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Plausibly, Arabic is one of the dialects of the Levant language (Near-East region of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine)

No, Lebanese is not a “dialect” of Arabic

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Follow 

It would be an anachronism to assert that Italian is a dialect of Catalan, but safe to say that Italian comes from Latin. But when it comes to Lebanese (more generally NorthWestern Levantine region), the “politically correct” Arabist-think-tank view is that is is derived from Arabic (Lebanese “dialect” of Arabic) to accommodate sensitivities

 Even linguists find arguments to violate the arrow of time to serve the interest of pan Arabism.

In situations where there are similarities between a word used in Lebanese and Arabic, they insist it comes from Arabic not from a common root.

(Most Lebanese are confused by diglossia as one is not supposed to write in the spoken language). Unlike Indo-European languages, Semitic languages have a criss-cross of roots and considerable areal diffusion to assert clean descendancy.

The points are

1) Lebanese (more generally NorthWestern Levantine, neo-Canaanite) is a standalone Semitic dialect (or language) that descends from other languages, including Arabic (which itself was influenced by these predecessors) but has not inherited from it as much as marketed (broken plurals but not its rich verb forms).

2) Its grammar, as we will see below, remains largely non ArabicMany words that are in both Leb and Arabic but not common in Aramaic happen to be in North-Phoenician (Ugaritic). Unlike genetics that has rigorous mathematical formulations and clear-cut flows (haplogroups show direct, vertical, rather than lateral transmission), linguistic categories are fuzzy and, for Semitic languages, monstrously non rigorous.

3) I took a list of the most frequent statistically used words (by Zipf law, > 80% of vocabulary) and looked for words that exist in both Leb and Akkadian, Ugaritic (North Phoenician), and show that very few exist in Arabic but not other Semitic roots (Lamine Souag did the same with a poem by Said Akl, without statistical methodology), hence could have only come from Arabic.

The anachronism shown. The Phyla and Waves Models of Classification by Semiticists is not very scientific. Note that areal diffusion makes transmission arrows very fuzzy.

4) The “Arabization” mission promoted by the American University in Beirut in the 1860s (starting with the translation of the Bible) seems to infect the most low IQ Westerners of the think tank/ State department Arabist types, not locals — most people who disagree with the point and support the orthodoxy don’t speak either Leb or Aramaic, or fail in basic reasoning (many Syriac scholars I’ve spoken to agree with the point)

5) The latin alphabet (actually Phoenician) lends itself better to Lebanese, with such accents as é — but that’s another note.

6) From a scientific standpoint, linguistic claims that Lebanese is a dialect of Arabic (or some conveniently abstract construct called Proto-Arabic) are:

a) totally unrigorous handwaving believed from sheer repetition,

b) fitness to few rules made on the fly (and subject of over-fitting: you pick the rules that makes a language be part of the group you like),

c) with claims of mutual intelligibility between Leb and Arabic (or Proto-Arabic); all of these presented without any attempt to meet minimal standards of scientific evidence.

What do people call “Arabic”?

In a skit an ISIS man goes to a Christian Lebanese village, Zghorta, and shouts in Classical Arabic (“raise your hands!” “ارفع يديك”) to a Zghorta villager, who answers him “speak to me in Arabic!” (7ki ma3é 3arabé).

Likewise, in Saudi Arabia, I once heard a Lebanese fellow asking the hotel manager: “don’t you have Arabic food?” (meaning East Med/Lebanese) as all they had was… Arabic food (Saudi preparations of rice etc.)

The White Mountain (Mount Lebanon) from my window in Amioun

The very etymology of “Arabic” has confused people, since it may mean “Westerner”, that is, non Arab (and homonym with 3araba which might be another root). Speak to me in Arabic may mean “speak to me intelligibly” (3arabé mshabra7) — since 3araab means grammatical and intelligible — and people got confused about what language they were speaking.


The Lebanese have been saying “bét” for at least 3200 years, now they say “bét” but it suddenly said to be from a “dialect” of Arabic. It is foolish to think that a population will speak a language, say Aramaic, then suddenly, tabula rasa, switch to another one for the same words.

Many people who are fluent and Levantine and classical Arabic fail to realize that the distance between the two is greater than between many languages deemed distinct, such as French and Romanian… Slavic “languages” such as Ukranian and Polish are much, much closer to one another than Levantine and Arabic.

Same with Scandinavian and Germanic languages. But there is a bias in believing that whenever a word exists in both Levantine and Arabic, that it is of Arabic origin, never Aramaic or Canaanite-largely because of the typical lack of familiarity with Levantine languages.

So Mar7aba is deemed to be Arabic when it is in fact just Aramaic.

(The IYIs are slowly and reluctantly accepting the Aramaic influence on the Arabic holy book). Also note that if Northern Arabians share vocabulary with Lebs, it is because of Aramaic rather than the reverse.

(If the Lebanese know Arabic, it is from education system and Television, not from speaking it).

