Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of the best-selling books The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, has a new book coming out on November 30th, 2010. The name of his new book is The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms. For fans of Taleb’s work and ideas, this should be a welcome addition to Taleb’s existing body of work.
Procrustes is a character from Greek mythology. According to the myth, he owned an estate and would abduct people traveling through. He had a special bed he kept for these travelers, and the bed was of a certain length. He would force the travelers to fit into the bed, and he would do this by chopping down the legs of taller travelers and stretching out shorter travelers, all so they would fit the bed.
The myth of Procustes is used by Taleb to describe what humans commonly do. We often have preconceived ideas, models, and belief systems, and we try to “stretch” the world around us to fit these preconceptions. We try to force the world around us to match what we already believe, and we often face disastrous consequences because of this problem. Taleb believes that it is only when we embrace the unknown and accept the limits of our knowledge that we can truly understand the world around us. Nassim Taleb
Taleb is known primarily for his Black Swan Theory, which describes events that are very hard or even impossible to predict yet have a huge impact. Part of the nature of Black Swan events is that the probability of them occurring is very small, so they are unpredictable before they occur. However, the same psychological biases that prevent us from predicting these events make them seem perfectly predictable and foreseen after they occur.
Taleb gained a lot of notoriety from his Black Swan Theory, in large part because his ideas were able to both predict and explain the financial crisis of 2007-2008. He has also been a prominent critic of the Federal Reserve, regulators, and the bankers who are seen as largely responsible for the crisis.
He has been on a “media blackout” for some time because he became tired of answering the same questions about his book and his theories. He has spoken to the media occasionally during the past few months, but regular readers of his are probably very excited that he is emerging from the blackout to share a new book.