What should I ask Nassim Taleb?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, and I really have been enjoying the reread of his body of work.  What should I ask him?  CWT fans will, by the way, receive a double treat.  After my talk with Taleb, Taleb will have an exchange with Bryan Caplan.


How much do you deadlift?

(Serious Q)


Unclear if lifetime max or current PR.

Video or it didn't happen...

400 is normal for someone who deadlifts 1x/week for ~2 years.

If/When your newbie gains stall, will you alter your life philosophy?

Seriously, although it may sound irrelevant, ask him how much he deadlifts. I agree with much NNT has to say, however, for someone that loves to wear his deadlift workout as a badge of honor he is suspiciously silent and evasive when asked. In his book he states that a person should ask their financial advisor what they actually have in their portfolio. Using the same logic I think he should be asked about his deadlifting.

skin in the barbell: what's the tail risk of throwing out your back when deadlifting?

This (seriously) happened to me five or so years ago and my back has not been the same since. I am a fan of Mr Taleb and his advice, but I'd recommend easing into deadlifting, making sure your form is correct above all.

If Professor Taleb switched to doing Professor Pinker's aerobic workouts and Professor Pinker switched to doing Professor Taleb's anaerobic workouts, how much does he think their political views would change?

Now that he has released Skin in the Game, When is he likely to finish his Fat Tony novel?

This is great.

Tyler - It is admirable that you are doing a Conversations with Nassim, in light of the fact that he has been publicly critical of you in the past. I remember some very caustic remarks a few years ago.

Quite remarkable that you are willing to keep that aside and talk to him! More people should follow your example.

Taleb is a grumpy misanthrope. That's fine, and doesn't mean he doesn't have valuable ideas to share, or that Tyler (or anyone else) should be personally offended.

Honestly, Taleb's acerbic style makes his books even more readable.

Is his acerbic style a strategy to anti-fragilise himself?
By engaging in conflict on Twitter with IYIs and then refusing to back down (or often escalating) he effectively successively strengthens his position as Twitter mobs are unable to force out an apology which they would with a "normal" person.

I keep wanting to see a discussion between NNT and Greg Cochran....

1. How do his ideas interface with behavioral finance research. Will we ever be able to model behavioral econ into predictive models. How does AI change the riskiness of finance.

2. What is his favorite Lebanese recipe.

I would ask him something about wisdom traditions, or about Eastern Orthodoxy. What exactly, I don't know, but in general I would like to hear his thoughts about how he thinks about ancient wisdom and tradition, and their value in making decisions.

Agreed! I believe he’s said that “religion is about practice not belief” and I want to know what he means by that. Sounds very typical for NNT, and very Levantine, but it’s also completely Pelagian and as such incompatible with orthodoxy. My suspicion is NNT’s views are similar to Jordan Peterson’s when it comes to religion. Maybe ask him about Peterson too. I also recall NNT speculating along the lines that religion is a repository for all of our irrational thinking and that without it we start getting crazy ideas about other things, like the stock market.

What I’m most interested in, though: Prod him to explain what religion actually is, other than accumulated inherited practical wisdom.

By “religion” I mean his religion, Orthodox Christianity.

It differs from one religion to another.

Hinduism for instance is all about practice. Hardly about belief. Nobody cares which God you like. The practice counts. You are judged by your actions and adherence to tradition. It is orthoprax not orthodox.

Religions like Christianity or Islam are not so insistent on practice. Belief is paramount. The range of behavior tolerated is much greater. Belief matters more than tradition.

What is the hypothetical evidence that would convince him to change his position on GMOs?


As a follow on, what is it about GMOs that makes them worse than the lack of genetic diversity in most staple crops in today's monoculture farming?

On a related topic, why does Taleb go completely against the findings of radiation health scientists over the past 25 years when discusssing his anti-nuclear statements?

Brian Eno's letter to Taleb:

....To illustrate this, think about nuclear power. Start with FUKUSHIMA, that dread word. As a result of over-excited media reporting ('great story!' I heard one journalist say) that single word has probably condemned nuclear power for another generation, when in fact the accident produced no radiation-related deaths (and it's doubtful that it will produce a discernable statistical blip in cancers in the future). In a conspiracy which seems almost dishonest, most Green groups failed to acknowledge this - it was too good as propaganda for them to let the facts get in the way - and of course the press never returned to the subject with any correctional follow-up. It became one of those little nuggets of received, and totally incorrect, wisdom: Nuclear=Fukushima=Catastrophe. ... ...

On a related note what's the difference between GMOs and Nuclear power in terms of black swan events and risk? (Or if we're going to go there, the Large Hadron Collidor). Why are the later ok, but GMOs not?

Also cam to say this +1

Thanks Tyler, I know he has a disdain of academics but you have built success outside of academia so you are not a "tawker", do have SITG, and are a serious flaneur.

Out of curiosity why do you consider Tyler to have SITG? I don't see how he does.

I think he does considering how he was 'grinding' it out on this website for years and made a decent name for himself at his own risk/cost. I think non-SITG refers to those that are full time consultants, lanyard badge wearers on the beltway and FOX/MSNBC "analysts", Ted Talkers, and MSM opinion writers. Though interestingly Taleb and Tyler have done the latter to a lesser extent.

IIRC, the core claim of Taleb's most famous (The Black Swan) is that highly unlikely events are ignored by the marketplace, and more specifically underpriced (especially by the options markets), so that it is profitable to buy long-shot puts and calls.

