luck, and you have no problem admitting it if you are thinking like a Viking. Maybe Vikings were more humble than we perceive them to have been. They attributed a lot of their success just to their luck. Maybe we should too. 

Just as important to happiness is to look out for bad luck, bad ‘hap‘penings coming your way so you can protect yourself, also a skill that you develop with attention and engagement. 

So ‘happy‘ is really a mindful state where you are just paying full mindful attention to what is and what is coming, and not getting to attached to any one piece of HAP. lest you miss the next one. 

You are lucky if you are happy and you are happy if you are lucky. 

To say it another way, you are happy or confident simply because you are doing what you know will give you the best chance of success – just paying mindful attention and developing the abilities that transform you into a person who can best adapt to make the best  of the luck that comes their way, and when in abundance, share it – become lucky for others. 

Happiness is the truth. 

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