A Reddit “Ask Me Anything” with Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I really enjoyed this Reddit “Ask Me Anything” with Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A few of my favorites Q&A exchanges below:

Q: How should a person use and not use the internet to make his life better?

Taleb: Bring email down to 15 a day. Meet internet friends in person.

His thoughts on cancer:

Q: Can you tell us more about your brush with cancer?

Taleb: I despise (that is have a moral revulsion against) cancer survivors like Armstrong who trade on it (and I got shellacked for saying it before his demise). And I hate the idea of boasting “winning” the war on cancer: radiation rooms are full of people who are “losing” for no fault of theirs.

On the obesity epidemic in the United States:

Q: According to your principles, how would you deal with the obesity epidemic hitting the U.S.?

Taleb: The general problem is that we are not made to control our environment, and we are designed for a degree of variability: in energy, temperature, food composition, sleep duration, exercise (by Jensen’s inequality). Depriving anyone of variations is silly. So we need to force periods of starvation/fasts , sleep deprivation , protein deprivation, etc. Religions force shabbats, fasts, etc. but we are no longer under the sway of religions… The solution is rules…

On the most important thing in the world:

Q: What is the most important skill or trait a human being can have in the modern world?

Taleb: A sense of honor. It puts you above everything else.

On having “skin in the game:”

Q: Should judges, jurors, and prosecutors have skin in the game?

Taleb: Skin in the game is about being harmed by an error if it harms others. Managers of large corporations can be forced to lose money beyond their compensation should the firm suffer. As to judges, I don’t know, but hopefully they have sufficient eye contact to suffer shame.

A lot more here.

Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan is one of the best books I’ve ever read and has significantly informed my view of the world.

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