The counterargument though, is that while each individual unlikely event (say, 19 middle eastern men hijacking planes and using them to attack US targets), may not be readily foreseen by many, that collectively, the odds of a group of such events (especially negative ones), IS foreseen. We did and do know terrorism (generally) was a threat, that major weather events or other natural disasters are likely to occur periodically, and that financial markets sometimes take sharp falls, even if we don't clearly enumerate the specific instance that actually occurs.

To Taleb: Do markets and savvy prognosticators truly underestimate category risks?

My understanding is that long shot financial options (deeply out of the money calls and puts), similarly have tended to not be profitable (rather, the reverse). Taleb has made claims to have profited at times of market distress, but has he made his long term financial track record public? Would he care to, now?

As an addendum to this question, ask Taleb what share of his income comes from investing vs. publishing screeds about how no one else understands how to invest.

More succinctly:

Do financial markets truly undervalue the odds of rare/unforeseen events, collectively?

What is the long term track record one would have by owning deeply out-of-the money calls and puts?

What is Taleb's long term financial track record?

And if Taleb is unwilling to reveal his long term track record, or if his track record is weak, then why should others accord him an elevated status for prognostication?

(BTW, I'm far from certain that his financial track record IS weak. But I'd like to see some public discussion of it...)

I suspect that Mr. Taleb evaluates financial performance on a risk vs reward basis. So his long term performance SINCE making his first “F-you” money may be well below market average return and yet still be good if he is confident that he is taking MUCH less than market-average risk to get those returns.

The interesting question is how does he- and how should each investor- measure the risk they are taking so that they can make a fair evaluation of their portfolio performance,

and what does he currently own in his investment portfolio?

Should be interesting.

Taleb advocates for using what he calls the "precautionary principle" which essentially says we should avoid doing things that have a small risk of catastrophic harm because in the long run a single catastrophe can wipe out all the previously accumulated gains.

We can conceivably make up all sorts of scenarios that are unlikely but that end in catastrophe, precluding us from doing all sorts of things if we choose to follow the precautionary principle. Is there some sort of test or heuristic we can apply for when to apply the precautionary principle? I think it is hard to define such a test or heuristic that works for future risks and not just for already identified risks[1] like GMOs or artificial intelligence.

Forgot to add my footnote.

[1]: Not that an identified risk means a real risk, but that a vocal minority of intelligent people are concerned about these topics.


Related: "Cooling something to a temperature close to absolute zero might be an existential risk. Given our ignorance we cannot rationally give zero probability to this possibility, and probably not even give it less than 1% (since that is about the natural lowest error rate of humans on anything). Anybody saying it is less likely than one in a million is likely very overconfident."

1. Would one ever pair a Levantine red with a squid ink recipe, and if so, any recommendations?

2. Which fallacies are most consequential among the general public, and is the typical use of ad hominem one of them?

3. What are the best philosophical responses to such fallacies?

Everytime I see him talk about skin in the game I sense he has no idea about the work since 1970s on incentives , agency and asymmetric information. I would like to see how deep his knowledge of this really is. My sense is he criticizes econ without bothering to do the basic reading.

The answer is it is NOT INCENTIVES for Baal's sake. Can't you get it?


Do you think that your rhetorical strategy is optimal for advancing your opinions and ideas? Or do you not care about advancing your ideas to those who disagree with you, or have different rhetorical norms?

As an Economist, I have benefited greatly from what NNT has written over the years, and I teach it to my students. And I nevertheless fear he has not read the best of what Economics has to offer about the topics that interest him. Here I humbly offer a very small reading list that should be of interest to him: (1) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022053192900994, (2) http://www.ma.huji.ac.il/hart/papers/risk.pdf, and (3) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002205319690023X.

A major part of having 'skin in the game' is that your own bad decisions remove you from the game, which turns the game into an evolutionary process.

A person who gives bad gambling advice but who never gambles can continue giving bad gambling advice. A person who the market demands backup his advice with his own money will eventually either stop giving bad advice or run out of money and leave the game. So the people who give bad advice are slowly replaced by people who give better advice.

This is entirely separate from incentive effects such as requiring legislators to have to live by the same regulations and rules they impose on others.

When he criticizes economists, I think he mostly directing his ire at the macro side.

I was not at all pleased by his attacks on Mary Beard, who seemed to be taking a relatively simple position, but I would be interested to hear his discuss the issue further with you.

Mary Beard's position was also idiotic and ridicious on its face. But who the hell cares about history and generic research when you have to virtue signal to colleagues about your wokeness.


Good on Taleb.

Fuck you Sanjay.

+1 for Taleb standing up to propagandizing academics

Huh. My thought is,, I'm not happy with what he said but I'd like to hear him talk about it more. Your "thought" is ... that.

I think that settles who's spewing dumb propaganda and who's listening to evidence.

Why do people have so much emotionally invested in the ethnic makeup of ancient Rome?

1) in the book skin in the game he states that you are a fragelista if you used to avoid dietary fat and now embrace it due to referencing the same sources of dietary information. Is his diet advice to only eat what your grandmother ate and ignore everything else or does he have an opinion on the benefits of dietary fat.

2) how much money was enough fuck you money to quit his job as a trader

I would like to get his perspective on data privacy issues on the internet. I have been trying to formulate a point of view that requires SITG on this issue.

Taleb revers the entrepreneur, and the explosion of personal data has created many great entrepreneurial opportunities.

However, the collective aggregation of data theoretically creates a tail risk. Both to individuals being exposed to fraud-and, theoretically stalking/manipulation. And also to society (think the uselessness of social security if all SSNs became not just publicly available due to a leak of a central database, but also capable of being tied to a person’s digitally constructed profile.)

Taleb suggests the application of Coase’s cap and trade theorem to deal with tail risks from tragedy of the commons scenarios in the recent book.

