Fooled by Randomness – and Thoughts on Luck

To the right is the current list of books I’m reading and studying. Is the American American Dream Killing You, a real pessimist pisser of a book in my opinion — but well written — is authored by a longtime very close friend. I have no idea what to do about him (nor he with me), but things go that way, sometimes. He and his family live in the Canary Islands, now, and it seems to suit him just fine. Maybe someday when he finds that the world hasn’t exploded at all, he’ll rejoin it. Maybe not, and I wouldn’t blame him.

Also contained in that list up until a moment ago was actually Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s more recent book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. I was aware of his earlier book, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, which is now in a 2nd edition with lots of edits and additions that make it a third bigger (I think in response to some of the criticisms of the 1st edition). I thought I’d read the second one and then the first if I wanted to. But events compelled me to go get the first one, set down the second and read them in order.

Think about it. Just because, given a set of facts, knowledge, and ideas (principles), you can predict what’s likely to happen to you based on how you synthesize all those elements together (for better or worse), does that necessarily, or even likely apply apply to anyone else, to society, to the world?

The more I think about this, the more I understand why, given the stated premises most people hold, they’re not really out lynching company CEOs and raising the likes of Ralph Nader to supreme ruler of the world.

A final note. I caught last Friday’s 20/20, an interesting program about the role of "luck." One of the interviewees summed it up very nicely, I thought, when he explained that there’s the bizarre world of pure wild-ass chance, like where totally out of the wild blue someone strikes it rich (or dies in an accident — opposite extremes) or has the most unlikely opportunity fall into his lap. But then there’s the world of luck, and as it turns out, people who believe themselves lucky actually are and lead more positive, fulfilled (lucky) lives. It seems as though feeling or believing yourself lucky really translates to working harder, longer, letting less discourage you; in short, you persevere long enough to be rightly positioned when the attractive opportunities come along.

That’s on average, of course. The problem with this sort of thing is that it does not necessarily hold for any specific individual. You can be optimistic and believe your self plenty lucky and anything good or bad can still happen. But it seems like a policy worth pursuing on its own merits anyway. I’ve always felt I’ve been lucky in life, but I see too how having a positive and can-do attitude is really what kept me going long enough to be successful in the various things I’ve been successful at. I’ve never really "worked hard" in the sense people often think of it. It’s not to say that I’ve worked smart, either. Rather, I think I’ve pretty much just showed up and recognized a thing or two that might work.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

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