Levantine uses the French é sound (the diacritical rboso) where Arabic has an “i” (kasra) or long i. (batyté, Ghassén, etc.) (Zré2 is arabized as Zurayq at the American University of Beirut. Someone should tell them.)

The Lebanese army march (one-two-three) is in Syriac “7ad, Tr(n)en, Tlete, Arb3a” (not Wa7ad, Etnen, …).

Mim-noon: mim in Arabic (beytohom) become noun in Aramaic and North Levantine (beyton, beytkon). Even Ibrahim becomes Brohin.

Ma: The classifiers claim that of Semitic languages, a marker of Arabic is the negative “ma” for “la/o” in Canaanite.

1) “Ma” is a negation in Indo-European languages, so it came to the area to affect all languages,

2) “ma” is found in Bibilical Heb. (Kings, 12:16).

Verb-Subject Agreement: The grammatical stucture of Leb is somewhat similar to Aramaic. For instance, we use the plural form for a verb before a plural subject; in Arabic the verb is singular.

SVO Arabic has necessarily an VSO structure: Verb-Subject-Object (zahaba el waladu ila il bayt vs lwalad ra7 3al bét), Lebanese not necessarily so (varies).

Roots and distanceUsing the Arabic innovation of a non Arabic root (2rdh for 2rtz) should not allow one to classify the term for scientific (informational) and cultural purposes as “derived from” Arabic, even if it makes sense from a linguistic standpoint in a refined toolkit.

So if someone has been saying lb for years (for heart) for a few thousand years, then added an aleph (2a) to make it ‘lb (2lb, 2alb), is is to be treated the same as someone saying corre or schmorglub for heart, now saying ‘lb? It is not the same distance!

This is what linguists fail to get about their classification heuristics. Minor adaptations such as “al” for “ha” or “han” should not be a basis for calling a change of language.

It is no different for Hebrew where Ashkenazis use a Germanic pronunciation for gutturals, which doesn’t make them speak a variety German. Linguistic classifications are a mess!

Colinearity doesn’t allow strong categorization: Traditional linguistics categorizes languages as independent variables, failing to take into account co-linearity, i.e., if Y= a_1 X_1+a_2 X_2 + \eta (noise), the effect will show loading in a_1 or a_2, not both.

So if Levantine resembles Arabic, and Arabic resembles Aramaic, and Aramaic resembles Canaanite/Phoenician/Hebrew, and to make things worse, Arabic also resembles Canaanite, the tendency is to believe that Levantine comes from one (the a_1 with the highest load) not another.

Accordingly, simplified linguistics fail with Semitic languages because of confounding, much more consequential with Semitic tongues than Indo-European ones. In English we know that what comes from Latin has no co-linearity with Northern European sources, except for remote roots.

So if someone claims: Leb is a dialect of (Arabic/Aramaic/Zorgluz…) it is a weaker statement than Italian is a dialect of Latin. We should say: Leb is a dialect of Semitic.

The only remedy is to do, as in genetics, PCAs (orthogonal variables that are abstract) hence show that Levantine in x% from Arabic, y% from Phoenician, etc. (or, more rigorously, Semitic languages represented as dots on a 2–3D map). This is not done by Semiticists and I consider the linguistic critiques to this piece invalid and highly unscientific (not even at the level to be wrong).

Areal Influence: If there is a continuum of dialects through the area, from the Levant to the fertile crescent, it can be due to areal features rather than genetic ones. In other words, lateral influences rather than vertical ones.

Verbs forms: Arabic has 15 forms; Levantine and Aramaic have the same 4–6 forms (depending on regions).

The definite article: the “Al” in Arabic doesn’t exist as a prefix in Aramaic (it is suffixed), but does in Phoenician as ha 2a, and proto-Canaanite as hal and “l”. And it is not clear that old Lebanese distinguishes between lunar and solar, as Arabic does.

So it looks after deeper investigation that in fact except for broken plurals, and a few other words, what resembles Arabic is what is in both Aramaic and Arabic, or in both Arabic and Canaanite. (Note that broken plurals represent very little of a vocabulary, again, by Zipf’s law).

The Phyla and Waves Model used by Semiticists is not very convincing: we are not dealing with the clarity of genetics; “evidence” is not stochastically elaborated.

Ana bi-Amioun is Levantine for “I am in Amioun”. In Aramaic-Syriac (most versions) it would be “Ana bi-Amioun”. In Arabic “Innani fi-Amioun” (sometimes, but rarely, “bi”). Same with words that have hamze, i.e. Mayy in Levantine is water (as in Aramaic), Ma2 in Arabicetc. But the “y” in Arabic can become olafYaduhu in Arabic is ido (Yad->Iyd) in both Syriac and Levantine.

Cannanite and Phenician shift: In Northern Lebanon, “Allah” becomes “Alloh”, “Taleb” is pronounced “Toleb”, even the y becomes “oy” (lésh in Beirut, loish in Bsharré. My first name is prounounced “Nsoym”). But unlike Eastern Aramaic where Sarah is “Saro” while for us it is “Sora”. (Incidentally, Toleb is present in Ugaritic/Phoenician).