Would a skin in the game perspective support a ‘cap and trade’ type of regulation on personal data? (That it may not even be technically possible to ‘cap’ the data makes this seem impractical)

He also proposes that firms be exposed to tort claims by individuals to ensure that they have SITG—should abuse of personal data be reliant on the individual to take up a tort claim as it seems to be largely now? (That it may not be technically possible to know who is abusing or misusing their personal data makes this seem impractical)

Of course, both of these imply that centralized data collection is ethically questionable.

1. To what extent does he view religion as a source of anti-fragility? And isn't there a difference between religions in this respect. Religions with a strong political dimension (like Islam) can actually be quite subversive and a source of fragility, while religions that are less aggressive and more personal (like Hinduism / Buddhism) can be viewed as anti-fragile.

2. What are the top 3-4 black swan events that we should guard against in the next 50 years, in his view?

3. What are in his view the most anti-fragile countries on earth?

I would advise against asking question #2

No please ask it. I would love to hear him go on a rant against "some know-nothing shmuck" (I'm put words in his hypothetical mouth here, no offense shrikanthk).

I get that "black swans" by definition are unpredictable. So my questions sounds dumb.

Nevertheless, if he has to idly speculate on potential downside risks over the next 50 years that are not widely acknowledged today what would they be? As Tyler would put it - "underrated" downside risks.

In his piece on the Precautionary Principle
he and his co-authors make the claim that:

"We believe that the PP should be evoked only in extreme
situations: when the potential harm is systemic (rather than
localized) and the consequences can involve total irreversible
ruin, such as the extinction of human beings or all life on the

They then contend that GMOs are so dangerous that the precautionary principle (PP) should come into play. This implies that they think that GMOs could lead to the extinction of human beings or of all life on this planet.

Please ask him how that scenario would work.

While I don't necessarily agree with his views on GMOs, I believe that it is very easy to claim that artificially changing a super-robust system as evolved nature could lead to some unknown unknowns that make everything go sterile or something like that. His argument is basically that you cannot rule out that some unknown mechanism of biological system could go nuts and wipe us all out. Any non-zero chance of this is too big.

uld lead to some unknown unknowns that make everything go sterile or something like that

Exactly how would sterility genes spread through the gene pool, again?


Selective advantage!

Oh, wait....

+1, the fear seems to be overwrought. So can he late out his rationale.

You could imagine a virus, or fungus, that kills plants and we create a GMO version that is not very susceptible to the virus/fungus. The virus/fungus lives but doesn't thrive. The virus/fungus continues evolving and getting better and we fight back with GMO's until one day we can't. This is sort of the story of the banana. The idea that one virus/fungus could affect every plant food source on Earth is extremely low, but still non-zero. However, just one that kills off all corn would still cause a global disaster. I don't know whether or not GMO's increase the chance of such a situation arising.

I think you could come up with many more examples that sound far-fetched, but the point is that any non-zero probability is still too high.

We just need to colonize another planet so we can be more liberal with our experimental endeavors.

Here's a question for Mr Taleb! "Do we just need to colonize another planet so we can be more liberal with our experimental endeavors?" :)

How is this any different than fighting back with fungicides, or with selective breeding?
We've been fighting back against nature in all it's forms for the entire history of agriculture.

if a super-fungus emerges, it's not just going to appear everywhere globally simultaneously. It's going to work the same way as any invasive species or disease - it will take several years to work it's way around the planet , during which time, we'll be bust developing disease resistant crop strains.

1) How do academics that study conflict and violence get SITG in an ethical way?

2) Has your acerbic style furthered or undermined the adoption of your ideas?

2 - I think the acerbic style has made him a LOT more popular and well known in the general public than he would otherwise have been. But it has made him less influential in intellectual circles.

That's my impression as well. No doubt he doesn't care about being less influential in intellectual circles. Or, maybe he does, quietly.

And if you agree with him, it means that it isn't a good idea to adopt his style. I.e. it doesn't help the world to have a bunch of obnoxious Taleb--ists mouthing of about BS.

Better to have one obnoxious Taleb get a of attention from a modest army of people who then more gently convince others of the ideas.

The precautionary principle helps us avoid catastrophe, but in many cases at the cost of slowing down technological progress. But one day human civilization will be destroyed by a meteor (or something else) unless we have sufficiently advanced technology to stop it. How do you think about these trade-offs, especially since it is may beas difficult to see the benefits of technology as it is the costs?

Does he feel guilty about shooting up the YouTube building earlier this week?

1. How can politicians/other ruling elite have skin in the game?
2. He has often spoken in favor of city states and small countries, expand on the rationale.
3. What does the transition period look like from modern nation states to city states?

Here's an argument against small states and small countries that can be posed to him -

Large states by their very nature tend to be more heterogeneous than small states. And because of their diversity, they tend to accommodate a wider range of political, and cultural views. This serves as a bulwark against extremism and fanaticism of any variety.

This was one of the arguments, I think, made by Madison, if I am not wrong, in one of the Federalist papers, while he was making a case for USA as opposed to a loose confederation of highly autonomous states.

ask him why he supports Trump and Farage

Taleb wrote this piece- https://www.fs.blog/2012/05/noise-and-signal-nassim-taleb/, where if I understood him ( which I often don't), that big data is a problem. This flies in the face of the machine learning camp of Peter Torvig et. al. I wonder if he still holds this view or could he elucidate further. Maybe ask him what he thinks about machine learning?

Why does he love The Tartar Steppe (novel) and why does he think it never took off in the anglo saxon world?

Our president appears to be anti-fragile in that his popularity has grown somewhat while being continually attacked at high volume. Does anti-fragility in general come with any Achilles heals that can be more effectively attacked?

