The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Bed of Procrustes is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile.

By the author of the modern classic The Black Swan, this collection of aphorisms and meditations expresses his major ideas in ways you least expect.

The Bed of Procrustes takes its title from Greek mythology: the story of a man who made his visitors fit his bed to perfection by either stretching them or cutting their limbs. It represents Taleb’s view of modern civilization’s hubristic side effects—modifying humans to satisfy technology, blaming reality for not fitting economic models, inventing diseases to sell drugs, defining intelligence as what can be tested in a classroom, and convincing people that employment is not slavery.

Playful and irreverent, these aphorisms will surprise you by exposing self-delusions you have been living with but never recognized.

With a rare combination of pointed wit and potent wisdom, Taleb plows through human illusions, contrasting the classical values of courage, elegance, and erudition against the modern diseases of nerdiness, philistinism, and phoniness.

“Taleb’s crystalline nuggets of thought stand alone like esoteric poems.”—Financial Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400069972
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/30/2010
Series: Incerto Series
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 435,625
Product dimensions: 8.46(w) x 11.90(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent nearly two decades as a businessman and quantitative trader before becoming a full-time philosophical essayist and academic researcher in 2006. Although he spends most of his time in the intense seclusion of his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His main subject matter is “decision making under opacity”—that is, a map and a protocol on how we should live in a world we don’t understand.
Taleb’s books have been published in thirty-three languages.

Read an Excerpt

Counter Narratives The best revenge on a liar is to convince him that you believe what he said. - When we want to do something while unconsciously certain to fail, we seek advice so we can blame someone else for the failure. - It is harder to say no when you really mean it than when you don’t. Never say no twice if you mean it. - Your reputation is harmed the most by what you say to defend it. - The only objective definition of aging is when a person starts to talk about aging. - 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.

If you want people to read a book, tell them it is overrated. - You never win an argument until they attack your person. - Nothing is more permanent than “temporary” arrangements, deficits, truces, and relationships; and nothing is more temporary than “permanent” ones. - The most painful moments are not those we spend with uninteresting people; rather, they are those spent with uninteresting people trying hard to be interesting. - Hatred is love with a typo somewhere in the computer code, correctable but very hard to find. I wonder whether a bitter enemy would be jealous if he discovered that I hated someone else. - 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. - The test of whether you really liked a book is if you reread it (and how many times); the test of whether you really liked someone’s company is if you are ready to meet him again and again—the rest is spin, or that variety of sentiment now called self-esteem. - We ask “why is he rich (or poor)?” not “why isn’t he richer (or poorer)?” “why is the crisis so deep?” not “why isn’t it deeper?” Hatred is much harder to fake than love. You hear of fake love; never of fake hate. - The opposite of manliness isn’t cowardice; it’s technology. - Usually, what we call a “good listener” is someone with skillfully polished indifference. - It is the appearance of inconsistency, and not its absence, that makes people attractive. - You remember emails you sent that were not answered better than emails that you did not answer. People reserve standard compliments for those who do not threaten their pride; the others they often praise by calling “arrogant.” - Since Cato the Elder, a certain type of maturity has shown up when one starts blaming the new generation for “shallowness” and praising the previous one for its “values.” - It is as difficult to avoid bugging others with advice on how to exercise and other health matters as it is to stick to an exercise schedule. - By praising someone for his lack of defects you are also implying his lack of virtues. - When she shouts that what you did was unforgivable, she has already started to forgive you. Being unimaginative is only a problem when you are easily bored. - We call narcissistic those individuals who behave as if they were the central residents of the world; those who do exactly the same in a set of two we call lovers or, better, “blessed by love.” -

Table of Contents

Procrusies xi

Notice xiii

Preludes 3

Counter Narratives 10

Matters Ontological 22

The Sacred and the Profane 25

Chance, Success, Happiness, and Stoicism 30

Charming and Less Charming Sucker Problems 45

Theseus, or Living the Paleo Life 51

The Republic of Letters 60

The Universal and the Particular 71

Fooled By Randomness 74

Aesthetics 80

Ethics 84

Robustness and Antifragility 98

The Ludic Fallacy and Domain Dependence 104

Epistemology and Subtractive Knowledge 108

The Scandal of Prediction 112

Being a Philosopher and Managing to Remain One 114

Economic Life and Other Very Vulgar Subjects 119

The Sage, the Weak, and the Magnificent 129

The Implicit and the Explicit 137

On the Varieties of Love and Nonlove 143

The End 148

Postface 149

Acknowledgments 157

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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Hal_OBrien More than 1 year ago
I see a few earlier reviewers have already tried to publicize Taleb this way. As may be... Taleb is working in the tradition of La Rochefoucauld, Martial, Leonidas, and the notebooks of Geoffrey Madan. He originally ran many of these epigrams on Twitter, and I think the epigram is probably the best use of Twitter. (Taleb's since retreated to the walled garden of Facebook, but he's like that.) Is the book therefore short? Yes. But it packs a fairly powerful punch to anyone willing to listen. Are these observations one could find sifting through other literature? Perhaps, but it would take a *lot* of sifting, and Taleb is justifiably proud of his time in his library. Why should one spurn a witness telling us these thoughts are still relevant today, and willing to share the fruits of his reading? "I wonder whether a bitter enemy would be jealous if he discovered that I hated someone else." "Usually, what we call a 'good listener' is someone with skillfully polished indifference." Newton spoke of his shiny pebbles and pretty shells. Taleb's pebbles have been through his rock tumbler for some time, and are all the more smooth for it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was okay. Had I realized what I was getting I would not have spent $10. I would still have probably purchased it for $2 though. Not exactly what I expected.
Life_Traveler More than 1 year ago
Nassim Taleb takes extremely brave move to write the book in a format of aphorisms. Some of them I did not understand no matter how much I tried, some of them I love, and some of them I had to think for hours before I got them. It is not a book I can grab and read in a couple of hours; it takes weeks and months. But many aphorisms I remembered forever. You have to be in a mood for the book; if you are the book is great.
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les_b More than 1 year ago
When an aphorist frontally demeans the reader he steps onto disintegrating ground. A Heisenberg-like event.
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Saabsnob31 More than 1 year ago
Nothing new. Just a bunch of thoughts and personal opinions jumbled into subsections and marketed as something insightful. If the book hadn't been given to me, I would have been upset to pay this much for something that took me less than 30 minutes to read. If you're a technophobe, independently wealthy, or maybe a little bit slothful and in need of some good quotes - you may enjoy it more. The author's other books are much better, but even then, I wouldn't assign "great thinker" to this man. Nothing you can't get from basic Psychology books, Eastern Philosophy, and Sociology. So many quotes degrading people that work a 9-5. I'm glad the author can be so smug while he hocks crap on unsuspecting buyers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Bed of Procrustes is a book of aphorisms. I don't agree with them all, that's because I'm a different person, but most all of them give me material to ponder. I am enjoying reading the book. I have receommended it to friends. The title is what caught my attention, initially. The myth of Procrustes is one of my favorites. Makes a lot of sense to me that institutions are Procrustes' bed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago