So the lunch with Nassim Nicholas Taleb happened, in a rather pretentious little place on 15th Street, which at least was quiet. I arrived brimming with questions, and left with only a few of them answered, but had a great experience all the same.
I think I’m going to do a more formal Q&A with Taleb when both his book and the first reviews are out – probably by email. But here are a few questions I had going in to the lunch, along with any answers that Taleb gave me, if any. They should at least, give an idea of the kind of questions which get raised by his book.
- Are common economic concepts such as cycles or reversion to mean remotely useful or even meaningful? (I asked Taleb this, and got a general reply about all economics being not only useless but also unethical.)
- What does NNT think of Robin Hanson‘s blog, Overcoming Bias? (Taleb says he doesn’t know it. But he should – there’s enormous overlap between the blog and the book. The blogs he likes the most are Arts & Letters Daily and 3 Quarks Daily. He does read newspapers online, but usually through links from these sites. He’s not interested in news, per se.)
- The “Black Swan” of the title comes from the idea that you can’t confirm a statement like “all swans are white” by observing white swans. Similarly, you can’t prove that OJ Simpson is not a murderer by closely observing him all day and seeing him murder nobody. On the other hand, if you give me two paragraphs and tell you they’re anagrams of each other, I’m likely to pick a letter at random, probably something uncommon like W or Q or Z, and count its occurrences in each of the paragraphs. If the occurrences match, I’ll be more likely to believe you. Is there some kind of real confirmation going on here? Or are all such observations largely meaningless unless and until you’ve either falsified the claim or proved it outright? (Taleb: Yes, there is some confirmation going on.)