At times Taleb seems to imply that, to a first approximation, you should never be short volatility, at any price. When should one be short volatility?

Relating to skin in the game, Taleb imbues the alignment of incentives with a strong element of morality, rather than just practicality. From a practical perspective, I think he would encourage wealthy individuals to own assets which will, as much as possible, shield them from black swan events. But for a wealthy CEO, he seems to argue that it's immoral for them not to have complete risk of ruin tied to the corporation which they manage. Perhaps I've misread a portion of his argument, but if not, how does he reconcile those positions.

Ask him (1) how he gets to those round number deadlifts without using the 2-1/2 pound weights that no one has ever actually used, and (2) what evidence he would require to favor GMOs. (I am actually an admirer, but want to give him a hard time just because.)

It seems to me that many of his prescriptions regarding 1) skin in the game; and 2) calling others on their bullshit; depend on the fact that he has fuck-you money, is already a noted author and as such can leverage quarrels/bad press in an anti-fragile manner to sell more books.

So, the question is, how would he respond to this charge (i.e., it's easy for him to have SITG and talk shit in public as an independently, what about the rest of us)?

Is this a Hansonian status-play?

What should those of us without this position/talent/wealth do?

^ good one Nathan

Why does he keep company with Seth Rich and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist, Mike Cernovich?

At current prices, with VIX near 20, is it worthwhile to buy an at-the-money straddle on the S&P 500? (I remember him saying yes ten years ago.) Or to sell a straddle instead? Are there other trades to recommend now?

What is his current asset allocation? In what non-monetary domains does he have skin in the game?

How can we convince more people to take risks, especially when intelligent people know that such a large percentage of new businesses fail that it is individually rational to take a job where they face no career consequences for poor performance?

By offering extra-ordinary (if rare) rewards, of the sort Gates, Buffet, Bezos & Zuckerberg enjoy. I wonder if creating a safety net - a social system that prevents dire poverty - encourages risk taking or else encourages indolence & sloth ? Maybe both.

I worked straight out of grad school for ~15 years before starting out on my own. That is backwards. The rational time to engage with great risks is when you are skilled, but young and can still recover from any loss or alternatively enjoy a longer 'growth phase'.

How does Nassim assess the discussion concerning a favorable assessment of intuition (Gerd Gigerenzer) versus a more unfavorable assessment of intuition (Daniel Kahneman)?

Is there or can there be a synthesis of either points of view?

For that matter, ask him to simply assess a Gigerenzer versus Kahneman matchup (i.e., death match).

Put it another way:

Heuristics, good or bad? (Gigerenzer versus Kahneman, respectively)

Is there or can there be a synthesis of both points of view? [not “either”]

he doesn't like Pascal's wager but basically goes willy nilly with the same form of argument against GMO's. I like him somewhat but he is drunk on this precautionary principle liquor.

Is there or can there be a synthesis of both points of view? [not "either"]

What is the relationship between content and form!

1. Why should we as a species want to be "robust" as he describes it? Suppose a 10 km asteroid is going to collide with the Earth within 10 years. Given humanity's current state, I would say an antifragile, "long gamma" species like cockroaches stand a better chance of surviving and inheriting the Earth compared to humans. However if it's 1000 years and humanity is spread throughout the solar system and beyond, certainly humans have a better chance than cockroaches. And if GMOs, unaccountable academics, a large federal bureaucracy, etc. are necessary stepping stones to reaching the stars, shouldn't we want that? To what degree is temporary fragility actually antifragile over longer time spans, or at a meta level?

2. What's his deal with GMOs? Shouldn't he be against genetic monoculture instead? GMOs are not the only path to monoculture, one could argue a competitive market of GMO firms will actually move us towards more heterogeneity.

3. He seems to signal a lot in his books, more per page than the average author. What is his theory of signalling?

4. Which language or language family is the best?

Those are really good.

These guys had skin in the game but 11 year old boys still got decapitated. What are his thoughts?

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still effectively nationalized by the government and policymakers are still actively trying to figure out what to do with them. What should they do? Is it possible to have privately owned companies with such a systemic utility role in mortgages?

He claims that all but the very most important news are irrelevant and that consuming them is a waste of time. The very important ones will come to one since someone will tell you about it.

Please ask him about the broader implications of this ideal. How would this work if everybody adheard to it? In finance the argument (I think I read Matt Levine making it) goes: Markets are pretty much effecient -> indexing is optimal -> makes markets stale -> generates oppurtunities for outperformance -> makes markets efficient. There is an equilibrium here where it's sensible for the most skilled investors to use their time and resources to generate alpha and the less skilled indexing.

How does his news consumption advice jibe with this?

I'm looking very forward to this CWT.

- You described Taleb's book as "manly." Taleb has a barbell on the cover, and likes to talk about deadlifting -- which I think critics view as a caricature of masculinity. But I'd love for you to go deeper into the role of masculinity (even testosterone or muscle mass) on things like risk-taking and courage, which Taleb has described as the greatest of virtues. I'm not quite sure of the exact question, but would love for you to explore masculinity at a deeper level than most critics do.

- Would love to hear a discussion of signalling and counter-signalling, even as it pertains to Taleb's use of Twitter (which many of his critics bring up and despise). Vice signalling vs. virtue signalling. People who appear good in public but are bad in private; versus bad (ornery/combative/disagreeable) in public but are good in private.

- How should we think about enemies in defining who someone is? Is having enemies under-rated or over-rated?

- A discussion of food. Orthodox fasting traditions. The importance of not eating and variability.