The 3ayn shift: An argument (Louag) is that the dhad in Canaanite became a 3ayn (Eretz in Hebrew became Ar3a in Aramaic), not in Leb hence we got it from the Arabs. There was a shift that stayed in Aramaic and Levantine use the Arabic dhad that does not have the shift (which is believed to imply that we did not get these words from Aramaic).

But note that Arabs did not pronounce the dhad as modified tzadeh ( which shows that past pronounciations were not necessarily as current). Note that in North Leb people may conflate ar3a with al3a, for ardh, as in Amioun. It may have come from Arabic, but odds are it did not, as we will see next.

Strong a “2”: Lebanese has an emphatic silent “a”, known as “Basta” accent (“shu b22ello?”) but also in other parts for other words “ya 22alla” in Amioun (Oh Allah). (I’ve heard it sometimes in Syriac when they say “22aloho”).

Roger Maklouf’s idea is that that the Arabic strong “ص”, “ض”, “ط” etc. are just consonants followed by emphatic 2a: “t22aleb”, “d22arab”, “shu s22ar?”. Hence, in the presence of the 22a, which does not exist in Arabic, we don’t need these letters. Roger surmises that if we don’t have them, it is because Phoenician letters didn’t have them; we just never used them (by Brownian bridge: neither then nor now). This explains the absence of 3ayin switch into Lebanese.

Write in Lebanese!

Regardless of its origin, there is no point insisting on degrading the spoken language.

It remains that that Arabic sounds so foreign (especially to people who didn’t study in it), which explains why people send notes in French or English, not Lebanese. (data point: I sold 97% of my books in French and English in Lebanon, 3% in Arabic. I don’t know any Leb my generation and younger who reads Arabic except for legal docs. I have never received a letter/email in Arabic from another Lebanese.)

More examples:
“Zammar 3a l’kou3” Levantine (Horned at the curve)
“Zammar 3a kou3” Aramaic
“Inshud 3al mun3atif” Arabic

For A***le:
“Bu5sh tizo” Levantine
“Bu5sh tizo” Aramaic
“Thaqb iliatihi” Arabic (or mu2a55ara)


ARABIC vs LEVANTINE( Beirut, Amioun)

1s Ana Ana, ana
2ms Anta inta, int
2fs Anti inte, int
3ms Huwa huwwe, hu
3fs Hiya hiyye, hi
2d Antuma into, ont
3md Huma hinne, hinn
3fd huma hinne, hinn
1p Na7nu ne7na, ne7no
2mp Antum into
2fp Antunna into
3mp Hum hinne, hinn
3fp Hunna hinne, hinn

(long a, 2) long eh
1s 2akl 3am bekol [3am means “in the process of “ in Syriac] (food I’m eating)
2ms ta2kol 3am btekol
2fs ta2kulina 3am tekle
3ms yakulu 3am yekol
3fs takul 3am tekol
2d ta2kulani 3am bteklo
3md yakulani 3am byeklo
3fd na2kul 3amnekol
1p takuluna 3amteklo
2mp takuluna 3amteklo
2fp takulna 3am teklo
3mp yakuluna 3ambyeklo
3fp yakulna 3ambyeklo

ARABIC vs Amioun vs Beirut

Akaltu Kilt Akalt
Akalta Kilt Akalt
Akalti Kilte Akalte
Akala Akol Akal
Akalat Aklet Akalet
Akaltuma kelto Akalto
Akalat eklo Akalo
Akalata Aklo Akalo
Akalna kelna Akalna
Akaltum Kelto Akalto
Akaltunna Kelto Akalto
Akaltu eklo Akalto
Akalna eklo Akalo

Note the difference: mim in Arabic (beytohom) become noun in Aramaic and North Levantine (beyton, beytkon). Even Ibrahim becomes Brohin.


(using the list from Bennett. The orthography is not fully standardized. Lameen Souag has been nitpicking my list based on g->j, s<-> sh, k->kh, etc. pronounciations, which, again, don’t make it part of a language group.

For we say Yesou3 for Yeshou3 (Jesus) which comes from Aramaic (Arabic is 3issa), Juwwa from Aramaic bgaw, etc. The “j” can be easily Persian. It would be classifying Mod. Hebrew as Germanic because w->v, 7->ch, p->ph.)

Visible risks are not real risks… What you don’t know is categorized as random events
Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote: THE LEBANESE WAR THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN.
Lebanon is much safer than anywhere else.
The casualty rate from car bombs in Lebanon over 2013 was 2.5 per 100,000 people.
It remains < a tenth of crime in NY in the 90s, <20th of crime in Brazil, etc.
Outside bombs the homicide rate is very low.  Why? Simply, a bomb is immediately noticed by the press, series of isolated crimes don’t make the newspaper.
Antony Veich wrote: “in the case of Belfast the press usually stayed at The Europa, so the IRA took the bombs to the hotel… 28 times.”
Sadly, people in 2014 make more irrational decisions than they did in 1900. Visible risks are not really risks.
The other good news is that everyone is worried about “future risks“.
The risks in Lebanon are not hidden. They are open for everyone to see, and nobody is wondering why in spite of all these incidents the war DID NOT happen?
Every bomb that does not cause generalized warfare makes the system more robust to war (see Antifragility).
In 1975 the Palestinians had nothing to lose from civil war. Same with Syria.
Today all parties in Lebanon have skin in the game, and are deep into real estate in Beirut.



Levantine vocabulary, 80% of words used in conversation (Zipf). Very few words have Arabic origin (conflations).

NassimNicholasTaleb @nntaleb 11h11 hours ago

Arab “nationalists” believe and spread this misconception that people in the Levant had NO language before the Arabs showed up. In fact it is Arabic that changed and got richer from the input and import from the local languages. Especially, urban terms of far more complex social structures and interactions
Much of the similarities between Levantine and Arabic come from Aramaic loan words into Arabic, particularly religious ones
Words such as “syrup” or “sorbet” that come from Arabic actually have Aramaic roots SRB: parched (to offset)

EuSociality? How linked to altruism of raising children? Pinker fallacy

But first, this comment

E.O. Wilson, Nowak et al. wrote a paper on altruism that triggered a huge angry reaction (particularly by science journalists Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins).

The paper (linked) contained words with a mathematical backup.
More than 100 biologists signed a petition asking for retraction. And the math was not remotely addressed. Yet if the paper is wrong, math should be

1) wrong (which can be shown incontrovertibly) or

2) inadequate for the task, which is trivial to show by expansion of functional/parameter space, as I’ve been doing with economics.

(But here the math was addressing flaws in the math that was behind the theories supported by Dawkins and others). Neither of these 2 were done.

Having seen the bitter attacks on & elsewhere, including comments by biologists that Wilson was “senile”, I spent some time scrutinizing the math: it is impeccable, though unsophisticated by mathematical finance standards.

The beauty of mathematics is that it is *impossible* to be misunderstood.
They were attacked in a verbalistic manner. In other words, with BS. I view Richard Dawkins with intellectual revulsion as the perfect bullshit artist on the planet.

The lesson is obvious. Fughedabout supplemental material and backup.

Put the math in the front, words in the back, particularly when the words are only there to explain the mathematical reasoning. Alas, it is necessary. Math is distortion-free, which repels the distorters…

(Note the earlier idea came from Yaneer Bar Yam and his idea can be related to the one in antifragile that averages miss Jensen’s inequality. A function of a mean is different from the mean of a function).

PS- I am publishing a paper about the Pinker fallacy with his verbalistic/BS interpretation of risk of war and “drop” in violence. The math comes first, words later.

The same with the 2nd version of the precautionary principle.
PPS- When I wrote Antifragile, which is defined as a locally convex reaction to a nondegenerate stressor, the technical material was in another paper. It turned out to be a mistake as BS artists were arguing about “resilience” (which is nonconvex), etc. The math is first, even if it repels readers.

Eusociality, in which some individuals reduce their own lifetime reproductive potential to raise the offspring of others, underlies the most advanced forms of social organization and the ecologically dominant role of social insects and humans.

For the past four decades kin selection theory, based on the concept of inclusive fitness, has been the major theoretical attempt to explain the evolution of eusociality.

Here we show the limitations of this approach.

We argue that standard natural selection theory in the context of precise models of population structure represents a simpler and superior approach, allows the evaluation of multiple competing hypotheses, and provides an exact framework for interpreting empirical observations.

For most of the past half century, much of sociobiological theory has focused on the phenomenon called eusociality, where adult members are divided into reproductive and (partially) nonreproductive castes and the latter care for the young.

How can genetically prescribed selfless behavior arise by natural selection, which is seemingly its antithesis?

This problem has vexed biologists since Darwin, who in The Origin of Species declared the paradox—in particular displayed by ants—to be the most important challenge to his theory.

The solution offered by the master naturalist was to regard the sterile worker caste as a “well-flavored vegetable,” and the queen as the plant that produced it. Thus, he said, the whole colony is the unit of selection.

Modern students of collateral altruism have followed Darwin in continuing to focus on ants, honeybees, and other eusocial insects, because the colonies of most of their species are divided unambiguously into different castes.

Moreover, eusociality is not a marginal phenomenon in the living world.

The biomass of ants alone composes more than half that of all insects and exceeds that of all terrestrial nonhuman vertebrates combined1.

Humans, which can be loosely characterized as eusocial2, are dominant among the land vertebrates. The “superorganisms” emerging from eusociality are often bizarre in their constitution, and represent a distinct level of biological organization (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

The ultimate superorganisms

The rise and fall of inclusive fitness theory

For the past four decades kin selection theory has had a profound effect on the interpretation of the genetic evolution of eusociality and, by extension, of social behavior in general. The defining feature of kin selection theory is the concept of inclusive fitness. When evaluating an action, inclusive fitness is defined as the sum of the effect of this action on the actor’s own fitness and on the fitness of the recipient multiplied by the relatedness between actor and recipient, where “recipient” refers to anyone whose fitness is modified by the action.

