Saturday, November 20, 2010

Taleb's aphorisms

Just in time for holiday sales Nassim Taleb is back with what The New York Times dubs a "happily provocative new book of aphorisms," The Bed of Procrustes. If you are among the unwashed who don't understand the reference, "the Procrustes of Greek mythology was the cruel and ill-advised fool who stretched or shortened people to make them fit his inflexible bed." It's easy to understand why Taleb invoked this fool: "we humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has explosive consequences."

The book is short and inexpensive. I will undoubtedly succumb and buy it even though it evokes mixed memories of exchanged aphoristic barbs with a titan in his (very different) field. Academic cleverness can easily turn ugly. But then why should the battles for intellectual capital be any different from those for other forms of capital?

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