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A person loves to socialize, but is too shy for that. Is s/he an introvert or an extrovert?

Posted by StepTb su luglio 6, 2018

One of the most common misconceptions people who have never studied psychology have.

Shyness is social inhibition. It has nothing to do with I/E personality preferences. In fact, when you break personality down using the Big5, shyness is related to the trait Neuroticism, not Introversion. Because it’s Neuroticism (feeling negative emotions strongly), and especially its facet Withdrawal (which is the one containing the subfacets of Anxiety, Self-consciousness and Vulnerability), that triggers the social inhibition mechanism.

If you feel a strong desire to be social and gregarious, but you can’t because you’re shy (=inhibited), you’re more likely to be an extravert.
Not all extraverts are born with superb social skills. But they’re better and faster at learning them because they value them much more in relation to their personal goals. Also, many of them are born with both high extraversion and high neuroticism, which causes mixed effects. Finally, even among the extraverts who are actually born with good social skills and are not naturally high in neuroticism, many are then repressed by environmental factors.

P.S.
A good read: The H Factor of Personality

Annunci

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What’s something wealthy people know that normal people should know?

Posted by StepTb su luglio 6, 2018

Basically, everything listed in The Millionaire Next Door, a mythbusting research into the actual habits of actual American millionaires.
All “normal” people should just buy it and read it – even if I’m quite sure that, no matter how many times they read it, most will not put those things into practice.

Three points in my opinion especially stand out:
1) Millionaires not only have a different view of money, time and wealth, but also marry people who have those same views; in fact, the wives of the researched male millionaires were often even more strategic and thrifty than them
2) Their kids don’t grow up spoiled, and are economically self-sufficient the moment they become adults; millionaires are driven by the idea of passing down their wealth, therefore they’ll give the next generation the necessary knowledge and tools to learn its value, manage it well, and avoid burning it
3) They couldn’t care less about playing the consumerism game, wasting their resources (including time) just to display high social status (hence the book’s title); that path makes you more dependent, not less

Most people don’t care about becoming millionaires, but most people care about being financially stable. Thus, applying the book’s principles just partially would already be enough… but too many don’t (and won’t) even do that.

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What are some other good books I might enjoy if I loved “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 22, 2018

Shorter, lighter reads: Predictably Irrational (revised)Free Market MadnessFreakonomics, and The Myth of the Rational Voter

Real-world applications, in organizations and public policy: NudgeExamples from Singapore, and Wiser

Applications to finance and investing: Beyond Greed and Fear, and Irrational Exhuberance

Less “pop” and more advanced, regarding decision-making: Rational Choice in an Uncertain World

On decision-making and counterintuition, but more pop: More Than You Know, and Think Twice

On political and religious tribalism: The Righteous Mind, and Going to Extremes

Historical perspective on how the field has evolved: Misbehaving

Bonus:

Related, on status-seeking and the human quest for personal satisfaction: Choosing the Right Pond

Related, on analysts and forecasters: Superforecasting

Related, a different perspective: Gut Feelings

Related, a biological approach: Behave (this one is comparable in size, scope and ambition as well)

Related, on human cooperation: The Evolution of Cooperation

Related, on decision-making using insights from Neuroscience, Economics and Psychology (academic/legit, not pop): Neuroeconomics

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What is your review of Thinking, Fast And Slow (book)?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 22, 2018

If we were to organize a top10 of the greatest non-fiction books of 2000–2020, I think Thinking, Fast and Slow should make it.

The book was published in 2011, but it’s already a classic, and has dramatically changed the debate in anything related to the social sciences.

It summarizes some of the most interesting insights from the last 50 years of research in cognitive and social psychology, and it makes self-evident how large their effects can be on other fields like economics and politics.

With one exception: the chapter on priming. I’m actually surprised Kahneman included that one, since in 2011 the ground the theory was resting on was already shaky.
Danny himself wrote an open letter about this and related issues just one year later, and confirmed including priming was a mistake in 2017.
Priming is still being cited and used by a large amount of people doing bad science and trying to become famous “pop psychology” figures, “influencers”, marketers, or politically influential activists by pumping up studies that are badly designed and/or failed to replicate. This is why it’s important to underline the mistake and instead make it clear that it’s not-reproducible pseudoscience. See hereherehere and here.
Even the very example made famous by the book, the “watching eye effect”, failed to replicate recently.

Conclusion: it’s a must-read, but skip the chapter on priming.

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What’s a better personality indicator test than the MBTI?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 5, 2018

The MBTI has four main problems:
1. The black-and-white dichothomy, which is enough to make it unscientific: a person scoring 49% on Extraversion will be classified as Introverted, and more similar to someone scoring 5%, while instead being basically identical to an Extravert who scored 51%.
2. The cognitive functions theory; this is absolute pseudoscience with no empiricism behind it whatsoever. But you can choose to ignore that whole part, like many do, and only read the result as a 4-dimension measure – that approach will actually lead to more accurate insights.
3. There is an industry behind it, that is interested in pushing it and promote it to make money.
4. The whole F/T dimension is bogus. First of all, it’s been proven by science that all our choices and decisions derive first from an emotional impulse, and there’s a process of rationalization after it that works to justify the impulse (this is why the scientific method is hard – you have to train yourself to go against human nature – and necessitates of peer reviews and communities). Which means that we’re all actually “F”. Second, the work of Kahneman and Tversky on the difference between intelligence and rationality is quite brilliant, and it would make sense to have a dimension for that, but that’s *not* what F/T measures, even if most of the people who score T will tell you otherwise to feel superior (while in reality a person scoring high in T can be completely irrational). Third, we now know (from research with the Big5 model) that feeling often/strongly positive emotions is associated with Extraversion, and feeling often/strongly negative emotions with Neuroticism. Thus, those two Big5 dimensions actually capture much better (and they do it twice more precisely, by separating them) what’s *really* going on in the F/T dimension. So you have “super feelers” (high E + high N) as well as “super stoics” (low E + low N), plus all the other possible combinations in the middle.

The Big5 solves 1 and 4, doesn’t have 2 and 3, and at the same time doesn’t sacrifice any of the “good” parts, because S/N gets captured by Openness, J/P by Conscientiousness, and E/I remains the same.
On the other hand, it has the annoying issue that the 5 dimensions were named with an obvious implicit value judgment. For example, why call it Agreeable/Disagreeable instead of Non-Confrontational/Confrontational? The name choice is clearly biased and quite irksome. But still, the scientific value of the test is definitely higher than MBTI’s.

Also, Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton expanded the Big5 model with an additional dimension, H, which measures Honesty-Humility.
The only problem is they also rebranded Neuroticism as Emotionality, which is misleading.
With the additional H dimension, it’s also possible to identify narcissistic (low H, high E) and psychopathic (low H, low C, low N) tendencies.
One of their most interesting/useful findings is that high Agreeableness doesn’t actually predict high Honesty-Humility, which makes high A + low H people particularly deceitful and dangerous, since the high A works like a social mask hiding the low H.
I strongly recommend reading their book The H Factor of Personality for a breakdown of all the 6 dimensions and the research behind them.

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How can Peter Thiel reconcile his libertarianism with mimetic theory?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 29, 2018

It seems quite straightforward to me.

Girard’s position on Christianity derives from the fact that the more you emphasize the innocence of the scapegoat, the more difficult it becomes for people to fall into the trap of scapegoating.
So the Gospels were an especially important milestone in human cultural history because of their role in the unmasking of the mechanism.

In the very same fashion, the more you emphasize the uniqueness and centrality of the individual, the more difficult it becomes for people to fall into the trap of mimetic desire.
So probably Thiel thinks libertarianism is the best we currently have in politics to reach the goal of independent thought and differentiation at the individual level, in stark contrast to the nature of the dominant political currents, which instead seem to encourage and exploit various shades of mimesis and scapegoating.

Of course, this is also tied to a problem already noted by Girard himself, especially in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World: mimesis could very well be this powerful because it’s the easiest way to escape the problem of meaninglessness. So is it really feasible to someday reach a society that avoids it on a mass scale?

Some more Girard-inspired reflections on modern politics can be found in Psychopolitics, which expands on the observation that scapegoating doesn’t work as well anymore and therefore ‘traditional’ politics and its electorate are facing a crisis.

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What is the single most underrated trait a person can have?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

Historical perspective.

“A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries. He may regard the general, impersonal foundations of his existence as definitely settled and taken for granted, and be as far from assuming a critical attitude towards them as our good Hans Castorp really was; yet it is quite conceivable that he may none the less be vaguely conscious of the deficiencies of his epoch and find them prejudicial to his own moral well-being. All sorts of personal aims, hopes, ends, prospects, hover before the eyes of the individual, and out of these he derives the impulse to ambition and achievement. Now, if the life about him, if his own time seems, however outwardly stimulating, to be at bottom empty of such food for his aspirations; if he privately recognises it to be hopeless, viewless, helpless, opposing only a hollow silence to all the questions man puts, consciously or unconsciously, yet somehow puts, as to the final, absolute, and abstract meaning in all his efforts and activities; then, in such a case, a certain laming of the personality is bound to occur, the more inevitably the more upright the character in question; a sort of palsy, as it were, which may extend from his spiritual and moral over into his physical and organic part. In an age that affords no satisfying answer to the eternal question of ‘Why?’ ‘To what end?’ a man who is capable of achievement over and above the expected modicum must be equipped either with a moral remoteness and single-mindedness which is rare indeed and of heroic mould, or else with an exceptionally robust vitality. Hans Castorp had neither one nor the other of these; and thus he must be considered mediocre, though in an entirely honourable sense.”

– Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

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Oct+Nov+Dec 2017 Log

Posted by StepTb su gennaio 1, 2018

VIDEO:
Gaichû / Harmful Insect (Akihiko Shiota, 2001) [7]
Nabbeun namja / Bad Guy (Kim Ki-duk, 2001) [6.5]
Becoming Warren Buffett (Peter W. Kunhardt, 2017) [6.5]
Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999) [7]
Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine, 2006) [7]
Revenge of the Electric Car (Chris Paine, 2011) [7]
Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017) [6.5]
Who Am I – Kein System ist sicher (Baran bo Odar, 2014) [6-]
Racing Extinction (Louie Psihoyos, 2015) [6.5]
The Intern (Nancy Meyers, 2015) [6.5]
Joy (David O. Russell, 2015) [7.5] [most underrated Hollywood movie of 2015?]
Hua li shang ban zu / Office (Johnnie To, 2015) [6]
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick, 1992) [8]
Requiem for the American Dream (Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, 2015) [6.5]
The War Room (Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker, 1993) [5]
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (Michel Gondry, 2013) [7.5+]
Nomads (John McTiernan, 1986) [7]
Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988) [7]
Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) [6.5]
Hype! (Doug Pray, 1996) [7.5]
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2003) [7.5+]
Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964) [8]
The Offence (Sidney Lumet, 1973) [6.5]
Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet, 1988) [7]
La société du spectacle (Guy Debord, 1973) [7]
The Cars That Ate Paris (Peter Weir, 1974) [6.5]
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, 2014) [6.5]

BOOKS:
The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills (Daniel Coyle, 2012) [LINK]
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Eric Ries, 2011) [LINK]
Status quo: Perché in Italia è così difficile cambiare le cose (e come cominciare a farlo) (Roberto Perotti, 2016) [LINK]
On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, and What Can Be Done (Cass R. Sunstein, 2nd ed. 2014) [LINK]
Misinformation : Guida alla società dell’informazione e della credulità (Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonella Vicini, 2016) [LINK]
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (David Hume, 1748) [LINK]
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Leo Tolstoy, 1886) [LINK]
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Cormac McCarthy, 1985) [LINK]
Al tempo di papà (Jirō Taniguchi, 1994) [LINK]

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

Posted by StepTb su settembre 5, 2017

Random House, 2012 Buy Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
433 pages

The book with which Taleb completed his transformation into a right wing incoherently rambling wannabe guru.

The most brilliant idea this book has is stealing the concept of Resilience (from the field of study of Complex Adaptive Systems), re-naming it “Antifragility”, and insisting it’s a totally different concept from Robustness, you idiots! Well, yeah, that’s because it’s Resilience through Adaptive strategies, not Robustness. And you stole it and re-named it. And called yourself a genius (and critics ignorants and idiots, ofc) for such a groundbreaking move.
If that’s the best contribution, imagine the quality of the rest.

I’m still puzzled by the fact so many people are citing, giving credit and/or looking up to this guy.
A textbook case of pseudo-intellectualism.

(See also my review of The Black Swan, same observations apply.)

4/10

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Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

University of California Press, 2000 (first published 1997)
314 pages
Author: Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi

La versione in lingua italiana, dal titolo “Lo spettacolo del fascismo”, è acquistabile qui.

The section “The Mussolini Myth” is especially important and useful; it collects all the (seemingly) bizarre mediatic tactics Mussolini used to project youth, masculinity, strength, power, and, ultimately, immortality – in a gradual transformation from cult of personality to a deification.
In the meantime, a nation of people identified the leader’s projections as the quality of the nation itself, even if the nation was actually lacking them. A form of mass hypnosis and escapism, leaving such a deep cultural influence that I believe Italy has never managed to fully wake up from it.
It can be easily recognized how some contemporary leaders, like Putin, are employing the same tactics to project a carefully crafted powerful image to their people and, perhaps even more meticulously, to other countries’ citizens.

The chapter “The Politician as Artist” shows us how perfectly Mussolini understood the weaponizing power of media and the nature of politics as entertainment in a modern sense before any other leader. And the next chapter, “From Art to Violence”, leads us to the natural consequences of that realization.

Almost all the western world has gradually shifted towards an infotainment-dominated form of public politics since the end of WWII, so these topics are extremely current. And worrisome.

