I have only written, in every line I have composed in my professional life, about things I have done, and the risks I have recommended that others take or avoid were risks I have been taking or avoiding myself. I will be the first to be hurt if I am wrong. When I warned about the fragility of the banking system in The Black Swan, I was betting on its collapse (particularly when my message went unheeded); otherwise I felt it would not have been ethical to write about it. That personal stricture applies to every domain, including medicine, technical innovation, and simple matters in life. It does not mean that one’s personal experiences constitute a sufficient sample to derive a conclusion about an idea; it is just that one’s personal experience gives the stamp of authenticity and sincerity of opinion. Experience is devoid of the cherry-picking that we find in studies, particularly those called “observational,” ones in which the researcher finds past patterns, and, thanks to the sheer amount of data, can therefore fall into the trap of an invented narrative.
Further, in writing, I feel corrupt and unethical if I have to look up a subject in a library as part of the writing itself. This acts as a filter—it is the only filter. If the subject is not interesting enough for me to look it up independently, for my own curiosity or purposes, and I have not done so before, then I should not be writing about it at all, period. It does not mean that libraries (physical and virtual) are not acceptable; it means that they should not be the source of any idea. Students pay to write essays on topics for which they have to derive knowledge from a library as a self-enhancement exercise; a professional who is compensated to write and is taken seriously by others should use a more potent filter. Only distilled ideas, ones that sit in us for a long time, are acceptable—and those that come from reality. It is time to revive the not well-known philosophical notion of doxastic commitment, a class of beliefs that go beyond talk, and to which we are committed enough to take personal risks.
Compromising is condoning. The only modern dictum I follow is one by George Santayana: A man is morally free when … he judges the world, and judges other men, with uncompromising sincerity. This is not just an aim but an obligation.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb