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.

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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.

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.

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim

 

In a recently published book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1988) with attendant comments, principles, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim the prolific Broadway composer of legendary shows including: “Gypsy”, “West Side Story”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Follies”, and his more recent works, “Passion”, “Into the Woods”, “Assassins”, “Sunday in the Park With George” and others. The book details shows up until “Sweeney Todd” and the failed musical “Merrily We Roll Along.” In addition to the lyrics, he discusses his comments on how the shows came to be, why certain decisions were made and his reactions to the Musical Theatre’s positives and negatives. For instance Sondheim takes issue with earlier lyricists having all performers in a company number sing the same lines, where as he asks, were they thinking the same thoughts? One of his examples is Oscar Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma.” He is very insightful in his discussions and comments. We see his handwritten notes, typed pages and photographs from the productions. A new volume Look Ma, I Made a Hat is in the works discussing his later works.

It strikes me reading the book that Sondheim is definitely gifted and maybe a genius in his own right. Here is a man with his love for complexity, who is not very demanding and not easily satisfied. In many ways other writers work, for instance “Oklahoma” and others the music and story are far more simple and less complex. Compare it to “Sweeney Todd”, or “Into the Woods,” which are far deeper, more complex with characters with far more complexity. Like many gifted people, Sondheim exhibits divergent thinking which leads his work and the work he chooses into darker places. For instance “Assassins” is a musical about all the presidential assassins or those who attempted, in the history of the U.S. with John Wilkes Booth encouraging Kennedy’s assassin Oswald and the common theme “Everyone’s got the right.” In “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which he wrote with Hugh Wheeler, is about a man wrongly accused, comes back to murder the judge who rapes his wife and is now  lusting over the teen-aged daughter Joanna, and slices the throats of many until the judge gets his. Mrs. Lovett, originally played by Angela Lansbury, makes meat pies from the remains.

Sondheim Review, a magazine dedicated to Sondheim

Review of Finishing the Hat in the NY Times.

Living With Intensity

Living With Intensity, edited by Susan Daniels, Ph.D., & Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D. Published 2009, by Great Potential Press.

This is a book intended for counselors, psychologists or social workers, but it is reasonably accessible for other people who have interests in Psychology. It discusses Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilites and Developmental theory. The book covers children, adolescents, and adults including discussions on how Overexcitabilities can lead to misdiagnosis and mental health treatment that does not help. One of the authors Michael  M. Piechowski worked closely with Kazimierz Dabrowski in his native language. Dabrowski’s theories have been very important in many psychologists and others conceptualization of gifted psychology. Includes articles by many influential authors in gifted psychology and education. Includes case studies involving working with gifted people.

Book Cover

Buy the Book from Amazon

The Brain that Changes Itself

The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D. Published 2007 by Penguin Books.

According to Doidge, the common belief in neurology was that if the brain got damaged or missed key developmental milestones, the brain would never improve, and would never get better. More recent research and practical experience has shown that given a stimulating environment that nourishes and causes the brain to create new neurons, substantial changes can develop. This is called neuroplasticity. It seems very promising. Given some of the problems that some gifted people struggle with with Asperger’s for instance, or sensory processing issues, maybe people can find support and assistance that can help them change. I have concerns that people find that while may help, may lead people to feel disappointed and blaming themselves for hoping that change is possible. I think one needs to keep one’s expectations in check. It’s also curious that the author, who comes from the psychoanalytic world view is thinking about neuroplasticity. It had been typical for psychoanalytic people to suggest the best we can have is self-knowledge and much of our struggle will continue, just as ordinary unhappiness.

Author’s Website.