8+/10

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John Rawls – Giustizia come equità: Una riformulazione

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

Feltrinelli, 2010 (first published 2001)
259 pages
Original title: Justice as Fairness: A Restatement

A very important point Rawls makes in this book is the inability of the welfare state to realize his two principles of justice; he advocates instead for a property-owning democracy. This point was touched briefly in A Theory of Justice too, and here isn’t discussed as in-depth as it should have deserved, but it’s discussed and stated explicitly nonetheless.
The vast majority of both admirers and critics of Rawls seem to completely ignore this important and integral part of his theory.

8+/10

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Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Turtleback Books, 1998
350 pages
Author: David Keirsey

This book systematized and popularized MBTI, and it was interesting when it came out, but it’s now outdated.
Only because of popularity and a huge marketing machine behind it, Recruiters, HR Managers and people of all sorts are still using MBTI today to make strategic decisions (especially in the Anglosphere), which testifies the lack of scientific thinking in our society.

Anyway, it must also be kept in mind that the Big 5 (or 6) model, which is currently regarded as the most reliable one in psychology, was influenced by MBTI:
The I/E dimension remained the same.
The S/N dimension roughly corresponds to Openness-Intellect.
The J/P dimension roughly corresponds to Conscientiousness-Orderliness.

The trickiest dimension, and the most obviously wrong, was the T/F one. On paper, T/F seems to be a classification of decision-making preferences, but those preferences are very sketchy and poorly explained/supported. Decision-making ‘based on facts vs. feelings’ doesn’t really mean anything, so what T/F really measures seem to be raw brain power and emotional stability mixed together, so a mix of the Intellect and the Neuroticism dimensions.
But, if you read all the F personas described in PUM, you can also see how they’re all depicted as highly Agreeable. At the same time, though, the T personas are *not* described as low in Agreeableness.
So basically, just like in feel-good astrology, Fs were told they were highly A (skipping the I and N interpretations), and Ts that they were highly rational (skipping the A and N interpretations).
And, if you take a look at discussions in online MBTI forums and groups, you can find plenty of people who scored high on T/F because of each one of those three (I, A, N) very different reasons (with the most common ones being low Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring T, high Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring ExFx, and high Neuroticism as a predictor of scoring IxFx).
Mixing those three dimensions into one and trying to portrait idealistic archetypes made the whole model extremely confusing and unreliable, and the Big 5 put some order to that.

Then of course there’s the binary choice problem: MBTI is black and white and puts people into 16 exact boxes, so it ends up saying that a person who hypothetically scores 49% on one dimension is more similar to someone scoring 1% on the same dimension than to another one scoring 51% – which is completely absurd, since 49% and 51% are basically the same result.

The book’s most useful and insightful points are the ones talking about the 4 different types of intelligence, and the ones about mating strategies. NT-NF couples really seem to work extremely well.
(Also, luckily Keirsey completely ignores the theory of “cognitive functions”, the most pseudoscientific part of MBTI.)

P.S. For the curious among you: I score as INTJ.

7/10

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The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Free Press, 2010 (first published 1994)
912 pages
Authors: Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein

It’s the most famous book by Murray, and most likely also his worst.
It must be noted that a lot of people attacked and still attack TBC without having really read it – the book is deeply flawed, but it’s not a racial eugenics manifesto, and doesn’t even focus on race.

The book was published only 4 years after the Human Genome Project started, but presented as definitive, established facts things that were not, and still aren’t. The authors, who are not genetists, misrepresented the state of genetics by taking simplistic stances and presenting them as if they were the scientific consensus.
Even worse, the book damaged the possibility of seriously debating biology-informed policymaking, by proposing policies based on that simplistic misrepresentation and not even really backed by the book’s own content.

The whole book flows from a catastrophically wrong assumption: that “heritability” means “genetic determination”.
This alone is enough to make TBC a pseudoscientific work.

There are also other fallacies. The authors are always careful enough to mention studies showing that the relationship between genetic components and environmental contributors is so complex that we basically don’t know how to separate them, and we don’t really know how and why IQ/ability does or doesn’t increase both inter-generationally and during the first 15 years of life, but then they go on with their conclusions as if those studies were irrelevant or not even mentioned a few pages earlier. In reality, most of the contradicting studies they quote, like the documented increase of 7 IQ points per decade in 18 year olds in The Netherlands and Belgium from the 1950s to the 1980s, are enough to falsify their conclusions.

More recent studies have even shown that IQ heritability itself is high among high socioeconomic status families, but significantly lower among low socioeconomic status families, thus showing TBC’s conclusions are not only the product of a false equivalence, but also of fallacious measures in the first place.
Which demonstrates how more research into heritability is especially important: to falsify pseudoscience that has a particularly dangerous potential.

