Monthly Archives: November 2013

Commentary on the statement: “Studying neurobiology to understand humans…

Commentary on the statement: “Studying neurobiology to understand humans is like studying ink to understand literature.”


When it comes to narratives, the brain seems to be the last province of the theoretician- charlatan. Add neurosomething to a field, and suddenly it rises in respectability and becomes more convincing as people

now have the illusion of a strong causal link— yet the brain is too complex for that; it is both the most complex part of the human anatomy and the one that seems most susceptible to sucker- causation. (<>see my technical Discussion of nonlinearities and high dimensional matrices</>) Christopher

Chabris and Daniel Simons brought to my attention the evidence I had been looking for: whatever theory has a reference in it to brain circuitry seems more “scientific” and more convincing, even when it is just randomized psychoneurobabble.

(Discussion of phenomenology vs theory)

… I do not want to rely on biology beyond

the minimum required (not in the theoretical sense)— and I believe that my strength will lie there. I just want to understand as little as possible to be able to look at regularities of experience. So the modus operandi in every venture is to remain as robust as possible

to changes in theories (let me repeat that my deference to Mother Nature is entirely statistical and risk- management- based, i.e., again, grounded in the notion of fragility). The doctor and medical essayist James Le Fanu showed how our understanding of the biological processes was coupled with a decline of pharmaceutical discoveries, as if rationalistic theories were blinding and somehow a handicap.

In other words, we have in biology a green lumber problem!

via Commentary on the statement: “Studying… – Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Antifragile Libraries pt 1: Antifragility and collections | It’s Not About the Books

I recently read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s excellent book Antifragile: how to live in a world we don’t understand. It’s a rather sprawling, heavily footnoted opus – but with time to reflect I think Taleb has a great deal to teach librarians.

Given the word count Taleb assigns to railing against bureaucrats, corporations, universities and government institutions, he may be less than impressed by my application of his ideas to academic, corporate and public libraries. He does make an exception for municipal government, however, so perhaps he would let public librarians like myself off the hook.

via Antifragile Libraries pt 1: Antifragility and collections | It’s Not About the Books.
HatTip to Dave Lull

Mathematical Definition, Mapping, and Detection of (Anti)Fragility by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Raphael Douady :: SSRN

We provide a mathematical definition of fragility and antifragility as negative or positive sensitivity to a semi-measure of dispersion and volatility (a variant of negative or positive “vega”) and examine the link to nonlinear effects. We integrate model error (and biases) into the fragile or antifragile context. Unlike risk, which is linked to psychological notions such as subjective preferences (hence cannot apply to a coffee cup) we offer a measure that is universal and concerns any object that has a probability distribution (whether such distribution is known or, critically, unknown).

We propose a detection of fragility, robustness, and antifragility using a single “fast-and-frugal”, model-free, probability free heuristic that also picks up exposure to model error. The heuristic lends itself to immediate implementation, and uncovers hidden risks related to company size, forecasting problems, and bank tail exposures (it explains the forecasting biases). While simple to implement, it outperforms stress testing and other such methods such as Value-at-Risk.

via Mathematical Definition, Mapping, and Detection of (Anti)Fragility by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Raphael Douady :: SSRN.