Nassim Nicholas Taleb Quotes

Most popular Nassim Nicholas Taleb Quotes

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


If you don't feel that you haven't read enough, you haven't read enough.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


It takes some humanity to feel sympathy for those less fortunate than us; but it takes honor to avoid envying those who are much luckier.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


If we are the only animal with a sense of justice, it would clearly be because we also are about the only animal with a sense of cruelty.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

cruelty justice

Journalists cannot grasp that what is interesting is not necessarily important; most cannot even grasp that what is sensational is not necessarily interesting.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


To understand how something works, figure out how to break it.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


The first, and hardest, step to wisdom: avert the standard assumption that people know what they want.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

human nature

Multiplicative generosity: limit your generosity to those who, in turn, given the circumstances, would be equally generous towards others.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


The only valid political system is one that can handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

democracy politics society

A heuristic on whether you have control of your life: can you take naps?
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

life success

Electricians, barbers, gardeners, surgeons, tango dancers, are experts. Not economists.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

economists experts

It is a very powerful manipulation to let others win the small battles.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

dealing with people

Never hire an A student unless it is to take exams.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Life is about early detection of the reversal point beyond which your own belongings (say, a house, country house, car, or business) start owning you.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Contra the prevailing belief, "success" isn't being on top of a hierarchy, it is standing outside all hierarchies.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


People feel deep anxiety finding out that someone they thought was stupid is actually more intelligent than they are.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


People tend to whisper when they say the truth and raise their voice when they lie.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


People are much less interested in what you are trying to show them than in what you are tying to hide.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

human nature

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


If you get easily bored, it means that 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.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

boredom sadness

Trust those who trust you and distrust those who are suspicious of others.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Failure-resistant is achievable; failure-free is not.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


When people call you intelligent it is almost always because they agree with you. Otherwise they just call you arrogant.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

arrogance human nature

Some ideas are born as you write then down, others become dead.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

ideas writing

Almost all those caught making a logical fallacy interpret it as a "disagreement."
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Thinking that all individuals pursue "selfish" interests is equivalent to assuming that all random variables have zero covariance.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Let us find what risks we can measure and these are the risks we should be taking.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


If you want strangers to help you, smile. For those close to you, cry.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Envy, like thirst for revenge, is the wicked person's version of our natural sense of injustice.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

envy injustice revenge

Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love.


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


Never take investment advice from someone who has to work for a living.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


If you must explain it, don't.
Resist trying to impress your enemies.


Strength is a substitute for experience.
It is not possible to have fun when you try.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Nothing can be both boring and truly important.
The rich are much easier to bribe than the poor.
The weak may be virtuous but you may never know.


To insult your foes, don't try to win arguments.

arguments enemies insults

Never explain why something important is important.
The first one who uses "but" has lost the argument.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Make your failings public; keep your virtues secret.
Secretiveness works best under a cover of transparency.
A just person takes less than he or she is entitled to.


People are more convincing when they don't seem to care.


Finance is always straightforward before you lose money.
Wisdom is knowing what to worry about and what to ignore.


It is easiest to do the most when you have nothing to do.

personal productivity

Tell me what you don't read, I will tell you who you are.


Jokes cannot be jokes unless they are offensive somewhere.


It is quite a predicament to be both evil and risk-averse.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

evil risk-taking

For rewards, be predictable; for punishment, unpredictable.

management managing people

The more data we have, the more likely we are to drown in it.


It takes a lot of skills to be virtuous without being boring.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

boring people virtue

A weapon is something you only use once. Or, preferably, never.
We tend to underestimate others' ability to destroy themselves.
The best way to know people is to find out what they lie about.

human nature lying

The enemy of a devil is almost never a saint, but another devil.
The more details you give people, the more they ask for details.
The best skill for a clear mind is the ability to be bored early.


The longer someone's C.V., the less he or she will be remembered.


If assholes don't find you arrogant, you are doing something wrong.


When people give you two reasons consider the first one to be bogus.
The more luxurious your prison, the worse the sting of the captivity.
If someone is making an effort to ignore you, he is not ignoring you.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
To learn from a mistake, first figure out if it was really a mistake.


If you want to drive a fool to insolvency, lend her or him some money.
The saying "silence is gold" applies only to fools so they keep quiet.

holding your tongue

Crooks are more convincing when they lie than when they say the truth.
Most risk-takers aren't risk takers; they're just unsuspecting cowards.


A sign of development is the lack of prestige for government positions.


The problem isn't being on a steady salary. The problem is enjoying it.


You cannot be free with your opinion if you are not free with your time.