- Discussions of ancient DNA, role of genetics, Medditerrean peoples, the Levant, etc.

Bravo Tyler. Among the elbow-patch crowd, you got some stones. Tell him how much you like Russ Roberts.

"What should I ask Bryan Caplan?"

You should be ask a him a about.

Can you ask him why he blocked me on twitter? thx

when is having skin the game bad?

for example, I can think of some so called experts who after they retire and don't need to play in the politics of their profession (and collect that paycheck) may renounce the general consensus of their profession on a given subject, perhaps that they too promoted at one time because--they too had to eat!

Now that they have no skin the game whatsoever (or did they never have any?) they are unbounded and able to tell the truth. At least it seems while working in the profession they had more skin in the game then when not working in it--so what's the deal there?

It seems like skin in the game at an individual level can make you too risk averse. (Not for yourself, but for the good of the world.)

For example, you'd like researchers to take some risks--study things that have a low probability of being knock-it-out-of-the-park winners. But it's probably more prudent for a young scientist to go for fairly high-percentage lines of research that are pretty likely to lead to publications and maybe eventually a tenure-track job. The evolutionary process of having all those young scientists competing against one another is arguably holding back progress to the extent it makes people more reluctant to swing for the fences.

Bearish/bullish on traditional/orthodox religions
What do his works tell us about social media companies? Do they have skin in the games they're playing?

He’s spoken at great length about the lindy effect and the value signal that gets sent just from the fact that some idea or product survived throughout the years.

However he doesn’t mention less savory aspects of human nature that have not only survived but co evolved and appear to be robust (sexism, racism, etc)

How can you distinguish between the good and bad that’s has preserved the test of time?

1. What makes for a good aphorism?

2. Does he consider himself a Nietzschean?

3. Is he a moral realist?

4. When was the last time he got into a physical fight? Did he win?

5. Is he just taking the piss?

6. Why is he such an asshole?

#6 and #2 are related. Nietzsche's whole shtick was to be an asshole and appeal to people's emotions -- especially the emotions of young men who fancy themselves bold iconoclasts -- as a way to generate broader exposure to his ideas. Had Twitter been around in his day, Nietzsche would have been a troll.

People in autocracies have a lot of skin in the game in the sense that if people in power take a dislike to their actions they can be killed or put in a swanky hotel and robbed blind. Does this improve performance?

He makes a suggestion in SitG (discussing academia I think) that a lot of his points should be taken as jokes. What else does he not intend people to take seriously?

Tetlock has found that individuals working together can outperform betting markets in making predictions. How can these findings be squared with Taleb’s theories?

You should also hand him a replica of an Akkadian tablet and see if he can really read it like he claims.

1. is skin in the game enough of a practical philosophy in action to prod e positive societal outcomes without right intent?

2. is there a threshold or point where inequality is so extreme where income/social mobility breaks down and becomes non-existent in a meaningful way?

If your goal was to expose yourself to as much optionality as possible using trial and error, what is the best variable to maximize over the course of one's lifetime, the potential in the outcomes or the number of trials? Or is it a combination?

say something nice about "intellectual yet idiot[s]" and their positive contributions to society

Al-Ghazali, underrated or overrated?

On surgeons who look like butchers: A lot of people affect to not look the part as a strategy to signal competence. Genuinely competent people may flout social conventions, but nowadays anyone who wants to think that they’re awesome does the same. Is this a heuristic that may have worked in a past of tighter social norms, but is now being gamed out of its usefulness?

Who are male/female strategist, thinkers you learn from or admire.

What book most influenced you as a teenager?


Just as a heads up he is (was?) a relatively prolific reviewer of books on amazon

What is the rational approach to human sexuality?

Ask him what he thinks of Bitcoin becoming the de facto World Reserve Currency?
He wrote the foreword in the book "The Bitcoin Standard", but I haven't seen him much commenting on the longterm future of Bitcoin or his opinion on cryptocurrencies in general.

Why does he insists in defining himself as Phoenician instead of Lebanese?

Please ask him whether he has changed his mind about Deep Learning after the results of the M4 forecasting competition. He haad strongly endorsed it previously.

How does he think about being long convexity in the public securities market? What are his most frequent convexity trades? Is convexity dead in a world of central bank interventionists?

What advice would you give to the timid and unconfident? In any society, you will have people who fear skin in the game because of the likelihood that their skin will be shredded by those stronger, smarter, braver. It is a rational fear, and it is only made worse by strong figures urging others to be strong like them. Does one seeking conventional employability and respect out of lack of imagination or confidence deserve only contempt? How does one be in the world meaningfully if you’re not awesome?

Are you mixing up Taleb with Jordan Peterson? Serious question. I used to mix up Roseanne Barr and Rosie O'Donnell (until last week, to tell the truth) and George Michael and Boy George (I still mix them up, actually, although I know one of them unfortunately passed away after years of bad health) and even Plato and Aristotle, and Peguy and Proust, not to mention Dick York and Dick Sargent.

If, by the way, the question is not asked and answered (I hope it will be, but....), I would suggest a reading of the Book of Proverbs, which has good advice for everybody. There are some good commentaries and some bad commentaries but commentaries are not necessary. How do you deal with people you consider foolish? How do you find a good mate? What do you owe to God, and what has he promised to you? How lazy can one be and still prosper, what does one do in moments of indecision and fear? It is all there.

Taleb's anti-GMO stance is a perfect example of how highfalutin' statistics-based jargon is no substitute for basic domain understanding.

He says research funding is superfluous, when the most important inventions of our age were invented through spending by the military on research. Shouldn't the govt take an active role in funding research then (even the teleological style research)

What are good indicators of a restaurant for having real squid ink pasta? And, squid ink, overrated or underrated?