So what’s there to save? The first chapters in particular, where the authors describe the phenomenon of social, economic and cognitive clustering in the American society, which wasn’t as clearly perceived as a problem in the 1990s as it is now (we’re only now, maybe, waking up to the nefarious effect on Western democracies of bubbles and polarization, combined with other issues). But TBC doesn’t analyze it the way it should (again, the authors like the simplistic and wrong explanation of “genetic determination” too much to do that), and Murray wrote another book in 2012 talking about the same process more at length.
Another interesting and important point is the steady decline in fertility of high-IQ women, but, again, it’s not really analyzed.
The heated debate stirred up by TBC also contributed to a widespread revision of the “blank slate” assumption, and underlined some negative externalities of some policymaking based on strict and fixed demographic categories.

More in-depth and very balanced reviews that I fully agree with, and that explain all the other problems with TBC way better than I possibly could:
http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html
http://reason.com/archives/1995/03/01/cracked-bell/

Check the textbook Psychology, chapter “Intelligence”, for a correct overview of what science knows about it.
Check The History and Geography of Human Genes for a serious book about genetics and human differences.

4/10

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Il potere è noioso: Il mondo globalizzato raccontato dal più anarchico degli economisti

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Baldini&Castoldi, 2016
125 pages
Author: Alberto Forchielli

Forchielli è un personaggio incredibile, larger-than-life si direbbe negli USA, e si sentiva la mancanza di un libro che ne catturasse allo stesso tempo pensiero e personalità. Quindi, un ringraziamento a Mengoli.
Il libro è infotainment di alto livello, completamente all’opposto di ciò che viene invece propinato continuamente dai MSM italiani, ai quali funge da antidoto. Si parla di economia, business, geopolitica, policy, WW2, valori etici e cenni autobiografici, con particolare attenzione a Italia e Cina. E, dall’inizio alla fine, si spara a zero su tutto e tutti, con passaggi esilaranti infilati in mezzo a una sfilza di osservazioni scomode e amare. Gli argomenti toccati sono dozzine, e per tanto nessuno di essi viene davvero approfondito – il testo non va dunque preso come un saggio, ma più che altro come un lungo blogpost, o una lunga chiacchierata a cena.
Ciò che oltretutto colpisce di Forchielli è l’avere in sé in parti eguali lo spirito della piccola città italiana degli anni ’60-’70 e lo spirito globalista e futuristico della corsa al progresso tecnologico ed economico più avanzata. In questo lo vedo come un perfetto “ponte” tra due mondi, uno capace di spiegare e indicare al primo la via per il secondo, ma resta purtroppo un esemplare rarissimo.

Frase-chiave: “Un’azienda si può sempre acquistare, ma un modello socio-economico non è ancora in vendita”.

8/10

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Posted by StepTb su settembre 9, 2016

Random House, 2007
401 pages

Nina’s review is spot-on.
I’m a big supporter of “contrarian thinking”, but I think Taleb is an intellectual hack, and the amount of credit he gets leaves me speechless.
Everything he does is:
1. Re-packaging and re-marketing well-known concepts (mainly from Complexity and Behavioral Finance) people started to introduce in the 1980s as something he himself discovered/defined, creating a personal jargon in an attempt to make them sound new (and as a rethorical trick to beat opponents in discussions, since that way he’s the one defining the playing field, instead of any actual discipline);
2. Re-packaging and re-marketing them as “paradigm shifters” that, as he “demonstrates”, easily “destroy” entire disciplines… that is, the same disciplines that actually *introduced* them, or that have already been discussing/analyzing/rejecting/absorbing them for years, if not decades;
3. In the process, insulting and mocking entire fields, completely rejecting the concept of intellectual humility – the most important trait a philosopher, scientist or thinker must have. I’ll repeat myself, but Apology is a book everyone should read, understand and apply to their lives – we’d avoid so many problems, including people falling for cult leaders and scammers (ironic, since Taleb enjoys citing Roman and Greek thinkers – probably just because, superficially, he sees them as an opposite to a contemporary world he doesn’t like);
4. Using a self-contradicting, aggressive, “prophetic” rethoric typical of cult leaders and scammers:
A. Nobody knows anything! [them]
B. …But I know everything! [us]
C. (so here’s the solution I’m selling you: myself and my books) [come join us]

Shameless.

If you find Taleb’s books brilliant and/or insightful, I recommend you Rational Choice in an Uncertain World and The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Taleb’s “turkey fable” and all his observations about historicism are stolen from Popper and Russell), for starters.

