Fooled by Randomness
As I am writing these lines I see the following headlines on my Bloomberg
- Dow is up 1.03 on lower interest rates
-Dollar down 0.12 yen on the higher Japanese surplus
and so on for an entire page. If I translate it well, the journalist claims to provide an explanation for something that amounts to perfect noise. A move of 1.03 with the Dow at the 11,000 constitutes less than 0.01% move. Such a move does not warrant an explanation. There is nothing that an honest person can try to explain ; there are no reasons to adduce. But like apprentice professors of comparative literature, journalists paid to provide explanations, will gladly and readily provide them.
- Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
It is hard to rid oneself of the notion that one is somehow a unique snowflake. I - belong to large swarm of the population that rejects self- help books or even popular literature. They are meant for others. And don't worry - this post is not about how I was wrong all along and I have now found my bible. I continue to believe in the wilde dictum that 'art is superbly sterile'. One is reluctant is to claim to be influenced by a book. To hear the statement: book X changed my life is cringeworthy. The milder version: 'book X changed the way I think about Y' is amusing and cringeworthy in that order. However, one likes to believe 'well read' is a compliment. The cumulative is something but the details are vulgar.
The awareness of the existence of a certain thought processes similar to one's own. A more fluent putting in words, of what one may have said all along, is sometimes a reason why one likes a book. When the book is widely regarded as 'thought provoking' and 'insightful' it may be a rash thing to say. But hey why else does one have one's own wall on the net for.Somewhere in the 20th century, it has become acceptable (even endearing) to be brash.I have taken it upon myself to be the knight in shining armor, defending humility (in others that is). So I actually fail in my noble duty when I endorse a book noted for the author's sweeping statements and bluntness. As truth needs to be told: the book is good.
The crux of the book as I like to interpret it is: 'actually, nobody has a clue'. My reading it was kinda preaching to the converted (well, my reading it wasn't the preaching, but I got tired wrestling to get the idiom right so I let it be). The book aims to deflate anyone who is given to reverence of any kind for anything - people, institutions, history -and everything else in sighting distance .
But - a word crucial in every literary review - a critic must talk about both sides. Where Taleb falls short is coming across as 'sure of himself' amidst a whole book claiming 'every man to himself, there's nobody to look up to'. Sure he talks about the vulnerability of it, the near inevitability of disaster and ends the book sounding dangerously close to self-help. But the kind of fear of being alone in a bulwarkless universe - is something that did not come across in the book. Are he (and so many of his readers) so much at peace with tackling the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' by themselves ? "All the best !" I'd say sarcastically as if I've gone about living several times.
I see that I managed to say I didn't like something because it could have been soomething else. Su.Ra would have disapproved.
But, in doing what I did I uphold a strong tradition in literary criticism. I am sure someone must've told Hemingway that in his latest work, he had been disappointing parsimonious with characters. "It should've been :The Old Man, the sea and the Pirates".