The Bed of Procrustes
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of the modern classics, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness wrote another stimulating and thought provoking book, The Bed of Procrustes, a collections of aphorisms and meditations.
The Bed or Procrustes according to Greek Mythology is the story of a man who made his visitors fit his bed to perfection by either stretching them or cutting their limbs. Procrustes was a son of Poseidon, who had a stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus, which is considered as the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There he had an iron bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. If the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; if the guest was short to fit the bed he would stretch him to fit.
In general, when different lengths air sizes or properties are fitted into an arbitrary standard, it is called Procrustean.
Here’s what the Amazon Editorial review of the book says: The book represents Taleb’s view of modern hubristic side effects – modifying humans to satisfy technology, blaming reality for not fitting economic models, inventing diseases to sell drugs, defining intelligence as what can be tested in a class room, and convincing people that employment is not slavery.
Playful and irreverent, these aphorisms will surprise you by exposing self-delusions you have been living with but never recognised.
Here are some twenty aphorisms from the book, The Bed of Procrustes with a rare combination of pointed wit and wisdom:
1. The opposite of success isn’t failure; It is name-dropping.
2. Modernity needs to understand that being rich and becoming rich are not mathematically, personally, socially, and ethically the same thing.
3. You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid being a master.
4. What fools most often call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.
5. Older people are most beautiful when they have what is lacking in the young; poise, erudition, wisdom, and this post-heroic absence of agitation.
6. I went to a happiness conference; researchers looked very unhappy.
7. Decline starts with the replacement of dreams with memories and ends with replacement of memories with other memories.
8. Karl Marx, a visionary, figured out that you can control a slave much better by convincing him that he is an employee.
9. The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.
10. Someone who says “I am busy” is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.
11. You will be civilised on the ay you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.
12. You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.
13. For most, success is the harmful passage from the camp of the hating to the camp of the hated.
14. The web is an unhealthy place for someone hungry for attention.
15. People focus on role models: It is more effective to find anti models – people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up.
16. It is a good practice to always apologise, except when you have done some thing wrong.
17. Preoccupation with efficacy is the main obstacle to a poetic, noble, elegant, robust and heroic life.
18. Charm is the ability to insult people without offending them; neediness is the reverse.1
19. Those who do not think that employment is systemic slavery are either blind or employed.
20. The are born, then put in box; they go home to live in a box; they study by ticking boxes; they go to what is called ‘work’ in a box, where they sit in their cubicle box; they drive to the grocery store in a box to buy food in a box; they go to the gym in a box, sit in a box; they talk about thinking outside the box and when they die they are put in a box. All boxes, Euclidean, geometrically smooth boxes.