For an ultra rationalist espousing the virtues of differentiating between noise and skill/foresight, and alerting us to the dangers of confirmation bias and estimating our own influence, why still adhere to a religion (Maroonite Christian) that you by happenstance were born into?

What is the reason for the success of Lebanese immigrants in Latin America(especially Brazil) and West Africa?

Since Taleb is harshly critical of academia, what in his view is the best career path for people who wish to live a life of the mind?

Relatedly, were there other individuals in Taleb's cohort in the finance/trading world who mostly wanted to earn a nest egg and then retire to a life of intellectual leisure (reading, music, language, travel, etc)? Did those people succeed in their goal, or were they subverted somehow by the culture of money?

Why live in New York? That's where all the academics and bankers and such live.

With your interest in knowledge that has proven it's use by hanging around and your aphorisms, what about this one: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

By observation I'd say you clearly don't believe it's valid, at least not in most of your public domains...why not?

Olives - green or black?

1. How he would explain to his grandmother what Stephen Pinker gets wrong.

2. Whether he would publish limited run copies of his book in squid ink.

3. According to this "non" profile, "he drinks only beverages that are at least a thousand years old." But he drinks espresso, which was invented in 1884. What gives?

Agreed on Question #1: Stephen Pinker. Taleb takes him to task for his abuse of mathematics in Skin in the Game, but does not explain his position.

What books would comprise your personal “book portfolio” if you could only choose 3 to read and reread ad infinitum?

And the flip side, via negativa/Silver rule-style: what are the top 3 books that you wish you could un-read?

Based on the seriously disappointing comments here, you really need to ask him to explain the relevance of second-order effects/tail risk, what that means for the stability of means, and the importance of time probability.

Maybe add Jenson's inequality for those questions his stance on GMOs.

Ask him something about Lebanese diaspora, especially the Brazilian one.

Also, his work on rationality - https://youtu.be/ezhjumayRsg?t=43m38s - seems *somewhat* close to the Bryan Caplan's "rational irrationality" (and the Vernon Smith one as well). It will be interesting see what him think about it (or what Bryan think about the Taleb view).

Taleb wrote a chapter on how cab drivers are antifragile - specifically not susceptible to black swans. Does he stand by this in the wake of self-driving cars?

Does the precautionary principle overestimate the risks of known unknowns and underestimate the risks of unknown unknowns? What's the right balance to guard against both risk types?

Cowen previously wrote a post about how betting leads you to defend views you might otherwise abandon, in a post about how he lost a bet (to Caplan, IIRC). I'd like to see this be part of the conversation with NNT, as a potential downside of SITG. See also Paul Graham's essay about keeping your identity small.

Can you ask him to describe in details the reasons behind his hatred towards the "Nudge" principle of Thaler?
I understand his reluctance for top down paternalism done by silver tower fragilistas with no skin in the game and infinite arrogance.
But when the nudging is used only to substitute manipulation by lying psychopathic self interested salesmen, it still appears to be a lesser evil.
Of course there is the consequence of overprotecting people from being exposed to manipulation.

But manipulated/addicted people rarely learn from it. See sugar, or Facebook.

What is his position on protectionism and if it he sees it as a plausible means is it because of a need for simmetry in international relations?

What does it gain you to have such a belligerent and anti-intellectual voice on Twitter?

Have you personally been on the losing side of a situation where you've had Skin in the Game?
(i.e you've done the right thing for the community and taken a loss (monetary or otherwise) as a result?

How did it effect you (did it increase your resolve?, did you learn from it? or did it make you question your perspective on the situation?)

What an awesome mash-up!

Has your enhanced focus on mathematical rigor forced you to reassess / abandon any arguments set forth in your prior works?

I like Nasim but he seems to me sort of a one- or two-trick pony -- an aphorist who's gotten a lot of mileage out criticizing predictions derived from the normal distribution. I'd like to see him discuss the implications (if any) of his fractal/power law based approach to the most famous normal distribution of all -- IQ.

I am not going to suggest any questions, but I hope you talk a little about poetry. Maybe let him know in advance that he is going to somehow have a five minute or so window to talk about that immense subject, which is so interesting when it is done right. For example, Wallace Stevens (sort of an actuary at his day job) wrote a poem which did not contain the words "God is Good. It is a Beautiful Night", but which had those words as the title (so, technically, those words are not even a line of poetry - right? and anyway I remember them wrong all the time, remembering them as "the Night is Beautiful and God is Good" (iambic pentameter, Shakespeare's favorite line)). If you read his (Taleb's) Amazon reviews, there is not as much talk about poetry, in any language, as one would guess.

Kolmogorov honestly tried to be a first-rate Pushkin scholar, Gauss in his youth vacillated between devoting his future years of undoubted genius to arithmetic or to philology, Shakespeare, according to some writer, which specific one I don't clearly remember (Samuel Johnson, maybe?) famously outclassed Newton - Newton! - in accuracy of observation .... Amalya Kearse achieved world class status as a bridge player, in her off hours when not deciding (usually wrongly, to be fair, but still) important and controversial judicial cases, and Eisenhower, years after his successful finesses and gambits in the context of what we now call "D-day", was really good at contract bridge, too. Chirelstein the tax guy was a big fan of Hopkins and Richard Burton, of all people, fell in love with Baudelaire and Rimbaud years after he became no longer Richard Burton the actor but Richard Burton the star.

And because I do not like prose that is full of names, I will stop, but I could name more than a dozen people as famous or more famous than Taleb who really really understand animals, who are, by their animal nature, effortlessly poetic (the animals, that is --- the people who merely understand animals usually have to put in a lot of effort) (think about it). Sometimes dogs are the poetic ones on any given day, sometimes cats, sometimes birds, sometimes cockroaches (the funny outdoors kind and even the almost unloveable domestic kind) or crows or giant squids or Abominable Snowmen (a misnomer; like the rest of us, the Abominables are a species which presents with both male and female individuals). (but you knew that)

A comment along these lines would be great: Taleb thinks that epistemologies that aim at truth (rationalism, as exemplified by rationalist type nerds), are worse than epistemologies which prioritize some pragmatic goods (heuristics, knowledge via negativa, sometimes condoning compartmentalization (about religion for example)). Over the long run, on the margin, it seems like we should prioritize truth over pragmatic goods. We're decent at getting the latter, and so long as we survive, a truth-based epistemology seems better bec knowing what is true can be so useful.

What does he think of peer review, and what would he replace it with if he dislikes it?

Why does he spend almost no time talking about nuclear war?

Brazilian jiujitsu practitioners do not have as much skin in the game as street fighters, and in a fight between an experienced BJJ practitioner and an experienced street fighter I'd bet on the street fighter for Talebbian reasons. However, if I'm expecting to get in a street fight at some future date I'd choose to train BJJ. Discuss.

I like all three of these!

Does he think limited liability should be eliminated for corporate shareholders?

in light nof NNTs writing about the concern of existential risk (in terms of investment), how much does NNT care about what the Effective Altruism community defines as existential risks (ie AI, pandemics etc)

Does NNT think of civility and niceness as positive qualities?

How much Fat Tony is inside Donald Trump?

"I told him it was through the blogger and econ prof Tyler Cowen, which immediately set Taleb off.

'That guy's a bullshitter,' noting that Cowen admits to writing about books he only reads parts of.

'How can you write a review of a book you haven't read?' presumably referring to this Slate review.

His advice to Cowen: 'Read much fewer books, read them slowly, turn off your internet connection, and then come back.'"

"Unlike other, more technical critics, I do not think much of Cowen’s intellect, abilities, & understanding of probability & random payoffs, but that irresponsible fool was the first to advertise the contribution of “prediction markets” in high moment applications, heavy-tailed environment."

Ask is he still thinks you're a bullshitter and an irresponsible fool.

Why is he such an asshole? Why does he assume everyone is a lower lifeform? Where does this come from?

He has respect for Mandelbrot and Gigerenzer, but Gigerenzer has shown that he knows nothing about stock markets. What's the point of attacking everyone else, including people he doesn't don't know at all?

Finally: does he floss daily?

Not for the official interview, but how did you get off his bad list? I was on his official bad list on his website, but had lunch with him in DC and turned him by discussing Middle East linguistics and the complicated relationship between Aramaic and Arabic. I went from being vey bad to being in the second ed of his The Black Swan one of the three economists he supposedly took seriously, along with Nouriel Roubini and Michael Spence. Really.

1. Does he read any GK Chesterton? Their subject are wildly different, but sometimes I see a little bit of Chesteron's tone (particularly from Heretics) in Taleb's writing.
2. In SITG he says all but a handful of charities are impactful. What were the impactful few he was thinking of when he wrote that?
3. I've read a lot of Taleb's work. My wife says that I become more rigid philosophically when I am reading his work and would rather I read other stuff. This is mainly, if not 100%, a personal problem, however I'd like to know if Taleb can relate to that effect in any way (eg. does he think his work should have that effect?).

I'd also be interested to know his thoughts on Pavel Tsatsouline's Grease the Groove technique for gaining physical strength, if he's heard of it.

What is his position on somewhat risky outdoor activities like mountaineering, wilderness trekking, kayaking and the like? From his Twitter I gather he's into hiking himself but I don't know how far he takes this. One the one hand, using the famous precautionary principle (as applied to oneself), one could dismiss such activities as stupid (risk of death - non reversible). On the other hand, I've personally found that such outdoor activities require a) SITG and b) are an extremely useful way to learn how to deal with risks by applying sensible heuristics and experience.

I would go back to his debate with Didier Sornette and ask Nassim if he believes increases in computational efficiency will make Sornette's thesis of having realtime signatures of extreme events even more attainable making the "black swans" more and more a thing of the past.

Did your invective ever go too far?

Do you regret any of the histrionic personal attacks you've made?

What do you own in your investment portfolio?

Do you own a micro-wave?

OK, here is an actual question for him. Is the distinction between grey swans and black swans, true ones, a matter of epistemology versus ontology? In short, for grey swans is it that they have probability distributions, but they are hard to estimate due to oddness with fat tails (or insufficient data) whereas black swans involve there simply being no probability distribution at all?

Also, does this matter? (It might not)

The backdrop to this is the competing approaches of Frank Knight and J.M. Keynes, both of whom put forth the main part of their views in 1921 in parallel books, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit for Knight and Treatise on Probability for Keynes. So the usual story is that Knight was basically a classical frequentist who indeed formulated the now standard in econ and finance between risk and uncertainty, with the former supposedly quantifiable, with this relatively easy when dealing with phenomena where there is an underlying Gaussian normal distribution (or a simple transform of it such as logging) and there are plenty of observations to make the estimation, versus supposedly unquantifiable uncertainty, although the latter may be simply an epistemological problem of not being able to estimate the underlying distribution because of either its peculiarity or because of a lack of data.

