The Bed of Procrustes: Book Summary

Philosophical and Practical aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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What is this book about?

The Bed of Procrustes is a stand-alone book in the Incerto series by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is a collection of aphorisms that will make you think. This along with all the books in Incerto Series by Taleb deals with how we live in a world that we don’t quite understand.

The Bed of Procrustes: Book Summary

Aphorisms are something the reader has to deal with. They are standalone sentences. They don’t need to be explained. Moreover, they lose charm whenever explained.

So, I’m not gonna explain these aphorisms because Tabeb himself says:

“My best definition of a nerd: someone who asks you to explain an aphorism.”

So, I’m just writing down my personal favorite aphorisms from the book. 

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Preludes

The person you are the most afraid to contradict is yourself

Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but, to the non-sucker, not exactly the same thing.

Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly dangerous.

Your brain is most intelligent when you don’t instruct it on what to do — something people who take showers discover on occasion.

Don’t talk about “progress” in terms of longevity, safety, or comfort before comparing zoo animals to those in the wilderness.

Counter Narratives

The best revenge on a liar is to convince him that you believe what he said.

It is harder to say no when you really mean it than when you don’t.

Never say no twice if you mean 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.

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.

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.

Matters Ontological

It is a very recent disease to mistake the unobserved for the nonexistent; but some are plagued with the worse disease of mistaking the unobserved for the unobservable.

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.

The sacred and the profane

People used to wear ordinary clothes weekdays and formal attire on Sunday. Today it is the exact reverse.

To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.

Chance, success, happiness, and stoicism

You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.

What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.

Read nothing from the past one hundred years; eat no fruits from the past one thousand years; drink nothing from the past four thousand years (just wine and water); but talk to no ordinary man over forty. A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty.

The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.

Someone who says “I am busy” is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.

The difference between love and happiness is that those who talk about love tend to be in love, but those who talk about happiness tend to be not happy.

People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels — people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up.

It is as difficult to change someone’s opinions as it is to change his tastes.

Charming and less charming sucker problems

It seems that it is the most unsuccessful people who give the most advice, particularly for writing and financial matters.

There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.

It is those who use others who are the most upset when someone uses them.

Theseus, or living the paleo life

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

If you need to listen to music while walking, don’t walk; and please don’t listen to music.

Every social association that is not face-to-face is injurious to your health.

The republic of letters

Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.

Writers are remembered for their best work, politicians for their worst mistakes, and businessmen are almost never remembered.

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.

Some books cannot be summarized (real literature, poetry); some can be compressed to about ten pages; the majority to zero pages.

In the past, most were ignorant, one in a thousand were refined enough to talk to. Today, literacy is higher, but thanks to progress, the media, and finance, only one in ten thousand.

The universal and the particular

What I learned on my own I still remember.

Fooled by randomness

The tragedy is that much of what you think is random is in your control and, what’s worse, the opposite.

The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don’t know, rather than the reverse.

Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way around. Most info-Web-media-newspaper types have a hard time swallowing the idea that knowledge is reached (mostly) by removing junk from people’s heads.

Aesthetics

We love imperfection, the right kind of imperfection; we pay up for original art and typo-laden first editions.

Just as no monkey is as good-looking as the ugliest of humans, no academic is worthier than the worst of the creators.

Ethics

Life’s beauty: the kindest act toward you in your life may come from an outsider not interested in reciprocation.

Meditation is a way to be narcissistic without hurting anyone.

You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.

Trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down. The tragedy of virtue is that the more obvious, boring, unoriginal, and sermonizing the proverb, the harder it is to implement.

If you lie to me, keep lying; don’t hurt me by suddenly telling the truth.

Weak men act to satisfy their needs, stronger men their duties.

There are those who will thank you for what you gave them and others who will blame you for what you did not give them.

I trust everyone except those who tell me they are trustworthy.

The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.

In a crowd of a hundred, 50 percent of the wealth, 90 percent of the imagination, and 100 percent of the intellectual courage will reside in a single person — not necessarily the same one.

Robustness and fragility

For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error.

The ludic fallacy and domain dependence

When you beat up someone physically, you get exercise and stress relief; when you assault him verbally on the Internet, you just harm yourself. Just as smooth surfaces, competitive sports, and specialized work fossilize mind and body, competitive academia fossilizes the soul.

They agree that chess training only improves chess skills but disagree that classroom training (almost) only improves classroom skills.

Upon arriving at the hotel in Dubai, the businessman had a porter carry his luggage; I later saw him lifting free weights in the gym.

Epistemology and subtractive knowledge

It takes extraordinary wisdom and self-control to accept that many things have a logic we do not understand that is smarter than our own.

Knowledge is subtractive, not additive — what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do).

They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).

Being a philosopher and managing to remain one

Real mathematicians understand completeness, real philosophers understand incompleteness, the rest don’t formally understand anything.

It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to accept that what makes sense doesn’t really make sense.

Economic life and other very vulgar subjects

A mathematician starts with a problem and creates a solution; a consultant starts by offering a “solution” and creates a problem.

What they call “risk” I call opportunity; but what they call “low risk” opportunity I call sucker problem.

The stock market, in brief: participants are calmly waiting in line to be slaughtered while thinking it is for a Broadway show.

“It is much easier to scam people for billions than for just millions.”

We should make students recompute their GPAs by counting their grades in finance and economics backward.

The sage, the week and the magnificient

Mediocre men tend to be outraged by small insults but passive, subdued, and silent in front of very large ones.

The only definition of an alpha male: if you try to be an alpha male, you will never be one.

The traits I respect are erudition and the courage to stand up when half-men are afraid for their reputation. Any idiot can be intelligent.

According to Lucian of Samosata, the philosopher Demonax stopped a Spartan from beating his servant. “You are making him your equal,” he said.

The classical man’s worst fear was inglorious death; the modern man’s worst fear is just death.

The implict and the explicit

You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.

When someone says “I am not that stupid,” it often means that he is more stupid than he thinks.

When a woman says about a man that he is intelligent, she often means handsome; when a man says about a woman that she is dumb, he always means attractive.

One of the problems with social networks is that it is getting harder and harder for others to complain about you behind your back.

Half the people lie with their lips; the other half with their tears.

You will get the most attention from those who hate you. No friend, no admirer, and no partner will flatter you with as much curiosity.

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