Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, also writes aphorisms, which he has collected in the recently released The Bed of Procrustes: Practical and Philosophical Aphorisms. Reviewing the book in the New York Times, Janet Maslin describes Taleb as a “fiscal prophet and self-appointed flâneur [who] aims particular scorn at anyone who thinks aphorisms require explanation.” Fair enough. Book titles, in contrast to aphorisms, do sometimes require explanation, and this one refers to the mythological Greek villain who chopped off victims’ limbs to make them fit into his bed and who finally got a taste of his own medicine from Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur. These are imperious aphorisms, delivered in grand stentorian tones. (Occasionally, adjectives, unlike aphorisms but like book titles, require explanation, too; Stentor was a Greek herald in the Trojan War described by Homer as having the voice of 50 men). A selection from The Bed of Procrustes, sure to make for uncomfortable reading and definitely not to be taken lying down:

You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

Lose all your money, never half of it.

Randomness is indistinguishable from complicated, undetected and undetectable order; but order itself is indistinguishable from artful randomness.

Respect those who make a living lying down or standing up, never those who do so sitting down.

A good maxim allows you to have the last word without even starting a conversation.