Fooled by Randomness
In his witty, informative, sober yet often ludicrous and sarcastic tone, Taleb expounds on the simple yet unsolvable problem of inference. This problem is as old as Solon at least, who already warned against the human tendency to infer from little empirical evidence rules and predictions expected to
In his witty, informative, sober yet often ludicrous and sarcastic tone, Taleb expounds on the simple yet unsolvable problem of inference. This problem is as old as Solon at least, who already warned against the human tendency to infer from little empirical evidence rules and predictions expected to apply in general context, especially in the future. The echo of Solon's warning comes across the book and is embodied by Popper's (naive, as some say) falsificationism and his suggestion not to take science too seriously, as it may be erecting buildings on fragile fundations, to be continuously subjected to revisions or rejections. Popper had embodied Solon's call also in politics and socioeconomics with his vision of the open society, where tolerance of alternative or even competitive views is fundamental to avoid errors and be able to face sudden changes. Taleb observes that monotheisms may have a large part in the difficulty to establish a truly open society, as they foster the idea of infallibilism, monism and of absolute truth. This tendency was in fact new to the Mediterranean area where they arose, and were not totally successful in silencing the competitive attitudes, particularly stoicism, to which Taleb tributes an explicit apology toward the end, though his appreciation of Montaigne, Carneades and Zeno are evident throughout. In earnest, Taleb admits that he himself is no better than anyone else in not being fooled by randomness, but his advantage is that he is aware of that (he is a specialist in risk trading, and it is interesting to note that though the book was published in 2004, he was still able to made a large fortune in recent years using the tools he exposes. This is consistent with his claim that people can be said of how to behave for very short time (when they may even agree with the suggestions), but then revert to their innate habits; and he also state his personal paradox, for which he gains because other do not apply what he is explaining). Being a personal essay and not a treatise, Taleb is free from formal pressure yet conveys many concepts clearly and wittingly. He presents the results of Kahneman and Tversky at the base of behavioral finance, evolutionary psychology and brain modularity to try to explain why we may just be hardwired to be fooled by noise and not be able to behave according to our rational grasp of probabilities, as we are emotional beings - being emotional is fundamental, but has its downsides which need to be constrained, that is. Taleb assaults MBAs and professional traders for their apparent success based according to him more on luck than skill. He comments on the way data are easy to fit post factum, so stories to justify success are easy to accomodate though they may just be fiction. He supports the idea that heroism is to be judged on actions, not on their results - just the opposite of what historians normally do. The text is laden with Latin and Greek citations, which make a nice contrast to the Wall Street kind of setting of the action. His disgust for people compulsively checking news, fluctuations of prices and making judgments on easy to be scooped biases (hindsight, survivorship, anchoring, availability, endowement, and so on) is just lovely, admitted that he himself if occasionally the object of the attack, except for when that is tolerated for aestetic purposes. Very refreshing, intriguing, against the grain and smart. A must read.
