Sunday, October 26, 2014

Taleb on Randomness

Today, a number of bits from an older Nassim Taleb volume, "Fooled By Randomness":

"Probability is not a mere computation of odds on the dice or more complicated variants; it is the acceptance of the lack of certainty in our knowledge and the development of methods for dealing with our ignorance. Outside of textbooks and casinos, probability almost never presents itself as a mathematical problem or a brain teaser. Mother Nature does not tell you how many holes there are on the roulette table, nor does she deliver problems in a textbook way (in the real world one has to guess the problem more than the solution)."

"This book is about luck disguised and perceived as nonluck (that is skills) and, more generally, randomness disguised and perceived as non-randomness (that is, determinism). It manifests itself in the shape of the lucky fool, defined as a person who benefited from a disproportionate share of luck but attributes his success to some other, generally very precise, reason."

"We are still very close to our ancestors who roamed the savannah. The formation of our beliefs is fraught with superstitions -- even today (I might say especially today). Just as one day some primitive tribesman scratched his nose, saw rain falling, and developed an elaborate method of scratching his nose to bring on the much-needed rain, we link economic prosperity to some rate cut by the Federal Reserve Board, or the success of a company with the appointment of a new president 'at the helm.'"

"Disturbingly, science has only recently been able to handle randomness (the growth in available information has been exceeded only by the expansion of noise). Probability theory is a young arrival in mathematics; probability applied to practice is almost nonexistent as a discipline"

"Indeed, probability is an introspective field of inquiry, as it affects more than one science, particularly the mother of all sciences: that of knowledge. It is impossible to assess the quality of the knowledge we are gathering without allowing a share of randomness in the manner it is obtained and cleaning the argument from the chance coincidence that could have seeped into its construction. In science, probability and information are treated in exactly the same manner. Literally every great thinker has dabbled with it, most of them obsessively.

[…If you have a favorite math-related passage that might make a nice Sunday morning reflection here let me know ( If I use one submitted by a reader, I'll cite the contributor.]

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