N.N. Taleb has to be one of my favourite thinkers of our time. He has taken uncertainty – the root of all evil to so many people – and mathematically explained why it’s not such a bad things at all. In fact, in certain circumstances, we can benefit from uncertainty by being what he calls antifragile. WordPress just underlined this word in red, which is disappointing. It’s a concept that should spread widely.
He sometimes posts one liners on Facebook that then generate a lot of discussion. His most recent:
“The tragedy of our time is the monoculture of ideas: all ‘thinkers’ are forced to believe the same bullshit.”
Not that I am trying to meta-prove him wrong, but I disagree. It’s not the tragedy of our time. It has almost certainly always been that way. Ever since I first heard Socrates talking about youth, I’ve been highly sceptical of any remarks that proclaim that our time is somehow unique. Arguably one of the most powerful minds of all times said:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
It’s quite fascinating really. You’d swear he was talking about the kids now – with their latest iPads. However, he said this sometime during 5th century BC.
It would be too sweeping a statement to say that nothing ever changes, but it’s fair to say that human nature remains fairly constant – which is what Taleb’s comment is addressing. I don’t think that that’s a pedantic reason to disagree with him. I think we’re so prone to see ourselves as unique and special that we forget to learn from history.
UPDATE: So I left a brief comment to this effect on Taleb’s post; my first time to do so. And then – he replied! He replied to only 2 comments of over a hundred (the other one exposed him as a Russian spy), so I feel a bit like the sensei at the top of the mountain talked back. His comment was: Globalisation. That’s an interesting take on it. On top of globalisation, there is also the internet – so the monoculture gets even stronger. I guess there is an interesting point arising out of this discussion: our propensity for herd mentality is made even worse by the internet.
It’s difficult to meaningfully stand out when the way to get heard is through the network effect.
5 thoughts on “Time, Socrates and Taleb”
This is such an important point. I think it’s also related to the idea of credentialism, and the sort of things we put in the education that gets people those credentials. There’s a fantastic book that I read on the subject — Excellent Sheep by William Derseiewicz, a former Yale professor who decries the decline of critical thinking and the humanities. The question of how to get those people who are willing to say that they think, maybe, the emperor might not be wearing clothes a hearing in a crowd that adores the emperor…well, that might be the most important question in this globalized filter bubble world.
Indeed! I must have a look at this Excellent Sheep business! You know, I think you may enjoy this article: https://medium.com/incerto/the-merchandising-of-virtue-b548762658f0