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Finding the value in disorder

Renowned scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb to speak at Concordia
March 27, 2013
By Tom Peacock

Before becoming a philosophical essayist, expounding on everything from the dangers of oversized and overprotected banks to the need for less structured education and parenting, Nassim Nicholas Taleb was a derivatives trader who made a fortune betting against the market.

In his 2007 book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, which sold 3 million copies, Taleb predicted the looming financial crisis, and condemned the global financial system that many thought was too big to fail. As a result of that book, he gained a huge international following.

In his recently published book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder (2012) Taleb expands on his philosophical arguments, which condemn commonly held beliefs and theories that try to explain and contain what he sees as an inherently inexplicable and random world. He argues, instead, that society should embrace uncertainty and see it as a strengthening force.

His main thesis exerts that the opposite of fragility is not robustness, in which things remain in a certain state. Rather, it is a state he calls “antifragility,” in which things gain strength from being exposed to stressors.

“Antifragility has a singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them — and do them well. Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time.”

Taleb is bringing his outspoken brand of philosophical argument to Concordia on Tuesday, April 2 as a guest of the Department of Political Science and the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability. Eleni Panagiotarakou, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, says she invited Taleb to the university after striking up a scholarly friendship with the famed essayist via his popular Facebook page.

Panagiotarakou, recently penned a review of Antifragile for Philosophy Now, a philosophical  magazine. In it, among other things, she explains who are the targets of Taleb’s Olympian ire. 

“Among others, these include armchair warmongering journalists and politicians with no relatives in warzones, bureaucrats, CEOs and bankers. Bankers, who privatize their gains but socialize their losses by transferring the downside to shareholders and/or taxpayers.”

Panagiotarakou says she loves Taleb’s work, but she also admits that Taleb is a polarizing figure who elicits either love or hate, but never indifference.

“Taleb doesn’t mince his words against unethical figures and ‘fragilistas,’ that is to say, people who ‘fragile’ our world via their naïve rationalism,” Panagiotarakou says. “Regrettably, even self-professed friends chastise him for his angry outbursts. They fail to see that those attacks don’t stem from personal enmity or character shortcomings but from an ancient Mediterranean conception of ethics, which, among others things, distinguishes between true and false humility.”

Related links:
•    Concordia’s Department of Political Science
•    Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability
•    Facebook event page
•    Nassim Nicholas Taleb page on Facebook

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