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This is a must read for both lovers of comics and smart laymen who want to be entertained with history of ideas, great men and logic. The sober, soft and pleasant narration (sometimes, a meta one) is built around the biography of Bertrand Russell, as told by himself in occasion of the prelude of the
This is a must read for both lovers of comics and smart laymen who want to be entertained with history of ideas, great men and logic. The sober, soft and pleasant narration (sometimes, a meta one) is built around the biography of Bertrand Russell, as told by himself in occasion of the prelude of the intervention of England into the WW2. In a note, the authors mention that though all characters are real as well as all ideas reported, some facts are fictituos for the sake of simplification of narrative only. This does not detract from the content, especially considering the appendix to the book containing additional notes and biographical materials. Russell's life is seen as a voyage to discover unshakeable truth, along which he comes to grasp the complex nature of life and reality, which lies mostly beyond logic. An underlying theme of "logic from madness" connects the lives of many of the logicians with which Bertie comes into contact, and can be applied to his case too, as if the discipline, endurance and clear-minded thought required to solve logical foundational quests could only spring from a repulsion, fear or dread of madness, or were the outcome of a desire to find order in one's own mind and life. Apparently: Russell's son was diagnosed with schizophrenia; Hilbert's son was psychotic; Cantor believed himself to be god's spokesman and spent his later life proving Shakespear's true identity (Sir Francis Bacon) and Jesus as son of Joseph of Arimatea; Frege became paranoid and used logic to prove the need for a final, anti-semitic solution; Godel died of starvation because of his paranoia; Wittgenstein was extremely eccentric, so to say. Of all, Russell, with his multiple marriages and libertine attitudes as well, seems to have embraced the most aspects of life, and for this to have become the wisest, dedicating himself to militant pacifism, philosophy and education in general, though being constantly ravaged by the thought of his failure in curing the foundations of logic that he earlier showed to be rotten (with his paradox on set theory). Drawings are very neat, elegant, with some tables in full page format of grand eloquence and beauty. There is a constant exchange between the authors' and Russell's narration, which makes the text a metatext at times, when the authors themselves are represented and comment on the evolution of the book, its themes, some philosophical propositions and the supposed failure of Russell's foundational work - which can be compensated with the inspiration of works by Wittgenstein, Godel and Turing, which lead to moder computers and computer science at large (which prefers pragmatical algorithms to structural formal reasoning in itself). A unique work deserving to be a must read in high schools - and to be largely imitated.
The Soul's Code
Hillman's acorn theory, exposed in this book, is a rejuvenation of Heraclitus' dictum "ethos anthropoi daimon" (normally rendered into "Character is fate") and its later embodiments, such as Plato's myth of the daimon calling for a body to incarnate after passing through the hands of the Fates and N
Hillman's acorn theory, exposed in this book, is a rejuvenation of Heraclitus' dictum "ethos anthropoi daimon" (normally rendered into "Character is fate") and its later embodiments, such as Plato's myth of the daimon calling for a body to incarnate after passing through the hands of the Fates and Necessity, Plotinus' postillae and commentaries, Romans' "homo faber fortunae suae", Ficino's ideas on souls, and so on and on. The echo of the oraculus of Apollo ("know yourself") lives on and inspires again the sensible reader of this famous work by the founder of the Archetypal psychology (as a follower of C. G. Jung). Hillman indeed goes back to the myths as self-contained (bootstrapped) explanation of aspects of reality, and calls to re-install the right place and importance of the invisibles in human life after the rough blinding (that is, overflowing its original context) due to the Enlightment. So the book carries an atmosphere of fable and romanticism as it tells of genius, daimon, soul, angel and other wordly names of that acorn that may reside at the core of each person's life, thereby containing all further blossomings in a nutshell. Happyness as eudaimonia (assolving the requests of the daimon), fate and necessity, accidents to help the daimon express its power to give direction and an impelling sense of urgence and importance though without exceeding into the extremist position of fatalism and consequent de-responsabilization. Hillman criticizes the current psychology's exclusive accent on "parental fallacy", genetical and environmental factors as all-inclusive explanations for children's future and achievements, and offers the daimon as a third way, besides nature and nurture, to explain the proper and unquestionably irreproducible development of the individual lives. Hillman produces a large number of pieces of eminent biographies (and also discusses the often observed repulsion of relevant characters to encapsule their lives into biographies) to support his claims, considering the extraordinary as general case containing the ordinary as special. His style is soft and eloquent throughout, well spoken and passionate at times, devoid of technicisms but rich in images and facts. Overall, this essay can be very stimulating in its provocative (yet old) claim, as it is provocative in calling for a return to older positions re-invented in hindsight and sub specie aeternitatis.