Keynes is usually viewed as being more of a Bayesian subjectivist, although not fully so. in the Treatise ho poses a more complicated spectrum of situations that may correspond more to this one of moving from white through gray to black swans. Thus he accepted that there are cases where there are actual probability distributions that can be measured, with the tossing of a fair coin his poster boy example, and he admitted that there is a basis for insurance companies to operate profitably (although there may be a problem even with the coin tossing example of determining if one is dealing with a fair coin or not, which was discussed in depth by Tom Stoppard in the opening sequence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when he has them tossing a coin that keeps coming up tails). He posed a variety of intermediate odd cases that may correspond to gray swans, but then he posed true uncertainty as the situation when there is no underlying probability distribution at all. This is presumably an ontological situation, and no amount of data or computational ability will allow one to overcome it.

What does your diet look like? High or low in carbohydrates, and high or low in the animal:plant based ratio. Additionally, you wrote once that one shouldn’t eat carbs and protein at the same time (counter to the behavior of most gym rats), I think based on an idea of how our ancestors ate, but why do you think that they wouldn’t have had access to these nutrients at the same time?

Please ask Taleb his opinion of Kyle Bass’s position that Japan will be the big stress point in the global economy.

You should definitely ask him if (or when) he thinks that we, the happy turkey amazed by constant progress, will reach our "Thanksgiving" moment.

"Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird's belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race 'looking out for its best interests,' as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief." (The Black Swan: Second Edition)

For Taleb: We homeschool (mainly unschool) our child with very limited curriculum; we are teaching her skills such as programming in Mathematica. What do you consider the essential skills for children to learn before the age of 18?

1. How can you hold such a low opinion of artists for what they do and still defend the behavior of Donald Trump?
2. How do you reconcile your negative views of opinion makers with your aspirations of being one of them?

What kind of advice he has for maintaining a long term happy marriage and raising kids.

Great question to ask!

if he would consider having his own podcast e.g. having conversations with people he respects about random topics.

He is publishing very inspiring books and concepts but what are his thoughts on how we can we change current policies and governments for the better instead of just letting his vision of self-distruction unfold?

please ask him if he ever thought about the following:
he feels obliged to shout fraud when he sees fraud and he constantly fights on twitter, but without offending so many people and being (wrongly) considered arrogant by many, he might reach more people and bring down more fraud as a result...

the black swan inspired me to read a lot more, what books have inspired him most?

and besides books, what does he think influenced his personality the most? (e.g. being so uncompromising, motivated to create and a critical thinker)

1) Overrated or underrated: squid ink pasta?
2) What are your current thoughts on Bitcoin? Neophilia or a lasting technological improvement on store of value?
3) Of all your books, which was your favorite to write?
4) How should parents go about making sure their children have skin in the game?

Please ask 4 above

Is Russia fragile? Why he thinks that Putin is winning?

I know that Prof. Taleb prescribes a less globalized world: a globalized world is fragile because of all the interdepenece (we saw that in 2008). But what does he think about the role of globalization preventing war? Globalization seems to contribute to world peace, as I would not fight whom I depend on. Isn't peace more important than economic prosperity? Or does a world crisis contribute to more violent conflicts?

1. What do you foresee will happen in Saudi Arabia, both in the government/royal family and in its greater society at large?
2. What book(s) are you reading right now?
3. What research have you done on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?
4. What are some practical differences between a distributed system versus a decentralized one?

As kids (new generations) will soon be either the light or the a****les of the future, will Mr. Taleb consider writing some book for kids to develop something virtuous autonomous b*****it-proof personality? Or a book for parents so they can avoid to ruin their kid's lives as they have been ruined theirs by b*****it and b********ers?

What /who are some good examples of highly antifragile companies/organizations/governments/people groups/individuals?

Are there some ways in which your Christian faith and value of antifragility intersect?

If you are still taking questions: What are his thoughts on the rise of index funds?
I don't quite know how to phrase this, but as individual investors we are trying to protect ourselves from some randomness by diversifying, however by investing en masse are we introducing new forms of risk or randomness that were not present in the markets before?
It seems that in an attempt to diversify we have actually reduced our diversification since so many are using the same strategy. Would he agree or disagree?
Perhaps you could include 'index funds' in the underrated-overrated section of your talk?
Thanks, I'm looking forward to this interview in particular. It seems a lot of us are.

I'm curious to know what he's chasing with all the Genetic Ancestry research? What itch is he scratching there?

1. Why did he agree to talk to an economist? He is full of contempt vis-a-vis the entire profession.

2. Would he define himself as a nationalist--the Phoneician type?

3. Are the words Phoenician and phony related, philologically?

You've described Value at Risk analysis as worse than useless, a misleading exercise that mis-applies Gaussian distribution.

But isn't it more like an imperfect tool? I need to make a receiver for a door-latch, but I don't have a chisel in my toolbox. So I use a screwdriver. Sure, a chisel would be better. But I haven't got one. The screwdriver is clumsy and error-prone, but used rightly, it gets the job done.

VaR can be the same way. It's not ideal, but it's a good tool for comparing two portfolios. It doesn't tell me the absolute level of risk -- nothing does. But if I'm doing what-if analysis, comparing different alternatives, it gives me information I might not otherwise have. Is the information always wrong?

semi-serious question: his opinion of kettlebells

also, what about cold showers

you are advocating some kind of paleo diet, but how is there enough meat for a growing and increasingly wealthy population?

My understanding that his stance against GMO's is based on the Monsanto et al. creating a homogeneity of traits that creates a concentrated risk or major catastrophe. But isn't that more of a legal/IP issue- why should we assume a global concentration? The global IP law creating barriers to entry would be a different issue than his science-based arguments against GMO's. He would never address this when I asked him to clarify- would appreciate it if you could get him to address this.

Where can I find the transcript or video of the Taleb, Cowen and Caplan interviews?

Comments for this post are closed