28 Jun 2021
Foreword to Mark Spitznagel’s book Safe Haven
塔勒布给 Spitznagel 的新书作序，内容很棒但属于得之前自己琢磨过他说的那些事，不然看了也不会有啥感觉。
Now what was the dominant idea to emerge?
There are activities with remote payoff and no feedback that are ignored by the common crowd.
普通人忽视 remote payoff
With the associated corollary:
Never underestimate the effect of absence of feedback on the unconscious behavior and choices of people.
Mark kept using the example of someone playing piano for a long time with no improvement (that is, hardly capable of performing chopsticks) yet persevering; then, suddenly, one day, impeccably playing Chopin or Rachmaninoff.
No, it is not related to modern psychology. Psychologists discuss the notion of deferred payoff and the inability to delay one’s gratification as a hindrance. They hold that people who prefer a dollar now versus two in the future will eventually fare poorly in the course of life. But this is not at all what Spitz’s idea is about, since you do not know whether there might be a payoff at the end of the line, and, furthermore, psychologists are shoddy scientists, wrong almost all the time about almost all the things they discuss. The idea that delayed gratification confers some socio-economic advantage to those who defer was eventually debunked. The real world is a bit different. Under uncertainty, you must consider taking what you can now, since the person offering you two dollars in one year versus one today might be bankrupt then (or serving a jail sentence).
这一段专门强调不是要讲“延迟满足”，因为你根本不知道最终会不会到达终点获得好处（you do not know whether there might be a payoff at the end of the line）。
So what this idea is about isn’t delayed gratification, but the ability to operate without external gratification –or rather, with random gratification. Have the fortitude to live without promises.
Hence the second corollary: Things that are good but don’t look good must have some edge. The latter point allows she or he who is perseverant and mentally equipped to do the right thing with an endless reservoir of suckers.
Never underestimate people’s need to look good in the eyes of others. Scientists and artists, in order to cope with the absence of gratification, had to create such a thing as prizes and prestige journals. These are designed to satisfy the needs of the nonheroics to look good on the occasion. It does not matter if your idea is eventually proved right, there are intermediary steps in between that can be won. So “research” will be eventually gamed into some brand of nonresearch that looks cosmetically like research. You publish in a “prestige” journal and you are done, even if the full idea never materializes in the future. The game creates citation rings and clubs in fields like academic finance and economics (with no tangible feedback) where one can BS endlessly and collect accolades by peers.
For instance the theory of portfolio construction (or the associated “risk parity”) à la Markowitz requires correlations between assets to be both known and nonrandom. You remove these assumptions and you have no case for portfolio construction (not counting other, vastly more severe flaws, such as ergodicity, discussed in this book). Yet one must have no knowledge of the existence of computer screens and no access to data to avoid noticing that correlations are, if anything, not fixed, changing randomly. People’s only excuse for using these models is that other people are using these models.
And you end up with individuals who know practically nothing, but with huge resumés (a few have Nobel prizes). These citation rings or circular support groups were called mutua muli by the ancients: the association of mutually-respecting mules.