The idea was first stated by J. B. S. Haldane in 1955, and a foundation of a full theory3 was laid out by W. D. Hamilton in 1964. The pivotal idea expressed by both writers was formalized by Hamilton as the inequality R > c/b, meaning that cooperation is favored by natural selection if relatedness is greater than the cost to benefit ratio. The relatedness parameter R was originally expressed as the fraction of the genes shared between the altruist and the recipient due to their common descent, hence the likelihood the altruistic gene will be shared. For example, altruism will evolve if the benefit to a brother or sister is greater than 2 times the cost to the altruist (R = 1/2) or 8 times in case of a first cousin (R = 1/8).

Due to its originality and seeming explanatory power, kin selection came to be widely accepted as a cornerstone of sociobiological theory. Yet it was not the concept itself in its abstract form that first earned favor, but the consequence suggested by Hamilton that came to be called the “haplodiploid hypothesis.” Haplodiploidy is the sex-determining mechanism in which fertilized eggs become females, and unfertilized eggs males. As a result, sisters are more closely related to one another (R = 3/4) than daughters are to their mothers (R = 1/2). Haplodiploidy happens to be the method of sex determination in the Hymenoptera, the order of ants, bees, and wasps. Therefore, colonies of altruistic individuals might, due to kin selection, evolve more frequently in hymenopterans than clades that have diplodiploid sex determination.

In the 1960s and 1970s, almost all the clades known to have evolved eusociality were in the Hymenoptera. Thus the haplodiploid hypothesis appeared to be supported, at least at first. The belief that haplodiploidy and eusociality are causally linked became standard textbook fare. The reasoning seemed compelling and even Newtonian in concept, traveling in logical steps from a general principle to a widely distributed evolutionary outcome4,5. It lent credence to a rapidly developing superstructure of sociobiological theory based on the presumed key role of kin selection.

By the 1990s, however, the haplodiploid hypothesis began to fail. The termites had never fitted this model of explanation. Then more eusocial species were discovered that use diplodiploid rather than haplodiploid sex determination. They included a species of platypodid ambrosia beetles, several independent lines of Synalpheus sponge-dwelling shrimp (Fig. 2) and bathyergid mole rats. The association between haplodiploidy and eusociality fell below statistical significance. As a result the haplodiploid hypothesis was in time abandoned by researchers on social insects68.

Figure 2

Species on either side of the eusociality threshold

Although the failure of the hypothesis was not by itself considered fatal to inclusive fitness theory, additional kinds of evidence began to accumulate that were unfavorable to the basic idea that relatedness is a driving force for the emergence of eusociality. One is the rarity of eusociality in evolution, and its odd distribution through the Animal Kingdom. Vast numbers of living species, spread across the major taxonomic groups, use either haplodiploid sex determination or clonal reproduction, with the latter yielding the highest possible degree of pedigree relatedness, yet with only one major group, the gall-making aphids, known to have achieved eusociality. For example, among the 70,000 or so known parasitoid and other apocritan Hymenoptera, all of which are haplodiploid, no eusocial species has been found. Nor has a single example come to light from among the 4,000 known hymenopteran sawflies and horntails, even though their larvae often form dense, cooperative aggregations6,9.

It has further turned out that selection forces exist in groups that diminish the advantage of close collateral kinship. They include the favoring of raised genetic variability by colony-level selection in the ants Pogonomyrmex occidentalis10 and Acromyrmex echinatior11—due, at least in the latter, to disease resistance. The contribution of genetic diversity to disease resistance at the colony level has moreover been established definitively in honeybees. Countervailing forces also include variability in predisposition to worker subcastes in P. badius, which may sharpen division of labor and improve colony fitness—although that hypothesis is yet to be tested12. Further, an increase in stability of nest temperature with genetic diversity has been found within nests of honeybees13 and Formica ants14. Other selection forces working against the binding role of close pedigree kinship are the disruptive impact of nepotism within colonies, and the overall negative effects associated with inbreeding15. Most of these countervailing forces act through group selection or, for eusocial insects in particular, through between-colony selection.

During its long history, inclusive fitness theory has stimulated countless measures of pedigree kinship and made them routine in sociobiology. It has supplied hypothetical explanations of phenomena such as the perturbations of colony investment ratios in male and female reproductives, and conflict and resolution of conflict among colony members. It has stimulated many correlative studies in the field and laboratory that indirectly suggest the influence of kin selection.

Yet, considering its position for four decades as the dominant paradigm in the theoretical study of eusociality, the production of inclusive fitness theory must be considered meager. During the same period, in contrast, empirical research on eusocial organisms has flourished, revealing the rich details of caste, communication, colony life cycles, and other phenomena at both the individual-selection and colony-selection levels. In some cases social behavior has been causally linked through all the levels of biological organization from molecule to ecosystem. Almost none of this progress has been stimulated or advanced by inclusive fitness theory, which has evolved into an abstract enterprise largely on its own16.

