"once again, the elders knew better"

I know the author of The Black Swan is probably a fad right now, but I have just discovered him, and I am quite taken. In my first (pre-nursing) life (of which I have written before), I was a double-major in Economics and Classics because I believe(d) these represent two fundamentally different world views. Although many people seem to think that "science" is the difference between dumb people from long ago and modern brilliance, I think the main difference is in Economics and social sciences. Formally, economics should just be observation and math, but in reality it is a totalizing way of approaching life. I used to have arguments in Intermediate Micro with the other students who refused to listen when I told them they were being indoctrinated rather than educated. (Did we think through those graphs and argue them out in class or did you just try to memorize Professor Westphal's explanations?) For the most part, I think the style of thought promoted by Classical study in languages and tried wisdom is more consistently insightful and rigorous. In fact, if we consider Adam Smith, don't we find a deeply introspective and methodical thinker who was both not an Economist and yet the quintessential Economist?

Anyhow, Mr. Nassim Taleb is leading the type of life I would choose to live if I had the means and ability. He studies antique authors and thinks about the modern world. Plus, we have a lot of superficial similarities. Both bald, yes, but also both believing in things like the worthlessness of television and newspapers and the proper place of elegance in life. (And he also writes about health care in his online notebook.) In a TimesOnline interview from June 2008, he gives us a list of pieces of advice for life. I think it is a very interesting list in its combination of the specific and mundane with the abstract--in some ways like the Dokkodo (depending on the translation):
  1. Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.
  2. Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.
  3. It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.
  4. Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.
  5. Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.
  6. Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.
  7. Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).
  8. Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants... or (again) parties.
  9. Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.
  10. Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

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