It took me five months to read, mostly because I didn't want it to end. Once you grasp the elegance of Taleb's thesis -- that everything gains or loseIt took me five months to read, mostly because I didn't want it to end. Once you grasp the elegance of Taleb's thesis -- that everything gains or loses from volatility -- the rest is just a semi-autobiographical collection of aphorisms meditating on the nature of the world and our place in it. I found myself reading it in small chunks, just to remind myself of the at once profound and hilariously true-to-life wisdoms within.
Taleb's concept of anti-fragility (or convexity) is simple, yet not easily grasped thanks to our default Western way of thinking about things. Taleb's willingness to engage with his critics in his characteristically lively manner makes an otherwise unfortunate (and serious) matter as enjoyable as it can be empowering (or depressing, as you care to look at it).
Not simply worth the read -- this should be mandatory. ...more
To call Kant "dense" is an understatement on par with saying the same about the core of a neutron star. Kant's critiques are not easy going, but the bTo call Kant "dense" is an understatement on par with saying the same about the core of a neutron star. Kant's critiques are not easy going, but the bright side is that his description of the human condition, an attempt to restore science and knowledge in a world transformed by Newton and Hume, is worth the effort.
The Critique of Pure Reason is a (perhaps the) watershed in Western philosophy, rightly likened to Kant's own description of a "Copernican revolution" in thought. The book is Kant's groundwork for knowledge itself: the nature of space and time and logic as preconditions for knowledge, shared among all humans, at the cost of sacrificing metaphysics to the transcendental realm of the "unconditioned". In exchange, we restore free will, morality, and (for those so inclined) God to the world of human existence.
Kant is very much the "lawyer" and the detail-man, and his almost obsessive need to sort human nature into a concrete taxonomy is perhaps the weakest part of the work. Still, Kant's division into the phenomenal and the noumenal, the human and the unconditioned, remains foundational, and to understand Kant's argument here is to understand everything that comes after in the Continental tradition. Even if you disagree with Kant's conclusions, there is a wealth of thought to draw upon, from Kant's conception of human existence to his ideas on "things in themselves", morality, and freedom.
The Critiques are a chore, but the kind of chore that pays off dividends. ...more
I'm trying to be more conservative with my 5-star ratings but if anything deserves five it's this.
I've been familiar with the research of Kahneman anI'm trying to be more conservative with my 5-star ratings but if anything deserves five it's this.
I've been familiar with the research of Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky for several years now. Their work, while officially psychology, has applications to economics, policy making, and most any field or endeavour requiring humans to make decisions.
The premise is simple: you, as a human being, aren't a rational thinker. Instead, you operate with two "modes" of thought -- which Kahneman labels System 1 and System 2 for the purposes of the book -- analogous to the "fast and slow" of the title. System 1 is evolutionarily older and implicated in rapid judgments. It operates on principles of association and coherence, making decisions by what it knows and what tells a good story. System 2 is newer and practically unique to humans, being the system we use for complex math and decision-making, as well as impulse control. System 2 is what we consider our "self", the rational choice-maker that thinks orderly and logical thoughts.
The only problem is that System 2 is underdeveloped in comparison to System 1. As Kahneman says, System 2 is lazy. Consequently, we tend to accept intuitive judgments with little scrutiny, and even our rationality can, in many instances, become subservient to those powerful causal stories generated by System 1.
Starting from that two-minds premise, Kahneman covers a bewildering array of conditions in which our illusion of rationality falls to pieces. We're bad at statistical thinking, preferring what we know and experience to a more global view. We prefer anecdotes to likelihoods, individuals to categories, and stories to probabilities. We blame irrelevant causes -- or our own talents -- for chance outcomes. We overestimate our odds in bad situations and underestimate probabilities in favorable conditions. We're more averse to loss than motivated by gain, and even those measures of loss and gain are subjective, determined by arbitrary reference points in our surroundings.
Kahneman's conclusion is that we aren't rational decision makers, and it makes little sense to act as if we're homo economicus presented in rational-agent models of economics. We aren't necessarily irrational, but a blend of knee-jerk intuitions -- which aren't reliable in situations requiring probabilistic thinking -- and rationality which must be coaxed out of an evolutionarily conservative body. Contrary to rationality, we weight options differently according to how we feel about them, whether they represent losses or gains, even how the information is presented to us (the framing effect).
These conclusions hold a personal significance for me, as I run across intuitive, anecdotal and self-absorbed thinking in many domains across many areas of my life (not to exclude myself from that charge, as I'm capable of lazy rationality and impulsive decisions as much as anyone; that kind of self-reflection is another positive). Kahneman's examples are largely directed at economists and policy-makers, but the implications of his research have obvious applications to politics, professional disagreements, and even internet arguments.
All in all this is a fascinating, comprehensive, and lay-accessible work that should be required reading for anyone who cares to think about anything ever (or at least realize why the person arguing with you is being so stubborn). ...more
If this book had been written by just about anyone else, I don't know if I'd have had the patience for over 900 pages. But it's Neal Stephenson. CrytoIf this book had been written by just about anyone else, I don't know if I'd have had the patience for over 900 pages. But it's Neal Stephenson. Crytography, hackers, anarchy, and nerds. How could I give this anything but five stars?
The only complaint, and I use the word loosely, is the traditional Stephenson ending. I felt that the last third of the book went to a strange place, killing one character and leaving another off-stage almost entirely, and then ending the story when it feels like there's more to wrap up. But I've come to accept it as an authorial quirk. ...more
Absolute must-read for most anyone, but especially anyone who is involved in the sciences (professionally or otherwise) and would benefit from an alteAbsolute must-read for most anyone, but especially anyone who is involved in the sciences (professionally or otherwise) and would benefit from an alternative to standard reductionist thinking that pervades the common perceptions. ...more
A very thorough, at times depressing, look into the North Korean regime from the very beginning. Worth a read if you're interested in that sort of thiA very thorough, at times depressing, look into the North Korean regime from the very beginning. Worth a read if you're interested in that sort of thing....more
Mieville is one of few contemporary fantasy writers producing work that I can read. His work is lucid, straying beyond the "tropes" that define fantasMieville is one of few contemporary fantasy writers producing work that I can read. His work is lucid, straying beyond the "tropes" that define fantasy, and while The City & The City might be loosely labeled an "urban fantasy", it's the elements of magical realism or "the weird" that dominate this story. This is not a wizards-and-fireballs sort of book, and we are all better for it. The book carries deep themes of otherworldiness made familiar, a vibe which permeates Mieville's writing (and is shared by those "fantasy" writers whom I find most captivating).
The story itself is an unremarkable murder mystery. What makes the book stand out is the setting. You never quite know what is happening with Beszel and its twin. Is the division the result of arcane magic? Demons? Technology? Aliens? Political agreement with mass application of psychology? We never know; it blends into the background, not as a problem to be solved but as a backdrop for the characters.
In that light the book just clicked for me. Mieville has a way of taking elements that are otherwise mundane, and other elements which could quickly stray into the land of cliche, and making them into something new and bizarre which works. It doesn't hurt that Mieville can actually write, and his prose is a pleasure to read on top of his out-there stories....more
Flaubert's hatred of the bourgeois really shines through in his portrayal of provincial France, with Charles' meekness and his willingBrilliant book.
Flaubert's hatred of the bourgeois really shines through in his portrayal of provincial France, with Charles' meekness and his willing obliviousness of reality, and Emma's constant search for happiness which inevitably leads her to ruin.
You want to detest them both for their flaws; yet at the same time you realize that they're both human beings and operating from very real perspectives, keeping with Flaubert's ideas on limiting the author's influence. ...more