Here is another in the CONVERSATIONS AT EDGE series, in this instance a conversation with Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “The point we will be making here is that logically, neither trial and error nor “chance” and serendipity can be behind the gains in technology and empirical science attributed to them. By definition chance cannot lead to long-term gains (it would no longer be chance); trial and error cannot be unconditionally effective: errors cause planes to crash, buildings to collapse, and knowledge to regress.
“Something central, very central, is missing in historical accounts of scientific and technological discovery. The discourse and controversies focus on the role of luck as opposed to teleological programs (from telos, “aim”), that is, ones that rely on pre-set direction from formal science. This is a faux-debate: luck cannot lead to formal research policies; one cannot systematize, formalize, and program randomness. The driver is neither luck nor direction, but must be in the asymmetry (or convexity) of payoffs, a simple mathematical property that has lied hidden from the discourse, and the understanding of which can lead to precise research principles and protocols.”
NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB, essayist and former mathematical trader, is Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU’s Polytechnic Institute. He is the author the international bestseller The Black Swan and the recently published Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. (US: Random House; UK: Penguin Press). He is a former derivatives trader turned essayist and scholar specializing in problems of probability and uncertainty. His work focuses on mathematical and philosophical problems with probability, particularly model error. His work on risk covers issues of political stability, metaprobability, statistical mechanics, psychological biases, and risk-based systems of ethics.
Taleb is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. Before starting a career as an essayist and scholar in 2006, Taleb held senior trading positions in derivatives with trading houses in New York and London and managed his own portfolio hedging boutique.
He is the author of Incerto, a Philosophical Essay on Uncertainty (3 volumes: Antifragile, The Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness, plus a companion book of aphorisms: The Bed of Procrustes). His technical works include Dynamic Hedging and Convexity, Heuristics and Metaprobability (electronic). He considers himself an Edge Activist—a member of the “literary and empirical community of scientists-philosophers”.
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