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On Fables: Finishing up Antifragile

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I’m cleaning up some notes I wanted to jot down over the last few weeks

Nassim Taleb, in Antifragile, says:

The great economist Ariel Rubinstein gets the green lumber fallacy - it requires a great deal of intellect and honesty to see things that way. Rubinstein refuses to claim that his knowledge of theoretical matters can be transalted - by him - into anything directly practical. To him, economics is like a fable - a fable writer is there to stimulate ideas, indirectly inspire practice perhaps, but certainly not to direct or determine practice.

Theory should stay independent from practice and vice versa.

Rubinstein’s injunction that theory should stay independent from practice has two implications:

  • It is easy to confuse theory about an outcome and the practice that led to that outcome. We’re all guilty of building narratives around events in our lives, both good and bad. Sometimes our narratives match reality, and sometime they don’t.

It’s important to realize that it is difficult to distinguish the two. Nassim referenced the green lumber fallacy in which a very successful commodity trader didn’t understand what the commodity was that he was trading. (The trader thought that “green lumber” was lumber painted green, when it is actually just freshly cut lumber)

  • When we dispense feedback, advice, or judgement, we should be acutely aware that we probably don’t understand events nearly as well as we think we do.

If someone asks me how to rock climb better, I’ll tell them things that I think have helped me climb better. I could be entirely wrong about what matters. For example, I have tiny little legs. Barely any meat on them. I’ve got an ideal strength to weight ratio right off the couch. Does it really matter how much time I spend hangboarding? Sure, but probably not as much as I think it does.

If I never displayed an aptitude for rock climbing, I probably would not be a rock climber. The aptitude was helped along by a genetic predisposition to have small legs. I never chose this, and am barely aware of it, so my advice to others should never be blindly trusted. This goes for anything related to jobs, money, hobbies, relationships, etc. I can’t imagine how many important components of each of those I’m entirely ignorant of.

What I say is at best a story, a fable. I want to stimulate ideas, and perhapse indirectly inspire practice, but not direct or determine anyone’s decisions.