5/10

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Charles Murray – The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Posted by StepTb su settembre 7, 2016

Crown Business, 2014
144 pagine

A book divided in four parts.

“On the Presentation of Self in the Workplace” [7]: many good points, but, in some others, Murray just sounds like a grumpy nostalgic man out of touch with the contemporary workplace realities. A lot of people seem to judge negatively or ‘sarcastically’ the entire book because of this part, but it’s also the only actually grumpy and clearly conservative one.
“On Thinking and Writing Well” [7]: a more technical, dry part. Murray tried to put together a very short list of dos and don’ts of writing well, but you can already find the topic discussed better and much more in depth in The Elements of Style, Words Fail Me and Common Errors in English Usage, that the author himself cites, plus others like On Writing Well and the contemporary The Sense of Style.

The second half of the book is easily the best one.
“On the Formation of Who You Are” [8] is a highly practical and highly insightful series of life advices concerning career, experiences and ethics. His advice targeted at the ‘elite kids’ is particularly sound.
This great section is everything books like The Start-Up of You and tons of other self-help fluff should have been, and are not.
It seems like its chapter about being judgemental is the one most people have a problem with. In fact, it’s not controversial at all. Murray roughly says three things: not all opinions are equal (experts exist), we can’t avoid judging, and, since there’s no choice anyway, we should do it with a ‘bigger picture’, ethical goal in mind. All these points make perfect sense.
Rejecting the concept of ‘being judgemental’ as outlined by Murray implies a point of view similar to ‘all opinions are equal’, which in turn implies rejecting the concept of expertise – a rapidly and dangerously growing position in the Internet era, that leads to populism, pseudoscience, scammers and other bad stuff triumphing. And also a ridiculous position, because, if it were true, we should have already eliminated all higher education institutions and all job titles (hence Murray’s point about the hypocritical nature of it).
(plus: people leaving one-star harsh reviews because they don’t agree with the author’s views on being judgemental: don’t they see the irony in all this?).
Finally, “On the Pursuit of Happiness” [8] contains wise advices on how to deal with fame, fortune, religion and marriage. And it ends with two essential recommendations: reading The Nicomachean Ethics, and watching Groundhog Day repeatedly. What’s not to love?

7.5/10

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Tina Seelig – What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

Posted by StepTb su settembre 6, 2016

HarperOne, 2009
184 pages

The assignment described at the beginning of the book doesn’t make much sense. If you give a problem to solve with a fixed amount of money and a fixed amount of time, adding external resources and time isn’t “thinking outside of the box”, but answering a different problem, since, in real life situations, what is fixed is fixed. I’m surprised a PhD in Neuroscience doesn’t see the logical error.
The rest of the book is a nice read, but, being heavily Valley-centric, most young people coming from very different backgrounds will have trouble relating to its examples and stories – the author herself recognizes the power of cultural differences (the anecdotes in the chapters “The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley” and “No Way… Engineering Is for Girls”), but she doesn’t go in depth very much.
Anyway, it provides a good introduction to topics like teamwork, problem solving, entrepreneurship, and “giving yourself permission”.
The most interesting chapter is probably “The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley”, with its observations about failing and failures (especially if we consider this was published a couple of years before The Lean Startup), and, in particular, the link between people working in the creative industries and their usefully comfortable relationship with failure (since it has always inherently belonged to their sector), and all the others, who have a radically different approach to it.

7/10

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Humphrey B. Neill – The Art of Contrary Thinking

Posted by StepTb su giugno 15, 2016

Caxton Press, 2010
201 pagine

First published in 1954 and updated in subsequent editions by the author until 1963, this book predates various observations and topics of modern behavioral economics.
To understand and appreciate it, you need to keep in mind it was written during the era when Keynesianism was ruling undisputed (roughly from 1945 to 1973), and both social scientists and policy makers were thinking of the prosperity puzzle as solved and of human economic activity as predictable.
Neill was going against the grain, part of a skeptical minority. This also explains why he doesn’t seem to apply the same strict contrarian rules to his own ideological biases – which become obvious in some black-and-white thinking passages (other than when he self-describes as “Libertarian”, “conservative”, “realistic reactionary”, and when he cites, p. 150, “Ayn Rand’s wonderful new book, Atlas Shrugged” – ugh).
The book is heavily and explicitly influenced by Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Charles Mackay, 1841), Les Lois de L’Imitation (Gabriel Tarde, 1890), and Gustave Le Bon (La Psychologie des Foules, 1895; Psychologie du Socialisme, 1896).
The edition I bought (6th ed., Caxton Press 2010) has way too many typos – the editors did a poor job.

Some key passages:

pp. 42-44:

The public is perhaps right more of the time than not. In stockmarket parlance, the public is right during the trends but wrong at both ends!
One can assert that the public is usually wrong at junctures of events and at terminals of trends.
So, to be cynical, you might say, “Yes, the public is always wrong when it pays to be right – but is far from wrong in the meantime”. […]
The “time element” is the most elusive factor in economics. We need to get that fixed firmly in our minds. (Insofar as I am aware, there is no known method of timing events or trends).
Therefore, when we adopt a contrary opinion, as a guide, we must recognize that we may be too far ahead of the crowd. This is because economic trends often are very slow in turning, or reversing.

p. 80:

Students of crowd psychology know that the average voter pays scant attention to the fundamental facts concerning either the candidate or the platform. He accepts “what he feels”. The forces of suggestibility and contagion form the image in his mind.
Mystery is an al-powerful tool. “Tell ‘em nothing and promise ‘em anything”, counsels the politician; “and, above all, never reason with voters; affirm but never explain; repeat what you’ll do for ‘em, but never argue”.

pp. 83-85:

The aim of this writer’s contrary comments is to proffer interpretations in the field of economic psychology, still largely unexplored. One does not find, for example, the title “Economic Psychologist” used as yet. The few writers who are paying serious attention to the study of human behaviorism and its influence upon economic trends refer to themselves as sociologists, economists, or psychologists.
However, it is evident from studies and papers presented in recent years – and from the surveys of consumer intentions and attitudes which have been conducted for the Federal Reserve Board – that the field of economic psychology is one in which serious concentration will be focussed in coming years. […]
So, while we cannot foretell the future, we can be confident that economic psychology will be a required subject for study as we learn more about economic trends and cycles – and what starts and stops them.

p. 92:

However, we need not to be too discouraged, it seems to me, because the whole field of economics remains a “guessy” one. Little, if any, progress has been made over the years in attaining profitable accuracy in economic forecasting. And, mind you, this condition still exists, notwithstanding the extraordinary volume of statistics that is now available to students and which was not known to former forecasters.
It seems to me that the long history of economic forecasting clearly demonstrates that “psychology” is the missing key. You may have all the statistics in the world at your finger tips, but still you do not know how or when people are going to act. Accordingly, the statistics frequently lead you astray.

p. 94:

A basic usefulness of contrary opinions is to guard against predicting the unpredictable; or, to put it another way, to avoid being ensnared by faulty general predictions. […]
I believe it is correct to say that the theory [of Contrary Opinion] is more valuable in avoiding errors in forecasting than in employing it for definitive forecasting.

pp. 101-102

Making predictions has become a mania. Practically all economists are called upon for their future views – and many go out of their way to write articles and make speeches about “what’s ahead”. […]
But the significant fact for us to hold before us is that the more prominence predictions receive the more inaccurate they are likely to be. […]
If you believe the predictions, you go against them to protect yourself. Thus, you help the predictions to go haywire.

p. 104

Most of us can’t stand being alone more than half an hour, and our idea of reflection is merely to reflect and repeat what someone has told us! (We’re imitators, that is.)

pp. 106-107

[Entrepreneurs] built so fast and furious that their second step – of combining enterprises and pyramiding one on top of another – has led to the submersion of individual effort and the fostering of group effort and the conformity of the individuals to a mass pattern. […]
Business organizations have become too large for individual management. We have entered the era of group management. Mass conformity has, naturally, gone along. […]
May it not be that cyclical movements will be of greater (rather than lesser) intensity in the future, because of this development of mass conformity?

pp. 110-111

It takes us average humans a considerable interval to shift our viewpoints, once we have established a given mental outlook.
That is, if we have (mentally) accepted a trend as moving in one direction, we are not inclined to change our outlook until well after the trend turns. […]
However, if we adopt a contrary course and try to anticipate a change in the current, we’re more likely to recognize the signs of an approaching whirlpool or precipitous drop than if we merely assume that if the river is smooth here it must be smooth all the way.

pp. 113-114

As you browse over the opinion which have been published through the years – in eras of good times and bad – you are struck over and over again by how often the prevailing conditions produced the opinions; […] Little effort was made to analyze what had happened previously – things which would cause a change in the future.

p. 118

When economic affairs are booming and “everybody” feels cheerful, optimistic, and prosperous, no one wants to hear disparaging remarks or bad news about how things are going. […] If someone suggests that booms and periods of optimism always overshoot the mark and bring about corrective reactions, that said someone is called a “prophet of gloom”. He is politely (or unpolitely) told to shut his pessimistic mouth. […]
At another time, when the economy has been slumping and “times are bad”, then the opposite psychology prevails. People […] get into the frame of mind that allows them to believe that everything is in bad shape. What is more, they expect things will remain that way. […]
Rut-thinking is a common trait. I have said that the art of contrary thinking may be stated simply: thrust your thoughts out of a rut.

p. 125

The “crowd” is most enthusiastic and optimistic when it should be caustious and prudent; and is most fearful when it should be bold.

p. 128

I’m confident you are aware of how different a wellthought-out opinion is from one that is caught on the fly, so to speak, or one that is merely a reflection of a crowd’s fears or hopes. An individual may think out his opinions, whereas a crowd is swayed by emotional viewpoints rather than by reasoning or reason-why arguments.
Emotional and thoughtless opinions spread widely from imitation and contagion.

p. 131

Being positive, specific, and dogmatic is about the most harmful habit one can fall into. […]
The value of the contrary approach is the opposite. It prevents one from being a dogmatist; one avoids being positive about conjectural matters; as one reads, he mentally needles the writer or commentator.

p. 133

Instead of leaping abruptly from affirmation to its opposite (from general opinions to contrary opinions), we need to consider the synthesis (combination) of parts of general opinions and their opposites. […]
Take the leap from the General Opinion to its Opposite (or from affirmation to negation) and then, from the ideas thus released, work back to a speculative and reflective conclusion, or synthesis. In this way, we may avoid denying facts which are elements in the generalized opinions we are analyzing contrarily.

p. 140

It is evident, I think, that propaganda, skillfully engineered, manipulates opinions. […]
We are now witnessing, and shall increasingly experience, “thought and desire manipulation” which is almost firghtening to contemplate. I do not hesitate to assert that contrarianism offers protection against the Depth Manipulators.

pp. 155-156

Remarking that to be able to be caught up into the world of thought – “is to be educated”, Miss Hamilton emphasizes that the Athenian method of education was not geared to mass production. It did not produce people who instinctively all went in one way, and were conformists. There were countless contrarians in Greece back in Socrates’ day.

p. 166

Many devotees of chart reading, for forecasting stock prices, subscribe to the idea that a chart is worth a thousand words of analysis and statistics. Permit me to twist this around. I maintain “the right contact is worth a thousand charts”.

pp. 173-174

The sameness of writings on business, finance, and economics – and of course on the stock market – is such that it is almost impossible for an individual to think for himself. He is brainwashed.
The protection against brainwashing is contrary brainwork. It is hard work to think, but it is worth it.[…]
If Washington experts appear before our television screens with brave predictions of things to come, let us not forget that they are there to persuade us to think their way. The open-mouth policy is a scheduled phase of modern government.[…]
There is one noticeable trait – a paradox – that is pertinent to today’s trends of opinions: a) A person is commonly slow to change his mind, while being b) Quick to pounce on a new fad or shift to a new fashion.
Which is to say we are quick to conform, but slow to differ.

pp. 182-183

It seems impossible that in the gret Tulip Mania in Holland in 1640 the human herd could be such utter fools as to bid up tulip bulbs to 5500 fiorins each (equal to approximately $3,000) and crack a nation’s banking system in the process.[…]
And did it really happen in our lifetime that clergymen demanded “a life (sentence) for a pint”; and the confiscation of automobiles and the closing of huge hotels for what is now completely legal?
When mass manias are tied to a personality (Napoleon), patriotism (war), or God (the Crusades, or witchcraft), the hypnotic contagion of the crowd has no limits. It must wear itself out, as in the case of the Crusades, that took two hundred years.

7.5/10

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Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha – The Start-Up of You

Posted by StepTb su febbraio 12, 2016

Cornerstone Digital, 2012
272 pages

Bonnie’s review nailed it.
The more or less useful 20% of the book can be completely found for free by watching this talk and this talk.
The other 80% is basically just a long infomercial for LinkedIn, and, even worse, is written in an annoying, pseudo-inspirational, fluffy self-helpish style.
It’s not a good representation of what Hoffman (a very interesting and insightful man) has to say at all (you’ll hear way more of that by watching this, this, this, this, etc.), and is therefore a big let-down and a lost occasion. His actual active involvement in the writing process was likely very limited.
For something with substance and written in a normal, digestible way, read The Millennial Game Plan, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead instead.

5-/10

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John McWhorter – The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language

Posted by StepTb su settembre 24, 2015

Oxford University Press, 2014
208 pagine

Sensationalistic title. You’d expect a work of total debunking but you won’t find it here, since the material isn’t suitable for something like that (not overwhelming, black-and-white incontestable enough).
The actual content isn’t much, and you can already find it, explained in a neutral/non-polemical way, in many books that cover the subject.

6.5/10

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