Foundational weakness of inclusive fitness theory

Many empiricists, who measure genetic relatedness and use inclusive fitness arguments, think that they are placing their considerations on a solid theoretical foundation. This is not the case. Inclusive fitness theory is a particular mathematical approach that has many limitations. It is not a general theory of evolution. It does not describe evolutionary dynamics nor distributions of gene frequencies1719. But one of the questions that can be addressed by inclusive fitness theory is the following: which of two strategies is more abundant on average in the stationary distribution of an evolutionary process? Here we show that even for studying this particular question, the use of inclusive fitness requires stringent assumptions, which are unlikely to be fulfilled by any given empirical system.

In the online material (Part A) we outline a general mathematical approach based on standard natural selection theory to derive a condition for one behavioral strategy to be favored over another. This condition holds for any mutation rate and any intensity of selection. Then we move to the limit of weak selection, which is required by inclusive fitness theory17,2022. Here all individuals have approximately the same fitness and both strategies are roughly equally abundant. For weak selection, we derive the general answer provided by standard natural selection theory, and we show that further limiting assumptions are needed for inclusive fitness theory to be formulated in an exact manner.

First, for inclusive fitness theory all interactions must be additive and pairwise. This limitation excludes most evolutionary games that have synergistic effects or where more than two players are involved23. Many tasks in an insect colony, for example, require the simultaneous cooperation of more than two individuals, and synergistic effects are easily demonstrated.

Second, inclusive fitness theory can only deal with very special population structures. It can describe either static structures or dynamic ones, but in the latter case there must be global updating and binary interactions. Global updating means that any two individuals compete uniformly for reproduction regardless of their (spatial) distance. Binary interaction means that any two individuals either interact or they do not, but there cannot be continuously varying intensities of interaction.

These particular mathematical assumptions, which are easily violated in nature, are needed for the formulation of inclusive fitness theory. If these assumptions do not hold, then inclusive fitness either cannot be defined or does not give the right criterion for what is favored by natural selection.

We also prove the following result: if we are in the limited world where inclusive fitness theory works, then the inclusive fitness condition is identical to the condition derived by standard natural selection theory. The exercise of calculating inclusive fitness does not provide any additional biological insight. Inclusive fitness is just another way of accounting3,20,24, but one that is less general (Fig 3).

Figure 3

The limitation of inclusive fitness

The question arises: if we have a theory that works for all cases (standard natural selection theory) and a theory that works only for a small subset of cases (inclusive fitness theory), and if for this subset the two theories lead to identical conditions, then why not stay with the general theory? The question is pressing, because inclusive fitness theory is provably correct only for a small (non-generic) subset of evolutionary models, but the intuition it provides is mistakenly embraced as generally correct25.

Sometimes it is argued that inclusive fitness considerations provide an intuitive guidance for understanding empirical data in the absence of an actual model of population genetics. However, as we show in the online material, inclusive fitness arguments without a fully specified model are misleading. It is possible to consider situations where all measures of relatedness are identical, yet cooperation is favored in one case, but not in the other. Conversely, two populations can have relatedness measures on the opposite ends of the spectrum and yet both structures are equally unable to support evolution of cooperation. Hence, relatedness measurements without a meaningful theory are difficult to interpret.

Another commonly held misconception is that inclusive fitness calculations are simpler than the standard approach. This is not the case; wherever inclusive fitness works, the two theories are identical and require the measurement of the same quantities. The impression that inclusive fitness is simpler arises from a misunderstanding of which effects are relevant: the inclusive fitness formula contains all individuals whose fitness is affected by an action, not only those whose payoff is changed (Fig 3c).

Hamilton’s rule almost never holds

Inclusive fitness theory often attempts to derive Hamilton’s rule, but finds it increasingly difficult to do so. In a simplified Prisoner’s Dilemma the interaction between cooperators and defectors is described in terms of cost and benefit. For many models we find that cooperators are favored over defectors for weak selection, if a condition holds that is of the form2631:


This result is a straightforward consequence of the linearity introduced by weak selection32 and has nothing to do with inclusive fitness considerations.

Inequality (1) is Hamilton’s rule if “something” turns out to be relatedness, R. In inclusive fitness theory we have R = (QQ ̄   )/(1−Q ̄   ), where Q is the average relatedness of two individuals who interact, while Q ̄   is the average relatedness in the population. If we are in a scenario where inclusive fitness theory works, then an inclusive fitness calculation might derive inequality (1), but typically find that “something” is not relatedness. This fact, which is often obfuscated, is already the case for the simplest possible spatial models33,34. Therefore, even in the limited domain of inclusive fitness theory, Hamilton’s rule does not hold in general.

Are there empirical tests of inclusive fitness theory?

