Your Freedom to Swing Your Fist – 7 Takeaways for July 18, 2021

Your Freedom to Swing Your Fist

1. “We treat ideas like possessions”

The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – (audio & ebook)

The full quote:

The problem is that our ideas are sticky: once we produce a theory, we are not likely to change our minds—so those who delay developing their theories are better off. When you develop your opinions on the basis of weak evidence, you will have difficulty interpreting subsequent information that contradicts these opinions, even if this new information is obviously more accurate. . . . Remember that we treat ideas like possessions, and it will be hard for us to part with them.

I’ll be honest, I’ve come close to giving up on this book several times – in many ways it’s Taleb’s lengthy rant against even the mere thought of being able to “predict” anything, crossing all boundaries from finance, to math, to philosophy and more. But then I stumble into another nugget, like the one above, and I slog through.

I won’t summarize the book just yet (I have a very snarky, short summary in mind), but I want to finish it first. I’m hoping that he’ll end his rant with “OK, now, here are some concrete steps to take as a result of what I’ve laid out.” We’ll see.

Do this: watch carefully for your own confirmation bias and preconceived notions. Perhaps let a few possessions go.

2. “Evolution does not work by teaching, but destroying.”

The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – (audio & ebook)

Another nugget that got my attention. We often think of evolution as a positive force moving forward, and it is. But it does so not by rewarding the victors, but by (sometimes ruthlessly) eliminating the losers. “Winning” is nothing more than being allowed to survive.

In the entrepreneurial world, it’s important to realize that there are many, many more failures than successes, and they’re all instrumental, vying for continued existence.

Do this: there is education in the choice of what is to be destroyed. Look for it.

3. “Maximize the serendipity around you.”

The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – (audio & ebook)

OK, now that I’ve finished the book, here’s my uber-short summary:

  • Shit happens.
  • You can’t predict shit.
  • Prepare for shit anyway.
  • Mostly by diversifying shit.

Honestly this takeaway is the closest thing I was able to cull from the book as to what to do about the fundamental unpredictability of . . . well, everything. Randomness is Taleb’s thing, and our unwillingness to acknowledge it or factor it into what plans we do make is his frustration. (Well, that and clear feeling of his own theories being undervalued by academia, and academia’s failings in general. The book at points reads like a not-so-subtle rant against institutions from the Nobel prize on down. I found that distracting.)

However “maximizing the serendipity” is something that I can absolutely get behind, and consider it more responsible for my own good fortune than what most would label as “luck”.

Do this: ummm . . . maximize the serendipity around you. Smile

PS: since this was also a fairly long book with a quirky style that might get in some reader’s way, I did find this reasonable summary: An Executive Summary of the Black Swan.

4. “God Is a Spectrum of Being”

God Is a Spectrum of Being – Lawrence Yeo – (More to That newsletter / blog)

Can’t accuse Lawrence of shying away from the big issues. In this post he presents his interpretation of philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s god, and a spectrum ranging from atheist to theist with an assortment of interesting observations in between.

The question of “Do you believe in God?” is one that caters to rigid certainty. The question of “What do you think of God?”, however, is one that allows you to update your beliefs as your experiences shift.

As is probably evident to folks that know me, I’m not a strong believer in binary or yes/no thinking, so it’s probably no surprise that this essay appealed.

Do this: Think about where you land on the spectrum. If any aspects of that essay make you uncomfortable, why?

5. “If you say nothing, it is difficult for someone to get it wrong.”

The Profile: The dealmaker who didn’t do his diligence & the biotech giant taking on HIV – Polina Marinova Pompliano quoting Ernest Hemingway – (The Profile newsletter)

Pompliano’s introductions to her newsletters are often as valuable that the content she references later (that’s why the newsletter title doesn’t seem to match this takeaway).

She delves into Hemmingway some, and his fear of being misunderstood. I get I it, I really do. But if you have something important to say, not saying it isn’t always an option. Hemmingway’s approach was to focus more on the written word. Once again, I can totally relate. Email and other written forms of communication give me more control over what I say and how I say it. Yes, I said it: it’s a control issue.

Do this: think about your favorite approach to communication, and why it’s what it is.

6. “. . . we are again losing Americans to a war that could already have ended”

Treating the Unvaccinated – Dhruv Khullar – (The New Yorker)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, data suggest that more than ninety-nine per cent of covid deaths in recent months were among Americans who weren’t fully vaccinated. . .

I know, we’re all tired of the pandemic. Yet, it’s this statistic that is most telling about where we are, and where we’re not likely to be any time soon. Given that it enables more aggressive variants to develop and persist, the true pandemic is the rise of vaccine resistance across the country.

People want to make their own decisions, even if they’re poor ones. They don’t want to be forced to do anything. It’s part of their identity.

And there’s the real problem. It’s become an issue of identity, not data. And that’s not something I know how to deal with, other than letting the data run its course and hope for the best.

So this: Get vaccinated. Change your identity if you need to. (And read the essay, it’s a good and sobering one.)

7. “your freedom to swing your fist ends where someone else’s nose begins.”

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity – Ryan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman – (ebook)

This one seemed timely, given the preceding. Holiday’s commentary on a meditation (Marcus AureliusMeditations, 8.56), can be interpreted in many ways.

We love our freedom, but I’d argue that not getting vaccinated is the moral equivalent of hitting my nose.

Do this: don’t hit my nose.

What I’m Reading

In progress (also on GoodReads):


1 thought on “Your Freedom to Swing Your Fist – 7 Takeaways for July 18, 2021”

  1. Though I might (but won’t in this space) argue the “God” part, I found this very interesting and correct in what you pulled from the book. I have my 2 shots btw so your nose is safe from me. This would be so much simpler if we could subtract politics (both sides) from everything.


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