Book Review: Antifragile–Things That Gain from Disorder

AntifragileI Just completed reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book Antifragile–Things That Gain from Disorder. Mr. Taleb is definitely a brilliant man. By profession he has been a quantitative analyst in the securities market, working with highly advanced statistical modeling. He has also been a professor in a number of notable universities. He has seen problems that traditional theories of all kinds fail to account for, which lead to major problems that though are hard to predict when they happen they are catastrophic, what he calls the Black Swan event or big tail event. People either love or hate him, there are many in the securities world that hate him, others who appreciate his thinking, his fans. He is one who does not suffer fools gladly, strives to be extremely honest and does not tolerate what he considers to be dishonest and evil. He uses material from roman and greek classical periods, history, philosophy to illustrate the points he makes, and characters like Fat Tony and Nero to help us understand his ideas. The book is a hard read, it is very demanding but enjoyable. For those who are more skilled in advanced math such as calculus and statistics, some of his ideas will be clearer. He is however rather arrogant around some areas that he discusses, while his critical thinking is appreciated and we need to be looking at the world we deal with, with a critical eye and not accepting at face value what the experts or talking heads tell us to think or believe, but discussing public health, medicine and psychiatry with no training is a real problem.

Review in the New York Times.

Video

The Fractalist: Benoit B. Mandelbrot

The Fractalist: Benoit B. Mandelbrot is a memoir about the life of a highly gifted mathematician, who identified himself as a Maverick who didn’t agree with the current trends. He grew up Jewish in Poland before World War II and later left to France and then later the United States. It goes into a lot of his early life, growing up and the influences of hist parents, mathemetician uncle in Pre-War Poland that at the time had Elementary schools that were very well run with very bright teachers. In those days, there were few opportunities to work in academic research so many very talented people taught in the schools. His family was lucky and were spared the worst of the holocaust, but were lucky to have escaped, but experienced the discrimination that others felt. Those who are involved in math and computer graphics are probably familiar with his Mandelbrot Set, though influenced by his discovery that Fractals are what nature and much of life is made of, giving order to randomness.

Review on New York Times

Biography and other works

Arguably: Essays

 Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, is a book of Hitchen’s essays, that was published near the end of his life. It includes all the articles that he wrote for various publications such as Vanity Fair, Slate and The Atlantic, in addition to writing several books. The essays are well thought out and written. Hitchens was very sharp, thoughtful and a real intelligent critical thinker who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Although he is a self-avowed atheist to his death, the first article “The God of Our Fathers: The United States of Enlightenment” discusses very eloquently about how religious beliefs played out with the Founders of the United States. The subject is one that addressing in a more thoughtful, nuanced way benefits.

 

Book Review: Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

After reading the last book on introversion which was a real disappointment, I ordered this book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, which I enjoyed Immensely.

This book is written by psychologist Laurie Helgoe, PhD. and is a very enlightening book, not nearly as strident as quiet about the extroverts. It is actually surprising according to research by the developers of the Myers and Briggs personality test, that introverts may actually be slightly in the advantage. It may well be that over the last years the stigma associated with being an introvert is starting to lift. Being an introvert might be cool. In some ways there may be more introverts who are very social who you wouldn’t think are. Of course there are also the Shadow Dwellers, who can seem more asocial or people such as the goth teens, who may have been victims of abuse, which are she shadow in Jungian terminology. These people can also include your geek types.

She also refutes what people may mistake about introverts: We are not antisocial, but some may be asocial. The difference is substantial. A person who has an antisocial personality disorder is a person with real problems that don’t have positive outcomes. A person who is asocial may just not enjoy interacting with people much. Extroverts may think we are snobs, but is not nearly the truth, perhaps it’s just an incorrect interpretation.

For those who are not aware of Carl Jung’s Personality theory, the positive potential in introversion has been found in his work. Jung would suggest that we all have both introvert and extrovert aspects of our personality, how much of each is what matters. She suggests that being able to accept the opposite and try to use some of it is a good thing. Yes we need time alone to recover, and you don’t need to love parties, but putting yourself out there a little more can be to your advantage. The shadow in Jung’s work is the dark side that we don’t show in our personality, with the caveat that what we don’t accept and embrace may come out in a odd way.  an example of the shadow is you may have a person who seems kind, but turns out to be abusive.

She suggests our real power is in what’s inside us, in our inner world.  the majority of the book is focused on us, our strengths, and how to have a good life.

 

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain led to the article in Time Magazine  What if Introverts Ruled the World which I discussed in my most recent article.

This book is like the Black Power movement was to African Americans, to Introverts. In fact she starts out with Rosa Parks as the Introvert, that the civil rights movement depended on. She argues that the world is dominated by Extroverts and as recent as the 1920s the world became more dominated by the Extrovert Ideal as she put it. I would argue that it has been present long before. The work world has been dominated by extroverts and the ideal, that everyone should be extroverted and gregarious has been inculcated into people, those introverts found to be maladjusted. There is a degree of truth to her suggestions.

She spends far too much time on the Extrovert Ideal giving far to much space to people like Tony Robbins going into the whole experience like in some ways sounds like she is a fan. Being an introvert myself, I would find it extremely difficult to sit through and be part of that whole malarky. He is a slick salesman. Then she moves on to Harvard Business School and Saddle Back mega church. Her annecdotes are interesting, the research insights interesting, but the focus on the Extrovert Ideal in some ways winds up leaving me feeling inadequate, frankly I have little interest in that world.

Another problem I have with the book is it doesn’t take into consideration the Giftedness part of the equation, given that many gifted people are Introverts, it’s as though she only sees the world in white, black and gray in the middle, not a multi-dimensional, colored picture. Unfortunately as well, much of the research and researchers are old and dated.

Introversion vs Extroversion

The difference between Introversion and Extroversion is Introverts find energy and nurturing from within, where extroverts find it in the outside. Research suggests that more gifted people are introverts and the number of introverts is smaller than extroverts. Carl Jung, the gifted psychoanalyst first identified in his personality theory the polarities as a statement of how people are.

Recently Time Magazine had on it’s cover the Title What if Introverts Ruled the World with an intro from Richard Stengell. The real article by Bryan Walsh was based in a book by Susan Cain Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking raised a lot of questions about the way the world works and the advantage that Extroverts have with the real difference in who Introverts are and what they can do.

At first it seemed somewhat silly, such as you too can be Steve Jobs, like frankly I would never wish to be someone that difficult, but also a kind of cheerleading, but most problematically it left giftedness out of the equation. In reality Susan Cain’s book gives more power to the introvert Steve Wozniak, who Steve Jobs could not have succeeded without.

Frankly there is a tendency on the part of extroverts to malign introverts and discriminate and it can be far easier to be an extrovert. Many jobs which require a high amount of work with the public as well as sales and out going, is better for the extrovert. The Introvert will be the gifted person who can tell you how the system works and make the system do things nobody thinks it could, so sometimes we introverts need to toot our own horns.

Two well regarded tests, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI and the Kiersey Temperment Sorter can help people identify for themselves what type they are. There are 16types, a type being a 4 letter code, each letter designating a polarity i.e. I for introvert or E for Extrovert; N for Intuitive or S for Sensing, T for Thinking vs Feeling and F for feeling; J for Judging vs P for perceiving. These are preferential attitudes toward information and the world, they in no way should be seen as criticizing one type or another. Any type is equally valid and acceptable, it’s really the problem to understand your own type and others and to learn how to communicate with them.

Another book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by psychologist Laurie Helgoe Ph.D. also encourages and empowers Introverts.

I have taken the MBTI and the Kiersey a number of times, and over the years, I have moved from Extrovert to Introvert. I suspect I haven’t changed in personality, but just more accepting of myself, and likely answered with the more socially acceptable answers to the test. One of the challenges of the tests is that the test taker can answer in a way that they think others want them to, which can lead to faulty conclusions.

I am very capable of having conversations with people and working in groups, the point to be taken, is this can be exhausting and can be draining and I need time for myself. I need my quiet. I have often been puzzled why I can’t do certain social tasks which require one to be more socially outgoing, and frankly it’s not me, and I have been I guess working very hard to be something that I am not, which is not the best thing for myself.

Obituary: Christopher Hitchens

This week we mourn Christopher Hitchens a writer known for his free thinking intelligent criticism and thought.

Hitchens Died thursday 12/15/2011 of Pneumonia. He had been valiantly fighting esophageal cancer for a number of years. He had been discussing and writing about his Cancer for a number of years almost ad-nauseum, including his book Hitch-22. He will be missed for his thought, writing and debate. He was known as an atheist and defended his atheistic beliefs and refused to accept religion into his fight against cancer and his dying. To be an atheist is very hard and their are few friends in this world for which I defend him. He has argued about the harm that has come from religion in many writings, including his book God is Not Great. Esophageal cancer is highly correlated with Drinking and Smoking, which Hitchens has admitted to have doing heavily. He argues that he would not change his life, even though the drinking and smoking killed him prematurely. He argued that it helped him think and write at his best. One can imagine the alcohol loosening the inhibitions and the tobaco calming the nerves.  Hitchens had been an author for Slate.com and Vanity Fair Magazine. Hitchens had appeared on television numbers of times, including on Charlie Rose.

 

Malcolm Gladwell: Arrogant and Insensitive.

First before I start, I want to say, before everyone jumps to his defense, Malcolm Gladwell is definitely gifted and I found his earlier books “The Tipping Point” and “What the Dog Saw” very interesting and though provoking, and this is not a full out attack on him or his writing. His books are often full of little interesting snippets of information.

His book “Outliers” is another story. I started reading it with interest, after reading the other books, but found myself turned off, not sure why but I knew something was wrong. I like his idea of the 10,000 hours needed to learn a skill and to get to a highly proficient level in any field, and there is something to say about it.

He writes a book, acting as an expert on education, though he has done no real research and has no advanced degree in education. It seems like his knowledge is more about sports, for example the time of year most hockey players were born. He wrote an interesting article in The New Yorker about the problem of professional football, which was excellent, but he is not an educator. I was listening to an interview by the radiolab guys.  Radiolab, a program produced by WNYC in New York, that is syndicated across public radio. I first heard them on The science show. They interviewed Gladwell talk about the interaction between destiny and determination. Robert Krulwich asked him whether he denied giftedness  or did he hate the gifted? I thought this was a good question and the book and his discussion does raise these questions. He argues that gifted education is about picking high achievers, which is most definitely not the case. Of course high achievers are among the gifted, but he totally dismisses the challenges that gifted children deal with, particularly those who are twice exceptional. I was a student before gifted education was established and I hated being in the wrong classes, being in boring classes, which were a torment. Maybe he also missed gifted education like myself and resents those who got it.

This book perpetuated and created idea that giftedness is a myth. For instance this article in New York Magazine, it’s all about testing and preparing your children for the test. But it ignores the reality of testing, and IQ and the New York system, where there are limited opportunities to get into the gifted system. Gifted children need to be engaged in school, and often don’t get those needs met in normal classes. This problem goes far beyond New York or any other location for that matter.

Another problem is that Gladwell references, old out of date material. Terman’s Termites was research done many years ago and is largely out-of-date with respect to current thinking about intelligence and giftedness. During its time, the research was good, but Terman started researching in 1929, many many years ago. He starts critiquing one of many intelligence tests. Many of the tests have issues, but he picks Raven’s Progressive Matrices  and not the more widely used Wescheler or Stanford Binet tests which are the standard, and most researched, used and understood tests. He misses what IQ measurement is about, i.e. mental processing power.

According to Eric Wargo, writer for The Observer, a publication of the association for psychological science, in an article  he wrote, Gladwell had a dream of becoming a gold medal runner, and suggests he was a Prodigy who didn’t wind up later going on to stardom. Clearly for him it’s about becoming a star, or observations, that graduates from gifted programs didn’t become superstars or become the next Einstein. The differences between those who become stars in sports and those who are purely amateurs is very different than about intelligence. Living with Being gifted and growing up gifted is not about stardom, but more trying to find your way in the world, trying to be able to fully use your abilities. Which I think goes to what Gladwell is more about Elitism, Stardom, how the few exceptions become who they are. Gifted people may become high achievers, but that’s not what it’s about. Just because you can’t  become a star don’t dump on us.

Witgenstein’s Poker

Witegenstein’s Poker–The Story of a Ten-Minute Arguement Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds & John Edinow Published by Ecco/Harper Collins

This is a book about a confrontation between the two Philosophers (Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper) just post WWII at Oxford. It covers the story itself, and numbers of perspectives on what happenned during that 10 minutes.

I had come to find this book because of my interest in Wittgenstein, but came to learn about Karl Popper a lesser known Philosopher that influenced business theory, who also came from Vienna Austria.

For those who are interested in Philosophy, this is a very interesting book, particularly if you find these two of interest. Wittgenstein’s definitely a gifted person and his ideas are quite fascinating and worth investigating and considering.

 Along with this discussion are two other books to consider.

 

More Recent Contributions to the Nature Vs Nurture debate

In more recent discussions, Daniel Shenk’s book “The Genius in All of Us” suggests that we all can be geniuses if we nurture children and have an optimum environment. This is an interesting argument and it’s become understood that environment influences  many outcomes including culture, behavior and intelligence. It’s an interesting response to the Bell Curve. One can clearly support the idea that children should be given a positive environment to grow up in. Lead and other toxins can lead to lowered intelligence and learning disorders, and nutrition is very important, lack of certain vitamins can lead to birth defects. I have seen many exceptions to this, people from questionable, and even problematical backgrounds who show brilliance. Why does this happen. I have also seen in this within large families, numbers of people with giftedness in those families. I doubt gifted people grow up in families with normal or sub-normal intelligence like the television show “Family Guy” would suggest. There may be many cases where giftedness is masked by other problems and one may hide their giftedness from others for fear of ostracism and rejection. I suspect that one’s ability can be enhanced by an enriched environment, but the real differences between gifted and non gifted people are unlikely to be the result of environment solely.

In another book by Steven Pinker, “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” he reminds us how John Locke’s (1632-1704) idea Tabula Rasa, which suggests we are born a blank slate has permeated social science research and every day beliefs about what contributes to human development and behavior and the world in general. He suggests that we deny human nature. I doubt that we want to see this as an either/or type of situation, but we need to consider how influential Locke’s theory was.