An allergy is your body experiencing purposeless and self-harming anger.
Small injustice dresses up as vice; large injustice dresses up as virtue.

injustice vice & virtue

If you need others to know that you are doing well, you're not doing well.


To do well, you must figure out which arguments you must never try to win.


Never judge those you befriend and never befriend those you have to judge.

friendship judging

If you need to argue in support of your investment, it's not an investment.


A trader is someone who knows how to lose money without getting used to it.
If you're busy at work odds are you will eventually be replaced by a robot.


If you only worry about things others worry about, one must worry about you.


You will never know for sure if someone is an asshole until he becomes rich.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

character wealth

For most people, it takes less effort to reveal a secret than to conceal it.


Old enemies and new friends can't harm you; new enemies and old friends can.

enemies friendship

The more humans try to become demi-gods, the more they become full monsters.


If someone's insults bother you; it is evidence that you respect her or him.


Most humans either harm or are harmed by words. The rest is a small minority.


You become free when there is no distinction between journey and destination.


To be free, you must be the customer, except of course in times of shortages.


If you must panic, panic early. Be scared when you can, not when you have to.


Immigration by individuals is immigration. Immigration by groups is invasion.
Success is if you don't derive a secret pleasure from other people's failure.


Independent is what people will call you if your opinions don't upset anybody.
A genius is (typically) someone about whom whatever you might say will be true.


If you were not called "lazy" by at least one employer, you will never get rich.
Given time, every secret will be eventually busted, unless nobody cares about it.


Never take an advice from a salesman, or any advice that benefits the advice giver.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


People reveal much more about themselves while lying than when they tell the truth.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


The phony tries to have prominent friends; the righteous will have prominent enemies.
Modernists take religion literally and science metaphorically rather than the reverse.

science & religion

If you want people to like you, do not give them advice. Instead, ask them for advice.


In a good conversation, it is often the most significant that will remain undiscussed.


Your duty is to scream those truths that one should shout but that are merely whispered.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

duty truth

To check if it is a fraud, don't investigate the merchant. Rather, look at the customers.
Prosperity comes with three terminal diseases: debt, obesity, and (standardized) tourism.


Golf was invented to prevent those who shouldn't be reading books from reading bad books.


If wit signals intellect without nerdiness, platitudes signal nerdiness without intellect.

platitudes wit

Probability is the intersection of the most rigorous mathematics and the messiest of life.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Swearing on occasion, amid a rich vocabulary, is costly signaling that you are self-owned.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
What counts is not what people say about you, it is how much energy they spend in saying it.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

what others think

Never rid anyone of an illusion unless you can replace it in his mind with another illusion.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


A society is as advanced as its treatment of its weak, its handicapped and its incapacitated.


I've never seen a shortage that was not followed by a glut, but I've seen irreversible gluts.
Never debate your enemies. Make them angry and get them to complain endlessly and repeatedly.


One thing is worse than being blamed for the wrong reason: being praised for the wrong reason.

parenting praise

If you want to make people miserable, pay them (generously and predictably) for their hobbies.
If you like them, wish them financial security. If you dislike them, wish them extreme wealth.


Remove all empty words from writings, résumés, conversation, except when they aim at courtesy.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

writing advice

In the medical and social domains, treatment should never be equivalent to silencing symptoms.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The main reason we don't jail bankers is that they would scam the other, more innocent, inmates.
If you have an investment and don't know how you can lose money on it, don't have that investment.


Those obsessing over inequality want the rich to become poorer rather than the poor getting richer.


I wonder how many people would seek excessive wealth if it did not carry a measure of status with it.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

status wealth

You can tell how poor someone feels by the number of times he references "money" in his conversation.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


We have always failed in replacing vice with virtue and succeeded in replacing vice with lesser vice.

vice & virtue

With most pundits, you get vastly more information from knowing their name than reading their content.
In real life exams, someone gives you an answer and you have to find the best corresponding questions.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

asking questions

You can have a research career if and only if you do research without trying to have a research career.


Knowing stuff others don't know is most effective when others don't know you know stuff they don't know.


It is lacking in critical thinking to think that studying philosophy will improve your critical thinking.

critical thinking philosophy

Instead of journalism becoming more scientific, it is science that is becoming more and more journalistic.

journalism science

The young instinctively disrespect those elderly they don't want to become when they, in turn, become old.

youth & age

Executive programs allow us to watch people who have never worked lecturing those who have never pondered.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


The freer and more transparent a society, the more you will hear complaints about freedom and transparency.

freedom society

The problem with academics is that they really think nonacademics find them more intelligent than themselves.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Naive science is about the observables that were observed; real science is about unobservables and unobserved.


In your prayers substitute "Protect us from evil" with "Protect us from those who improve things for a salary."
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Life is much, much easier when you treat all humans as flawed and defective, but each flawed in different ways.

how to live life

Those who say "I feel sorry for you" mean "I feel envy". Those who really feel sorry for you don't say anything.
Just as you don't want to know when you will die, you shouldn't know when the weekend or the vacation terminates.


Envy is impossible to conceal. It manipulates you; like squid ink on your nose, visible to others but not to you.


If a doorman calls you an asshole, you're an asshole. If an intellectual calls you an asshole, you may be a saint.


Principles do not need to make sense locally. The broader and more universal the reach, the stronger the principle.


If you lost interest in a subject matter right after a final exam, you fooled the system and the system fooled you.


It isn't what you know that makes you knowledgeable and rigorous; it is in the type of mistakes that you don't make.


When you say something you think are just saying something, but you are largely communicating why you had to say it.


Real sagacity is when you know what your enemy will try to do to you even before he or she comes up with the thought.


The most interesting and rewarding actions are the ones that lend themselves to the smallest amount of justification.
In academia, the less relevant, applicable, or interesting the point, the larger the number of publications around it.


Some modern comforts and luxuries don't make you happier; they just make your life miserable when you don't have them.


One of life's machinations is to make some people both rich and unhappy, that is, jointly fragile and deprived of hope.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


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


Make sure your enemies keep complaining about you — ideally bringing a different thing every time they voice a complaint.


People focus on role models; it is more effective to find anti models - people you don't want to resemble when you grow up.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

role models

The general principle of antifragility: it is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Everyone feels shame when perceived to be unethical. Even crooks think they are ethical somewhere and in some circumstances.

human nature

If someone finds fault with everything you say or do, ignore. But there is information from those who differ on the occasion.


One reason we think the past was more violent than reality is because historians have an incentive to discuss wars, not peace.


Behavioral economics can be summarized as follows: "human beings are suckers". My summary: "Behavioral economists are suckers".


When the oppressed becomes oppressor (almost) inevitably happens, do not expect too much charity, understanding, and compassion.


Humans have always lived under the illusion that they can control markets, modify human nature, and get their spouses to change.

human nature

There is something common to modern "liberal" and Salafi educations: they teach students answers rather than how to ask questions.


The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.


To avoid slackening and receding as you age, you must keep making new intelligent enemies, assuming you are lucky enough to find them.


There is no more confusing, bewildering, and metaphysically dizzying sentiment than when you feel pity towards a disgusting individual.


Unlike clocks, vacuum cleaners, enema equipment and other human designs, a complex system is never finished; it never has a "final" shape.
The fool considers that what he doesn't understand is either extremely stupid, or extremely intelligent, pending on how others react to it.


Classifying psychology as "science" reminds me of the Reagan administration's categorization of Ketchup in school cafeterias as "vegetable".


Nature never spoils your vacation by letting you know when it ends. Nature has no Sunday night, no Monday morning, and no back-to-school dates.


Under ubiquitous surveillance, it is not just the state watching people, but also people watching the state, and, worse, people watching people.
Physicists take something complicated and try to make it simpler. Psychologists take something very complicated and make it even more complicated.


Elephant: my favorite animal: takes no crap, gives no crap, harms no-one but when one tries to harm it, it has no clemency and never, never forgets.
There are three types of large corporations: those about to go bankrupt, those that are bankrupt and hide it, and those that are bankrupt and don't know it.
The crowd detects weakness, the difference between an action caused by principles and one driven by fear. It is after you apologize that you get in trouble.


If you lose some money, it's an exploration. It you lose a bit of money, it's bad luck. If you blow up, it is incompetence. Any unplanned toss is incompetence.


Mathematics offer certainties but not effectiveness. Engineering offers effectiveness but not certainties. Social science offers neither certainties nor effectiveness.
We did not break the mafia by being kind, considerate, while delivering trite lectures on behavior and morality. In the presence of rent seeking, you break by breaking.
If you can guess someone's commentary given 1) her or his name, 2) the news of the day, with a reasonable precision, then you must treat that commentator as non-existent.
Language is largely made to show-off, gossip, confuse people, delude them, charm them, seduce them, scare them, and exploit them. And, as a side effect, convey information.


You must impress your accountant rather than the neighbors, your cardiologist rather than gym rats, your readers rather than book editors, and Sparta rather than its enemies.

how to live life

If you have to demonstrate why something that has never been a currency, and is not currently used as a currency, will some day become a currency, it will never be a currency.
The expression "I will be brief" at the beginning of a speech, sermon, or lecture was invented to allow people to be long-winded (and boring) without the slightest amount of guilt.


Summarizing the principles in the Incerto: that something is knowable doesn't mean that you know it; that something is unknowable doesn't imply that you can't do anything about it.


There is a phase in life when you figure out how to unlearn things, discarding beliefs with the same secret pleasure you get peeling scabs, picking your nose or squeezing blisters.


Possessing two or more houses is like having two or more attention-seeking and financially aggressive spouses, with equal sets of highly inquisitive, normative, and overactive in-laws.
The looks of people used to allow you to identify those who share the same parents. But, with modernity, they now allow you mostly to identify those who share the same plastic surgeon.
You are free if everything you say in private (about public matters) can be made public. You reach the apex of freedom if everything you think in private (about public matters) can be made public.


In any profession, nine out of ten are clueless but work by situational imitation, narrow mimicry and semi-conscious role-playing — except social "Science" and journalism where it is ten out of ten.


To be respected as you advance in age, you must be independent, preferably rich, physically strong, and threatening to those who f**k with you. If you're not powerful they will never call you "wise".


You are a soldier only if you have been in battle; you are a trader only if you have lost money; you are an entrepreneur only if you have failed; and you are an author only if you have been plagiarized.


When you are shown a picture of an unspoiled, lush, and picturesque lakeside forest, imagine that, in person, you would be exposed to the summer heat, high humidity, and, mostly, exasperating mosquito bites.
When you see from the outside a quaint village with a seemingly idyllic life, consider that the locals are preoccupied with local intrigues, split into fractious alliances, and entangled into petty disputes.
Humans need to complain just as they need to breathe. Never stop them; just manipulate them by controlling what they complain about and supply them with reasons to complain. They will complain but be thankful.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Some people's conversation is like a ketogenic diet book: you've read one, you've read them all. Others are like a rich novel. Every time you read it, you think you are reading another, different, even better, novel.
Every bubble in history is the iteration of the same bubble dressed in slightly different clothes, where those with no experience of bubbles claim that those with experience of past bubbles are old and have ... too much experience.
Drill into your head that no matter what you say, no matter what you do, no matter what you write, they will complain. They will complain even more if they see you trying to accommodate them. So work on directing what they complain about.


Life is like an Ayn Rand novel, except better written, less predictable, more charming, more burlesque, with more complex characters, more developed plots, more entertaining situations,..., and vastly more altruism, magnanimity, and benevolence.
Words and languages were created by farmers, hunters, traders, prostitutes, carpenters, dancers, squid ink experts, cardiologists, post office clerks, and home builders. Not by linguists, scribes, bureaucrats, librarians, grammarians, and college professors.


Sophisticated minds adopt simplified lifestyles; simplistic minds are drawn to overly sophisticated lifestyles. I've learned from Socrates is that the most tasty cuisine is whatever you eat when hungry: the more ravenous you are, the more succulent the meal.
If you want to sell a meat substitute, don't try to make it taste like meat. People may prefer real hummus to fake meat, just as they may prefer a real painting by Morton Schmockmorton to a fake Picasso, and some classical decoration to fake flowers or Astroturf.
Our preference for money appears unbounded, with no explicit satiation level. But just as there's an optimal height, weight, and muscle mass beyond which one appears malformed, there's a subtle optimal wealth. It's the level of wealth above and below which your sleep degrades.


Skills do not aggregate. Some countries have a high level of average individual skills but a low collective performance, others exhibit a high level of capabilities with, on average, an unsophisticated citizenry. The first is the subadditive case, the second the superadditive one.
Identities come and go according to textbooks and reinvented pasts. Had the Greeks (then self identified as Romaic) opened coffee shops and diners in America a hundred years earlier, these would have been called "St Nicholas", "St Demetrius", "H. Sofia", not "Acropolis" and "Apollo".


You want to live, in time and place, in a society where you hear the loudest complaints about freedom, coercion by government, prejudice, corruption, bureaucracy, and lack of opportunity. This will be the freest society with minimal bureaucracy, corruption, prejudice, and the most opportunities.


For your holidays, don't go to resorts where you meet "achievers" on commoditized vacation actively trying to relax. Go to villages with no activity (preferably your village of origin and if you don't have one, get adopted somewhere) and interact with locals who can teach you how to do nothing when there is nothing to do.

doing nothing

Academic careers have three stages. First, the love phase: you want to devote your life to learning. Second, the reputation phase: you discover the need to get established. Third, the status phase: you are trapped into a hostile, rank-obsessed, rent-seeking machine with an oppressive hierarchy. You feel an uncontrollable envy for the plumber.