Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan – a Brilliantly Irreverant Attack on Bildungsphilisters*

For some time now I have had a second-hand exposure to Black Swan theory but this weekend I came face-to-face with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s brilliant writing – a most hedonistic Saturday and Sunday, when uninterrupted by worldly social or work distractions, save a short school assignment, I read Taleb’s The Black Swan cover to cover.

“Erudite” is a word Taleb is fond of using throughout this book in reference to the likes of Benoit Mandelbrot, Sextus Empiricus, Friedrich Hayek, Pierre Bayle, Pierre-Daniel Huet, Michel de Montaigne, etc. to distinguish them from idiot savants from a gamut of disciplines, ranging from mathematics to economics to the social sciences to philosophy to “professional” risk and – ouch!- intelligence analysts.

All this name dropping might make one think that Mr Taleb falls into the category of the latter, but nothing could be further from the truth (my version of it). This is an author –¬†philosopher by vocation, mathematician and trader by profession – with some remarkably fresh ideas and a sense of humour that is more aesthetic than cynical.

I will not attempt to describe what this book is about beyond the standard reference to Taleb’s Black Swan theory, i.e. low probability high impact events. Chance is something that impacts life on all levels, hence the book can be of interest to just about anyone: writers in temporary Starbucks jobs, 9-5 accountants, the great great great son of one of Catherine The Great’s 12 lovers, high-brow-brown-nosed-self-perpetuating academics, gamblers or crooks or entrepreneurs, the military (any), Casanova wanna-be’s, testosterone-ridden overachievers (either male or female), Muslims, Christians, Greek Orthodox, mystics, sceptics, Richard Dawkinseans…ad infinitum.

Thank you, Mr Taleb, for the exquisite pleasure of reading your book! Of course, given your disregard for blogs, the probability of your stumbling upon this review of not your book, but its impact on a random reader, is sadly negligible. Yet, the inspiration it has aroused might well have a deeper impact.

* A Bildungsphilister (a neologism: Bildung + philistine) is “a philistine with cosmetic, nongenuine culture. Nietzsche used this term to refer to the dogma-prone newspaper reader and opera lover with cosmetic exposure to culture and shallow depth. I extend it to the buzzword-using researcher in nonexperimental fields who lacks in imagination, curiosity, erudition, and culture and is closely centered on his ideas, on his “discipline”. This prevents him from seeing the conflicts between his ideas and the texture of the world.” NNT