Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Can someone explain "A Greek among Romans" from Taleb's homepage?

Benoit Mandelbrot, 1924-2010 A Greek among Romans

It seems that Taleb wants to separate Mandelbrot, a sophisticated, educated, refined, and ├╝bersmart person, from the rest of the crowd.

* "To Benoit Mandelbrot A Greek among Romans" is the Incipit of The "Black Swan" Taleb's book.

* Taleb calls Mandelbrot the "poet of Randomness" in the chap.16 "Aesthetics of Randomness"

* "Intellectually sophisticated characters were exactly what I looked for in life" (and they are seldom). Taleb p.255 The Black Swan, 2007.

* He could also have said an "Athenian among Boeotian" but Romans are powerful (vs. Boeotians) and Benoit Mandelbrot had to fight the establishment with his visual research. "Pariah amongst French Mathematicians". With his Fractal images, his work was "remarkably easy to understand" for the general public.

* Unlike in Rome, the most popular shows in Athenes were not Circus WWE gladiator fights, it was going to Aeschylus or Sophocles tragedies.

Taleb's homepage http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/

A few weeks ago I visited the Acropolis in Athens for the first time. To know that, about 25 centuries ago, Euripides and Sophocles presented their premiers in there, at the theater of Dionysos, suddenly gave a pile of rubble an extraordinary sense of purpose and meaning.

I admire the wit of Taleb to call Mandelbrot a Greek--in this modern world of very Roman panem et circenses.

The Greeks were truly great. Not only did they know that the earth is a sphere, they also calculated what size it was, and considered the possibility that it revolves around its axis and around the sun. They conjectured that matter is made of indivisible atoms. They calculated the value of pi. Unfortunately their discoveries based on logic and observation would later be dictated to be false by the bible (including the value of pi)...

Taleb evidently respects (ancient) Greeks and doesn't respect Romans, presumably because one group had enormous contributions to philosophy whereas the other was merely an economic and imperial superpower. He's calling regular philistines like you and me "Romans" as an insult, one he sees as particularly vulgar. Such pomp is standard behavior from him, and it shouldn't be validated.

He's calling regular philistines like you and me "Romans" as an insult, one he sees as particularly vulgar.

Not even. Taleb values a combination of intellectual integrity, street smarts, empiricism, and humility in the face of uncertainty.

Far from considering ordinary people 'like you and me' to be philistines, he finds those traits he values in many different walks of life - from the Brooklyn born street-smart trader 'Fat Tony', to casino operators (their risk is not the actual games), to military planners (the risk managers with the most at stake).

He also finds the opposite - the Platonists (those who make the mistake of believing their highly complex yet nevertheless oversimplified models can reliably represent reality) and the philistines (people who value commerce above all else, and art, science, literature only for their capacity to make money or signal it, if at all) - everywhere as well. His particular targets are Wall Street, financial academia, and Economics Nobel, not 'you and me'.

He's quite clear on this in his books and writings.

Ironic that he opposes "Platonists" and yet uses Greek as a term of praise. Who are the Romans that Taleb is referring to, then? The comment suggests they are the norm, and that a Greek is rare.

FWIW, opposing "Platonists" doesnt mean opposing Greeks. Aristotlean and Socratic were two different ways of thought but both greek.

Sorry nothing to do with "Platonicity" which Taleb strongly criticized. A "greek among Romans", is imo to describe somebody educated, vs a farmer like Cato the old, well versed in refined art vs. propaganda "pompier" political art (to show Power more than beauty or harmony; Romans could only copy Praxiteles), interested in Philosophy more than law. The Circus for the People of Athenes was tragedy by Aeschylus and Sophocles.

I think this is related to Mandelbrot's different perspective to the world and seeing the fractal set as a kind of "chaos" geometry (kind of contradicting).

The expression "A Greek among Romans" is used maybe because Mandelbrot perspective to geometry was a bit different than the common scientific community in 1975-1985. There were many mentions about the "fractal set" just being "fancy" maths. He learned from the community while remaining unique in the community. But now there are many relationship with other model like "diffusion-limited aggregation" (DLA) and the fractal set is now one of the many models to describe our environment.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact