The book starts off with a notice stating: Aphorisms are different from conventional text. The author recommends reading no more than four aphorisms in one sitting. It is also preferable to select them randomly.
Procrustes had an estate on the holy route between Athens and Eleusis. There was an iron bed there, on which he welcomed every passer-by to stay the night. No one ever fit the bed perfectly so he would proceed to alter the size of the person's body by either stretching or cutting off their legs. Theseus eventually captured Procrustes and evidently fitted him to his own bed.
We actually do this all the time. Not physically of course but with ideologies. I believe this is Taleb's point.
Taleb compares ideal classical virtues with the "modern diseases of nerdiness, philistinism, and phoniness."
Every aphorism here is about a Procrustean bed of sorts — we humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has explosive consequences.
Bed of Procrustes is part of the Incerto, a five volume "investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk,and decision making when we don’t understand the world, expressed in the form of a personal essay with autobiographical sections, stories, parables, and philosophical, historical, and scientific discussions in nonoverlapping volumes that can be accessed in any order." All of these works are about how to live in a world we don't fully comprehend (or, as Taleb puts it, "how we deal with, and should deal with, what we don't know.")
Here are a few select aphorisms. I will keep this page updated as new editions come out.
If your anger decreases with time, you did injustice; if it increases, you suffered injustice.
Most info-Web-media-newspaper types have a hard time swallowing the idea that knowledge is reached (mostly) by removing junk from people’s heads.
Don’t trust a man who needs an income—except if it is minimum wage. (Those in corporate captivity would do anything to “feed a family.”)
It is much harder to write a book review for a book you’ve read than for a book you haven’t read.
Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.
Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.
In most debates, people seem to be trying to convince once another; but all they can hope for is new arguments to convince themselves.
When we want to do something while unconsciously certain to fail, we seek advice so we can blame someone else for the failure.
To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.
Modernity: we created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.
The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.
People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels—people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up.
You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.
The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.
You never win an argument until they attack your person.
An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant the opposite.
Usually, what we call a “good listener” is someone with a skillfully polished indifference.
You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.
The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits.
On Our Need For Stimulation
Most people fear being without audiovisual stimulation because they are too repetitive when they think and imagine things on their own.
Updated Aphorisms - 3rd Edition
It took me about six months to get through this book only reading four aphorisms in a sitting, but that allowed me ample time to understand them. I really enjoyed the wisdom from this collection. If you liked these aphorisms you may enjoy Nassim Taleb's other writings, such as Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile.