No Turkey

Bird's-Eye View

Source: Bloomberg
A wise old bird: Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Mr. Taleb’s unorthodox views on economics and business have gained a wide audience, making his books highly influential.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Taleb is a former banker turned author and intellectual.
    • His 2007 book “Black Swan” sold more than three million copies.
    • He is currently professor of risk engineering at New York University.
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In principle, anyone familiar with the life and death of a turkey also understands Nassim Nicholas Taleb. So the holiday season, when whole nations settle down to lunch on the bird, is the perfect time for a discussion with this intellectual all-rounder.

Turkeys can’t expect any sympathy from Mr. Taleb. The bird’s unavoidable fate is one of the philosopher’s favorite metaphors, used frequently to explain his major themes of uncertainty, randomness and volatility, as well as our inability to deal with them.

In Mr. Taleb’s world, the witless animal represents stubbornness and shortsightedness. The bird is fed for a thousand days until its date with a butcher shortly before a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. If the turkey were the chief analyst in a company or in politics, it would announce with “increasing statistical confidence” the butcher’s interest in the welfare of all turkeys.

The animal, however, would be making a crucial error by confusing the absence of proof of danger with the proof of an absence of danger. Thus, the day comes when the turkey’s thesis that a butcher is its best friend proves to be a fatal fallacy.

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