Advocates of inclusive fitness theory claim that many empirical studies support their theory. But often the connection that is made between data and theory is superficial. For testing the usefulness of inclusive fitness theory it is not enough to obtain data on genetic relatedness and then look for correlations with social behavior. Instead one has to perform an inclusive fitness type calculation for the scenario that is being considered and then measure each quantity that appears in the inclusive fitness formula. Such a test has never been performed.

For testing predictions of inclusive fitness theory, another complication arises. Inclusive fitness theory is only another method of accounting, one that works for very restrictive scenarios and where it works it makes the same predictions as standard natural selection theory. Hence, there are no predictions that are specific to inclusive fitness theory.

In part B of the online material we discuss some studies, which explore the role of kinship in social evolution. We argue that the narrow focus on relatedness often fails to characterize the underlying biology and prevents the development of multiple competing hypotheses.

An alternative theory of eusocial evolution

The first step in the origin of animal eusociality is the formation of groups within a freely mixing population. There are many ways in which this can occur3543. Groups can assemble when nest sites or food sources on which a species is specialized are local in distribution; or when parents and offspring stay together; or when migratory columns branch repeatedly before settling; or when flocks follow leaders to known feeding grounds; or even randomly by mutual local attraction. A group can be pulled together when cooperation among unrelated members proves beneficial to them, whether by simple reciprocity or by mutualistic synergism or manipulation44.

The way in which groups are formed, and not simply their existence, likely has a profound effect on attainment of the next stage. What counts then is the cohesion and persistence of the group. For example, all of the clades known with primitively eusocial species surviving (in aculeate wasps, halictine and xylocopine bees, sponge-nesting shrimp, termopsid termites, colonial aphids and thrips, ambrosia beetles, and naked mole rats) have colonies that have built and occupied defensible nests6 (Fig. 2). In a few cases, unrelated individuals join forces to create the little fortresses. Unrelated colonies of Zootermopsis angusticollis, for example, fuse to form a supercolony with a single royal pair through repeated episodes of combat45. In most cases of animal eusociality, the colony is begun by a single inseminated queen (Hymenoptera) or pair (others). In all cases, however, regardless of its manner of founding, the colony grows by the addition of offspring that serve as nonreproductive workers. Inclusive fitness theorists have pointed to resulting close pedigree relatedness as evidence for the key role of kin selection in the origin of eusociality, but as argued here and elsewhere46,47, relatedness is better explained as the consequence rather than the cause of eusociality.

Grouping by family can hasten the spread of eusocial alleles, but it is not a causative agent. The causative agent is the advantage of a defensible nest, especially one both expensive to make and within reach of adequate food.

The second stage is the accumulation of other traits that make the change to eusociality more likely. All these preadaptations arise in the same manner as constructing a defensible nest by the solitary ancestor, by individual-level selection, with no anticipation of a potential future role in the origin of eusociality. They are products of adaptive radiation, in which species split and spread into different niches. In the process some species are more likely than others to acquire potent preadaptations. The theory of this stage is, in other words, the theory of adaptive radiation.

Preadaptations in addition to nest construction have become especially clear in the Hymenoptera. One is the propensity, documented in solitary bees, to behave like eusocial bees when forced together experimentally. In Ceratina and Lasioglossum, the coerced partners proceed variously to divide labor in foraging, tunneling, and guarding4850. Furthermore, in at least two species of Lasioglossum, females engage in leading by one bee and following by the other bee, a trait that characterizes primitively eusocial bees. The division of labor appears to be the result of a preexisting behavioral ground plan, in which solitary individuals tend to move from one task to another only after the first is completed. In eusocial species, the algorithm is readily transferred to the avoidance of a job already being filled by another colony member. It is evident that bees, and also wasps, are springloaded, that is, strongly predisposed with a trigger, for a rapid shift to eusociality, once natural selection favors the change5153.

The results of the forced-group experiments fit the fixed-threshold model proposed for the emergence of the phenomenon in established insect societies54,55. This model posits that variation, sometimes genetic in origin among individual colony members and sometimes purely phenotypic, exists in the response thresholds associated with different tasks. When two or more colony members interact, those with the lowest thresholds are first to undertake a task at hand. The activity inhibits their partners, who are then more likely to move on to whatever other tasks are available.

Another hymenopteran preadaptation is progressive provisioning. The first evolutionary stage in nest-based parental care is mass provisioning, in which the female builds a nest, places enough paralyzed prey in it to rear a single offspring, lays an egg on the prey, seals the nest, and moves on to construct another nest. In progressive provisioning the female builds a nest, lays an egg in it, then feeds or at least guards the hatching larva repeatedly until it matures (Fig 4a).

Figure 4

Solitary and primitively eusocial waps

The third phase in evolution is the origin of the eusocial alleles, whether by mutation or recombination. In preadapted hymenopterans, this event can occur as a single mutation. Further, the mutation need not prescribe the construction of a novel behavior. It need simply cancel an old one. Crossing the threshold to eusociality requires only that a female and her adult offspring do not disperse to start new, individual nests but instead remain at the old nest. At this point, if environmental selection pressures are strong enough, the springloaded preadaptations kick in and the group commences cooperative interactions that make it a eusocial colony (Fig 4b).

