The Bed of Procrustes: Chosen Tidbits

"The Bed of Procrustes" is a book of aphorisms by Nassim Taleb, who also wrote Fooled by Randomness and Antifragile. I haven't read those yet, but I plan to give them a try.

Taleb's style is witty and biting. This makes his writings entertaining, at the very least. But whether I agree with him or not, Taleb never fails to make me think. He truly is an original thinker.

Here's what caught my eye in "The Bed of Procrustes". See for yourself!


The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones.
Your reputation is harmed most by what you say to defend it.
They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status — but rarely for your wisdom.
Most of what they call humility is successfully disguised arrogance.
The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind's flaws, biases, contradictions, and irrationality — without exploiting them for fun and profit.
Success is becoming in middle adulthood what you dreamed to be in late childhood. The rest comes from loss of control.
It is the appearance of inconsistency, and not its absence, that makes people attractive.
Wisdom in the young is as unattractive as frivolity in the elderly.
You exist if and only if you are free to do things without a visible objective, with no justification and, above all, outside the dictatorship of someone else's narrative.
Most feed their obsessions by trying to get rid of them.
Charm is the ability to insult people without offending them; nerdiness the reverse.
There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.
People are so prone to overcausation that you can make the reticent turn loquacious by dropping an occasional "why?" in the conversation.
We are satisfied with old objects like vistas or classical paintings but insatiabde with technologies, amplifying small improvements in versions, obsessed about 2.0, caught in a mental treadmill.
My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.
You have a real life if and only if you do not compete with anyone in any of your pursuits.
Only in recent history was "working hard" signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse and mostly, spezzatura.
What they call "play" (gym, travel, sports) looks like work; the harder they try, the more captive they are.
We are hunters; we are only truly alive in those moments when we improvise; no schedule, just small surprises and stimuli from the environment.
For everything, use boredom in place of a clock, as a biological wrist-watch, though under constraints of politeness.
You exist in full if and only if your conversation (or writings) cannot be easily reconstructed with clips from other conversations.
Technology is at its best when it is invisible.
When I look at people on treadmills I wonder how alpha lions, the strongest, expend the least amount of energy, sleeping twenty hours a day; others hunt for them.
You need to keep reminding yourself of the obvious: charm lies in the unsaid, the unwritten, and the undisplayed. It takes mastery to control silence. Caesar pontem fecit.
Double a man's erudition; you will halve his citations.
Never rid anyone of an illusion unless you can replace it in his mind with another illusion. (But don't work too hard on it; the replacement illusion does not even have to be more convincing than the initial one.)
The fool views himself as more unique and others more generic; tho wise views himself as more generic and others more unique.
Finer men tolerate others' small inconsistencies though not the large ones; the weak tolerats others' large inconsistencies though not small ones.
Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the othe way around. [...] knowledge is reached (mostly) by removing junk from people's head.
The biggest error since Socrates has been to believe that lack of clarity is the source of all our ills, not the result of them.
Beauty is enhanced by unashamed irregularities; magnificence by a facade of blunder.
True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.
You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.
Greatness starts with the replacement of hatred with polite disdain.
Religions and ethics have evolved from promising heaven if you do good, to promising heaven while you do good, to making you promise to do good.
Just as dyed hair makes older men less attractive, it is what you do to hide your weaknesses that makes them repugnant.
You are only secure if you can lose your fortune without the additional worse insult of having to become humble.
Robustness is progress without impatience.
For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error.
The imagination of the genius vastly surpasses his intellect; the intellect of the academic vastly surpasses his imagination.
The four most influential moderns: Darwin, Marx, Freud and (the productive) Einstein were scholars but not academics. It has always been hard to do genuine -- and nonperishable -- work within institutions.