Friday, August 6, 2010

Nassim Taleb: Life's barbells

Walk most of the time, sprint as fast as you can on the occasion; never jog.

I have recently started working out. The above aphorism makes a lot of sense if one tries to live like humans have lived for most of the time. You can never imagine hunter gatherers joggin around for hours but you can imagine them really sprinting in the most random manner through all sorts of obstacles while hunting. And that too on an empty stomach. The end result of all that running around would've been gluttony. On a practical level, i have recently been "jogging" and i have found out that if you run too much then you ankles and joints swell and it becomes slightly painful to run again. You need a lot of rest to recover, but most people never really get the rest necassary. Navratilova and Armstrong who epitomize endurance and discipline are suffering from cancer. Although i might be stretching things a bit, but repetitive stress on the body can be a cause for getting cancer and many other deseases. Personally, my father who happens to be a chain smoker and who has always been a careless (stress free) person his whole life enjoys remarkable health. He has hardly ever been to a doctor. On the other hand my mother who happened to be a wonderfull caring (stressed) person has already passed away due to a cardiac arrest.

Fast for long periods of famine, then feast; never diet.
Another intuition derived from the Hunter/Gatherer life style. I personally wouldn't completely agree with this one. Famines do exist, and our human body was built to survive famines, but we never really went completely off food. Sometimes we did, but those times were rare and i do agree that we need to fast a few times. The islamic holy month is coming up and its a month of complete fasting from dawn to dusk. That makes sense, as you might experience famine for atleast 1 month in a year. The rest of the time you would be picking fruits from the trees and nuts from the ground to fill your belly while you hunt for animals. I would therefore replace hunger with lots of fruits. A good diet plan should therefore have fruits in the morning and afternoon and then a feast in the evening. The fruits would make you really hungry but the feast should balance that out in the evening. Maybe a little quick run before getting to the feast would be a good idea. Say no to three meals a day and forage vegetables, nuts etc during the day at variable intervals and prepare your appetite for the feast in the evening.

For social life, a linear combination of Fat Tony & philosophers outperforms the frequentation of middle brows.
Definitely true, some of my friends who happen to be well educated and living normal middle class lives are really unimaginative. Their is really nothing that one could learn from them. My recent talk with a few brilliant social scientists and professors was really stimulating. In a similar way, i have a number of fat tony's in my life who provide me with experiences and information that i would never really have gotten without their help. My experiences in smaller cities with less educated and less erudite people has definitely been a learning experience.

Go for city-states under loose empires, never nation-states.
Singapore comes to mind immediately. Nation states are obsessed with war, city states are obsessed with commerce, families are obsessed with stability and an individual is obsessed with pleasure.

Be a flaneur, lounging most of the time; then work as intensely as possible for a maximum of one hour; never work at low intensity --the 4-Hour Workweek.
I have recently been following this and the results have been outstanding. A few weeks ago i was extremely depressed about my work. I was taking my work very seriously by waking up early and staying in office as long as possible. Although initially i was motivated, but soon the lack of sleep and the monotoneity and boredom of work took its toll. I kept trying out new philosophies and self-help literature to get some motivation but everything failed me and left me more miserable then before. Soon, i started contemplating quitting my work and started thinking that the problem was with me and not with my method. I felt guitly and unhappy. I couldn't enjoy things because of the guilt. Working for long hours with low intesnity (pseudo work) will kill you and make you unhappy. Work less with extreme intensity and focus and as soon as you don't feel like work then stop and relax and enjoy. This way you would be able to give time and feel energized by indulging in more creative and less monotonous pursuits like writing this blog. I plan to start reading philosophy and i have already started exercising and reading novels, passions that i had ignored for so long because of the guilt associated with wasting time. Work less with intensity and try working in interesting places rather than that depressing unimaginative cubicle.

Invest mostly in close to no-risk, (cash inflation protected, 80-90%), and maximal risk securities (10-20%); never in medium risk.
Totally agreed. Only invest the money that you are prepared to loose. And then invest it in the most speculative trade you could find. I have been thinking of buying EMAAR shares recently as they are cheap and no one thinks that the property market in the middle east would recover after the dubai crash. Fertilizer companies could also be profitable in the future. I have bought silver and hope that it hits a 100 dollars an ounce but most likely its going to crash and stabilize at 10$ an ounce. Who knows at least i am safe with most of my money which is cash (SGD not USD).

Read trashy gossip magazines and classics or sophisticated works; never the New York Times (or something even more aberrant, Newsweek).
Personally, whenever i read newspapers, i get more information from the comments (trashy) given by the readers of the newspapers. I then go on to read stuff that has existed for atleast a decade. Newspapers never last a few days, magazines a few weeks, but good books are capable of surviving decades before its readership starts to dwindle. I don't think anyone's going to read Stephen King, Harry Potter or Dan Brown once the author stops writing new stuff.

Talk to graduate students or the highest caliber scholars; never, never, never medium academics.
Never experienced this personally. It is a fact that medium scholars are boring and unimaginative. Younger guys are more ambitious.

Lose all your money, never half of it.
Never lost all my money, so can't really understand this one completely. I would like to loose only half of it. Having once experienced failure, i would definitely cherish the remaining half. Depends on perspective. Complete failure is in a way very heroic. I lost my job and remained jobless for almost half a year. Doing things bottom up is very interesting and helps your personal narrative. The narrative sounds a lot more interesting and your achievements look great.

Respect those who make a living lying down or standing up, never those who do so sitting down.
Don't know anyone who made a living lying down. Its easier to understand work which is done standing up simply because of the linear pay offs. Taleb is basically trying to attack people who cheat in a more subtle way and get away for the rewards that they never really worked for. The list includes bankers, CEOs etc. Work that cannot be understood should not be respected.

Separate the holy and the profane.
Holy and Profane can only be understood in the religious sense. Some religions have successfully mixed profanities with holy teachings. Sufi shrines are sacred which have been bombed (profane) by religious zealots. Tradition is sacred and holy.

Do crazy things (break furniture once in a while), like the Greeks and stay "rational" in larger decisions.
I have personally blown up on several occasions. Blowing up is extremely useful because it give you perspective and tell you that you did something very wrong by blowing up in the first place. Hence, you loose steam, and the next time you would blow up at a much later date. I just need to learn to blow up at the right moment, preferably at someone i don't know of.

If you dislike someone, leave him alone or eliminate him; don't attack him verbally.
Verbally attacking someone just increases your stress. You can eliminate him by ignoring him completely but never attack verbally.

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