The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Bed of Procrustes is a short book consisting of quotes by Taleb. Unlike his other books, this book is mostly a collection of quotes. Procrustes used to stretch/amputate his guests who won’t fit on his bed. Similarly, when our minds need to reduce information, we are more likely to try to squeeze a phenomenon into the Procrustean bed of a crisp and known category (amputating the unknown), rather than suspend categorization, and make it tangible. That’s the central theme of this book.

  1. Pharmaceutical companies are better at inventing diseases that match existing drugs, rather than inventing drugs to match existing diseases.
  2. Restaurants get you in with food to sell you liquor; religions get you in with belief to sell you rules (e.g., avoid debt)
  3. The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.
  4. They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status—but rarely for your wisdom.
  5. We call narcissistic those individuals who behave as if they were the central residents of the world; those who do exactly the same in a set of two we call lovers or, better, “blessed by love.”
  6. Decline starts with the replacement of dreams with memories and ends with the replacement of memories with other memories.
  7. True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.
  8. Men destroy each other during the war; themselves during peacetime.
  9. Nation-states like war; city-states like commerce; families like stability; and individuals like entertainment.
  10. Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.
  11. Skills that transfer: street fights, off-path hiking, seduction, broad erudition.
    Skills that don’t: school, games, sports, laboratory—what’s reduced and organize
  12. Writers are remembered for their best work, politicians for their worst mistakes and businessmen are almost never remembered.
  13. Regular minds find similarities in stories (and situations); finer minds detect differences.
  14. The fool views himself as more unique and others more generic; the wise views himself as more generic and others more unique.
  15. Wit seduces by signaling intelligence without nerdiness.
  16. In a crowd of a hundred, 50 percent of the wealth, 90 percent of the imagination, and 100 percent of the intellectual courage will reside in a single person—not necessarily the same one.
  17. Robust is when you care more about the few who like your work than the multitude who dislike it (artists); fragile is when you care more about the few who dislike your work than the multitude who like it (politicians).
  18. One of the failures of “scientific approximation” in the nonlinear domain comes from the inconvenient fact that the average of expectations is different from the expectation of averages.*
  19. In poor countries, officials receive explicit bribes; in D.C. they get the sophisticated implicit, unspoken promise to work for large corporations.
  20. In the past, only some of the males, but all the females were able to procreate. Equality is more natural for females.
  21. Our minds need to reduce information, we are more likely to try to squeeze a phenomenon into the Procrustean bed of a crisp and known category (amputating the unknown), rather than suspend categorization, and make it tangible
  22. Many philistines reduce my ideas to opposition to technology when in fact I am opposing the naïve blindness to its side effects—the fragility criterion. I’d rather be unconditional about ethics and conditional about technology than the reverse.
  23. Social media are severely antisocial, health foods are empirically unhealthy, knowledge workers are very ignorant, and social sciences aren’t scientific at all.
  24. The costs of specialization: architects build to impress other architects; models are thin to impress other models; academics write to impress other academics; filmmakers try to impress other filmmakers; painters impress art dealers, but authors who write to impress book editors tend to fail.

4 Replies to “The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb”

  1. Wow Wow awow😅💐🙏thanks for writing such crisp summaries. Can you pls do one on the rules of investing ..maybe summarise a textbook concepts o. Investing ?

  2. Thanks Rajiv, I have written summaries of quite a few investing books. Do you have a particular one in your mind?

  3. This is so awesome work, Ashish! Liked so many, loved #7, #14, #8.

  4. Thanks Sunil, I’m glad that you liked it.

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