• Alex Vikner

The Bed of Procrustes

Author: Nassim Taleb


Summary: The Bed of Procrustes is a series of philosophical aphorisms that contrasts the classical values of courage, elegance, and erudition against the modern diseases of nerdiness, philistinism, and phoniness. The title refers to the Greek mythological figure Procrustes who abducted travelers and stretched or chopped their bodies to fit the length of his bed.

Your brain is the most intelligent when you don't instruct it on what to do.


Work destroys your soul by stealthily invading your brain during the hours not officially spent working; be selective about professions.


In nature we never repeat the same motion; in captivity (office, gym, commute, sports), life is just repetitive-stress injury. No randomness.


If you know, in the morning , what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead—the more precision, the more dead you are.


Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.


Erudition without bullshit, intellect without cowardice, courage without imprudence, mathematics without nerdiness, scholarship without academia, intelligence without shrewdness, elegance without softness, sociality without dependence, enjoyment without addiction, and above all, nothing without skin in the game.


Never say no twice if you mean it.


Much of the difference between what is work and what is leisure is branding.


Most mistakes get worse when you try to correct them.


The test of whether you really liked a book is if you reread it (and how many times); the test of whether you really likedsomeone's company is if you are ready to meet him again and again.

Almost all those caught making a logical fallacy interpret it as "disagreement".


Being unimaginative is only a problem when you are easily bored.


Friendship that ends was never one; there was at least one sucker in it.


Most people fear being without audiovisual stimulation because they are too repetitive when they think and imagine things on their own.


It is a very powerful manipulation to let others win the small battles.


Life is about execution rather than purpose.


If you get easily bored, it means your BS detector is functioning properly; if you forget (some) things, it means that your mind knows how to filter; and if you feel sadness, it means that you are human.


It is a very recent disease to mistake the unobserved for the nonexistant; but some are plagued with the worse disease of mistaking the unobserved for the unobservable.


The ultimate freedom lies in not having to explain why you did something.


It is not possible to have fun when you try.


Automation makes otherwise pleasant activities turn into "work".


For life to be really fun, what you fear should line up with what you desire.


Religion isn't so much about telling man that there is one God as about preventing man from thinking that he is God.


The book is the only medium left that hasn't been corrupted by the profane: everything else on your eyelids manipulates you with an ad.


One categorical: it is easier to fast than diet.


What fools call "wasting time" is most often the best investment.


Karl Marx, a visionary, figured out that you can control a slave much better by convincing him that he is an employee.


The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.


You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.


Someone who says "I am busy" is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.


To succeed in life requires a total inability to do anything that makes you uncomfortable when you look at yourself in the mirror.


You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.


The difference between love and happiness is that those who talk about love tend to be in love, but those who talk about happiness tend to not be happy.


You can tell how uninteresting a person is by asking him whom he finds interesting.


People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels—people who don't wantt to resemble when you grow up.


Most feed their obsessions by trying to get rid of them.


They are born, then put in a box; they go home to live in a box; they study by ticking boxes; they go to what is called "work" in a box, where they sit in their cubicle box; they drive to the grocery store in a box to buy food in a box; they go to the gym in a box to sit in abox; they talk about thinking "outside of the box"; and when they die they are put in a box. All boxes, Euclidian, geometrically smooth boxes.


Never hire an A student unless it is to take exams.


It seems that it is the most unsuccessful people who gvie the most advice, particularly for writing and financial matters.


There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.


The rational heuristic is to avoid any market commentary from anyone who has to work for a living.

Modernity inflicts a sucker narrative on activities; now we "walk for exercise", not "walk" with no justification; for hidden reasons.


Bureaucracy is a construction designed to maximize the distance between a decision-maker and the risks of the decision.


Social media are severly antisocial, health foods are empirically unhealthy, knowledge workers are very ignorant, and social sciences aren't scientific at all.

Executive programs allow us to watch people who have never worked lecturing those who have never pondered.


The fact that people in countries with cold weather tend to be harder working, richer, less relaxed, less amicable, less tolerant of idleness, more (over) organized and more harried than those in hotter climates should make us wonder whether wealth is mere indemnification, and motivation is just overcompensatiion for not having a real life.

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.


My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.


A good book gets better on the second reading. A great book on the third. Any book not worth rereading isn't worth reading.


If you need to listen to music while walking, don't walk; and please don't listen to music.


The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.


You have a real life if and only if you do not compete with anyone in any of your pursuits.


Only in recent history has "working hard" signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse, and mostly sprezzatura.


In summary, modernity replaced process with result and the relational with the transactional.

What they call "play" (gym, travel, sports) looks like work; the harder they try, the more captive they are.


We are hunters; we are only truly alive in those moments when we improvise; no schedule, just small surprises and stimuli from the environment.


For everything, use boredom in place of a clock, as a biological wristwatch, though under constraints of politeness.


A heuristic on whether you have control of your life: can you take naps?


Skills that transfer: street fights, off-path hiking, seduction, broad erudition. Skills that don't: school, games, sports, laboratory—what's reduced and organized.


Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.


Most people write so they can remember things; I write to forget.


What they call philosophy, I call literature; what they call literature I call journalism; what they call journalism I call gossip; and what they call gossip I call (generously) voyeurism.


If the professor is not capable of giving a class without preparation, don't attend. People should only teach what they have learned organically, through experience and curiosity... or get another job.


Charm lies in the unsaid, the unwritten, and the undisplayed. It takes mastery to control silence.

What I learned on my own I still remember.


The fool generalizes the particular; the nerd particularizes the general; some do both; and the wise does neither.


You want to be yourself, idiosyncratic; the collective (school, rules, jobs, technology) wants you generic to the point of castration.


True love is the complete victory of the particular over the general, and the unconditional over the conditional.


It is very difficult to argue with salaried people that the simple can be important and the important can be simple.


The tragedy is that much of what you think is random is in your control and, what's worse, the opposite.


The fool views himself as more unique and others more generic; the wise views himself as more generic and others more unique.


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.


To understand "progress": all places we call ugly are both man-made and modern, never natural or historical.


My biggest problem with modernity may lie in the growing separation of the ethical and the legal.


Another market for charlatans: they don't voice opinions that can get them in trouble.


Trust people who make aliving lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down.


Never take advice from a salesman, or any advice that benefits the advice giver.


You may outlive your strength, never your wisdom.


Ethical man accords his profession to his beliefs, instead of according his beliefs to his profession. This can been rarer and rarer since the Middle Ages.


Just as dyed hair makes older men less attractive, it is what you do to hide yoru weknesses that makes them rupugnant.


To understand how something works, figure out how to break it.


General principle: the solutions (on balance) need to be simpler than the problems.


When conflicted between two choice, take neither.


Just as eating cow meat doesn't turn you into a cow, studying philosophy doesn't make you wiser.


I suspect that IQ, SAT, and school grades are tests designed by nerds so that they can get high scores in order to call each other intelligent.


Most can't figure out why one can like rigorous knowledge and despise academics, yet they understand that one can like food and hate canned tuna.


Those who can't do shouldn't teach.


The problem with knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologists than books on birds written by biirds and books on ornithologists written by birds.


Change your anchor to what did not happen rather than what did happen.


Knwledge is subtractive, not additive—what we subtract (reductionby what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do).


Hapiiness: we don't know what it means, how to measure it, or how to reach it, but we know extremeely well how to avoid unhappiness.


To become a philosopher, start by walking very slowly.


Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinite.

It takes a lot of intellect and confidenceto accept that what makes sense doesn't really make sense.


There are three types of large corporations: those about to go bankrupt, those that are bankrupt and hide it, those that are bankrupt and don't know it.


Suckers think that you can cure greed with money, addiction with substances, expert problems with experts, banking with bankers, economics wiith economists, and debt crises with debt spending.


It is easier to macrobullshit than to microbullshit.


Being an entrepreneur is an existential not just a financial thing.


Never take investment advice from someone who has to work for a living.


To have a great day:

  1. Smile at a stranger

  2. Surprise someone by saying something unexpectedly nice

  3. Give some genuine attention to an elderly person

  4. Invite someone who deosn't have many friends for coffee

  5. Humiliate an economist, publicly, or create a deep anxiety inside a Harvard professor

It is a sign of weakness to avoid showing signs of weakness.


Risk takers never complain. They do.


Teh traits I respect are erudition and the courage to stand up when half-men are afraid for their reputation. Any idiot can be intelligent.


We viciously accept narcissism in nation-states, while repressing it in individuals: complexity exposes the system'sshaky moral foundations.


Contra the prevailing belief, success is not being on top of a hierarchy, it is standing outside of all hierarchies.


I never trust a man who doesn't have enemies.


The only people who think that real world experience doesn't matter are those iwth no real world experience.


The general principle of antifragility: it is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.


Love without sacrifice is like theft.


The ones who refer to you as "my friend" are most likely to betray you.


Wisdom isn't about understanding things (and people); it is knowing what they can do to you.

© Alex Vikner

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