Fooled by Randomness


If I say “I am fooled by Randomness.”

How would you interpret that?

(a) I am so random and have lots of random things to do
(Read: I am bored and I actually have nothing to do!)

(b) I am fooled into seeing “patterns” where none exist.

If you’ve read the book “Fooled By Randomness” by Nicholas Nassim Taleb, you are likely to agree with (b).

I read it recently and thoroughly enjoyed the way Taleb expresses his views. Just to give you a background, the author – Nicholas Nassim Taleb was as an investor / trader in the markets and it is the experiences gained during his trading years that led him to research on the science of uncertainty.

In fact this excerpt form his homepage expresses him better than anything else:

“My major hobby is teasing people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the guts to sometimes say: “I don’t know” .. (You may not be able to change the world but can at least get some entertainment & make a living out of the epistemic arrogance of the human race).”

The basic premise of the entire book is that as human beings we are “fooled” into believing that we have conquered the future. This, he says, is because we are arrogant about our knowledge! So the bottom-line is, everyone has an equal probability of succeeding / failing in whatever he or she does. Reading the book will give you the impression that Taleb totally does NOT believe in merit or hard-work – the virtues on which our society is based and the parameters that broadly determine prosperity and success. I can agree with it to an extent.

I often say this when I enter into a relevant discussion with people – Whenever we talk of business and empires being built, we mention about the Rockerfellers, Birlas, Tatas, Ambanis and (more recently!) Biyanis.. ‘coz these are success stories. We never hear of the failures! – they never hog the limelight. Besides, history is always written by the winners! But that doesn’t mean there are NO failures. Neither does it imply that ALL those who failed never worked hard enough. But is luck (and luck alone) the distinguishing factor between them? … I’d like to think not… I’d like to believe not!

Taleb talks about all this and more in this treatise on Ramdomness – what he calls the “Science of Uncertainty.” And he mixes everything – from Greek History to Mathematical Finance. It’s a good read.

10 thoughts on “Fooled by Randomness

  1. Well…this should be an interesting read! Looking forward to it!
    For a more mathematical view on this, I would recommend the highly acclaimed book by Lev Tarasov, “The World is built on Probability”

  2. @ Ujjwal

    It is not very heavy. In fact that is the beauty of the book – it is very conversational. Give it a shot! I can’t give you a money-back gaurantee on it! :mrgreen: .. but it’s not too bad!
    And about the spelling, I wonder how I make these weird mistakes which even WordPress missed but you don’t! 😀 … Thanks!

    @ Writankar: Thanks! Will find out about the book too!

  3. Seems like an interesting read. 🙂
    I have always believed that there are more failures than success stories. Just for example, think about the number of people who give CAT and the number of people who succeed. Its not as if those who failed have not worked hard. I think when equally talented people compete for something, then luck starts playing a vital role. There is also something called “taking chances” which also plays a vital role as all of don’t go to the same extend as far as it is concerned.

  4. @ Amit

    Luck is something which plays its part in every aspect of our lives – anything with a little garnishing of luck can be better! So its better to take it inour stride and accept it – however hard that might sound! :mrgreen:

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