This is a brilliant work. Inventive, creative, light-written, clearly exposed to laymen, and proposing a very stimulating plan: demonstrating how, by means of the accumulation of well-defined and feasible (though not always as literally presented) mechanisms, initially trivial "vehicles" can develop
This is a brilliant work. Inventive, creative, light-written, clearly exposed to laymen, and proposing a very stimulating plan: demonstrating how, by means of the accumulation of well-defined and feasible (though not always as literally presented) mechanisms, initially trivial "vehicles" can develop emergent properties that can be defined by psychological jargon and assume the appearance of purposeful, thinking brains. A central tenet of this ascending spiral of thought experiments - which is later followed by an attempt to give physical or physiological bases to the proposals according to the (at the time of writing) up-to-date neurological and physiological knowledge - is what the author calls the "law of uphill analysis and downhill synthesis". By this, it is meant that we tend to overestimate the complexity of the underlying structures giving rise to the phenomena we observe. That is, it is much more difficult to divine the supposed structure(s) by analysis than by a synthetic approach. The book is leaving proof of this. It embodies a sort of creative reductionism akin to Schweitzer's brownian agents framework - where cumulative features give way to emergent affirmations which, in absence of such constructive proof, would tempt to be justified by much trickier assumptions. Imaginative pictures finish this little gem of a book, recommended to all curious and disillusioned people.
Incontri con menti straordinarie
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"Always work with people smarter than you" (Scott E. Page). Stare a contatto con menti geniali o forse superiori è una esperienza assai stimolante, una ricchezza insostituibile per chi ha la fortuna di fruirne. Forse non è tanto importante essere d'accordo con loro o comprenderle del tutto, quanto p
"Always work with people smarter than you" (Scott E. Page). Stare a contatto con menti geniali o forse superiori è una esperienza assai stimolante, una ricchezza insostituibile per chi ha la fortuna di fruirne. Forse non è tanto importante essere d'accordo con loro o comprenderle del tutto, quanto piuttosto avere la sensazione di respirare aria fresca e pura, un grande senso di libertà e allo stesso tempo di stupore verso l'esistente. Per chi non ha un genio in tasca, Odifreddi ha raccolto interviste a premi Nobel e Fields recenti (sebbene il libro sia ormai leggermente datato). Si tratta di un collage eterogeneo e catalogato in base alla professione dei personaggi (economisti, biologi, chimici, fisici, matematici). Ce n'è un pò per tutti i gusti, sebbene i contenuti raggiungano un pubblico necessariamente selezionato - vuoi dalla materia, vuoi dalla conoscenza del personaggio. Ad alcuni la serie di interviste potrà risultare un esercizio privato di narcisismo mostrato in pubblico, ma le cose sono per fortuna meglio di così. Odifreddi cerca di mostrarsi sempre informato su chi ha difronte, cita la versione italiana delle opere disponibili dei personaggi e li introduce brevemente. Forse ha ordinato le professioni in base alla preferenza personale e alla progressiva vicinanza alla professione ideale, che casualmente è la sua (cosa di cui non ha mai fatto mistero). Quel che si vede è che, in ogni caso, le sue domande si fanno sempre più precise e calzanti spostandosi dagli economisti ai matematici, il nostro sembra (a ragione) trovarsi sempre più a suo agio. Non mancano alcune monomanie: oltre alla citata superiorità della matematica su tutte le scienze, e quindi in sostanza su tutto, le allusioni all'ateismo e all'interpretazione spinoziana di dio (sive natura) - che per quanto condivisibili sembrano talvolta forzate. Tuttavia, le interviste sono quasi sempre agili e spaziano dalla biografia a molti interessi dell'intervistato. E ogni personaggio in genere rilascia aforismi, giudizi sintetici o massime che possono colpire e illuminare anche persone non addette ai lavori - questo è un punto di forza del libro. Del resto, rendere simpatici o accessibili personaggi di questo calibro in poche pagine ad un pubblico (che si assume anche non colto, ma certo interessato e sveglio) non è semplice. Ed alcune interviste possono risultare anche memorabili. Da tenere come riferimento per i molti spunti e le bibliografie. Si consiglia all'Odifreddi l'aggiornamento e/o l'estensione.
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