Eusocial genes have not yet been identified, but at least two other genes (or small ensembles of genes) are known that prescribe major changes in social traits by silencing mutations in preexisting traits. More than 110 million years ago the earliest ants, or their immediate wasp ancestors, altered the genetically based regulatory network of wing development in such a way that some of the genes could be turned off under particular influence of the diet or some other environmental factor. Thus was born the wingless worker caste56. In a second example, discovered in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta, new variants of the major gene Gp-9 greatly reduce or remove the ability of workers to recognize aliens from other colonies, as well as the ability to discriminate among fertile queens. The resulting “microgyne” strain forms dense, continuous supercolonies that have spread over much of the species range in the southern United States57.

These examples, and the promise they offer of improved theory and genetic analysis, bring us to the fourth phase in the evolution of animal eusociality. As soon as the parents and subordinate offspring remain at the nest, natural selection targets the emergent traits created by the interactions of colony members.

By focusing on the emergent traits, it is possible to envision a new mode of theoretical research. It is notable that the different roles of the reproducing parents and their nonreproductive offspring are not genetically determined. They are products of the same genes or ensembles of genes that have phenotypes programmed to be flexible58. As evidence from primitively eusocial species has shown, they are products of representative alternative phenotypes of the same genotype, at least that pertaining to caste. In other words, the queen and her worker have the same genes that prescribe caste and division of labor, but they may differ freely in other genes. This circumstance lends credence to the view that the colony can be viewed as an individual, or “superorganism”. Further, insofar as social behavior is concerned, descent is from queen to queen, with the worker force generated as an extension of the queen (or cooperating queens) in each generation. Selection acts on the traits of the queen and the extrasomatic projection of her personal genome. This perception opens a new form of theoretical inquiry, which we illustrate in Box 1.

Box 1

A mathematical model for the evolution of eusociality

Consider a solitary insect species that reproduces via progressive provisioning. Mated females build a nest, lay eggs and feed the larvae. When the larvae hatch the offspring leave the nest. We assume that the dispersal behavior can be affected by genetic mutations. We postulate a mutant allele, a, which induces daughters to stay with the nest. In our model there are three types of females: AA and Aa daughters leave the nest, while aa stay at the nest with probability, q, and become workers. Because of the haplodiploid genetics, there are only two types of males, A and a, both of whom leave the nest. There are six types of mated females: AA-A, AA-a, Aa-A, Aa-a, aa-A and aa-a. The first two letters denote the genotype of the female, and the third letter denotes the genotype of the sperm she has received. Only Aa-a and aa-a mothers establish colonies, because half of the daughters of Aa-a and all daughters of aa-a have genotype aa.

What are the conditions for the eusocial allele, a, to be favored over the solitary allele, A? As outlined in Part C of the supplementary online material the fundamental consideration is the following. In the presence of workers, the eusocial queen is expected to have two fitness advantages over solitary mothers: she has increased fecundity and reduced mortality. While her workers forage and feed the larvae, she can stay at home, which reduces her risk of predation, increases her oviposition rate and enables her (together with some workers) to defend the nest. Nevertheless, we find that the eusocial allele can invade the solitary one, only if these fitness advantages are large and arise already for small colony size. Moreover the probability, q, that aa daughters stay with the nest must be within a certain (sometimes narrow) parameter range. On the other hand, once the eusocial allele is dominant, it is easier for it to resist invasion by the solitary one. Therefore, the model explains why it is hard to evolve eusociality, but easier to maintain it once it has been established.

In our model relatedness does not drive the evolution of eusociality. But once eusociality has evolved, colonies consist of related individuals, because daughters stay with their mother to raise further offspring.

The interaction between queen and workers is not a standard cooperative dilemma, because the latter are not independent agents. Their properties depend on the genotype of the queen and the sperm she has stored. Moreover, daughters who leave the nest are not simply “defectors”; they are needed for the reproduction of the colony.

Inclusive fitness theory always claims to be a “gene-centered” approach, but instead it is “worker-centered”: it puts the worker into the center of attention and asks why does the worker behave altruistically and raise the offspring of another individual? The claim is that the answer to this question requires a theory that goes beyond the standard fitness concept of natural selection. But here we show that this is not the case. By formulating a mathematical model of population genetics and family structure, we see that there is no need for inclusive fitness theory. The competition between the eusocial and the solitary allele is described by a standard selection equation. There is no paradoxical altruism, no payoff matrix, no evolutionary game. A “gene-centered” approach for the evolution of eusociality makes inclusive fitness theory unnecessary.

The fourth phase is the proper subject of combined investigations in population genetics and behavioral ecology. Research programs have scarcely begun in this subject in part due to the relative neglect of the study of the environmental selection forces that shape early eusocial evolution. The natural history of the more primitive, and especially the structure of their nests and fierce defense of them, suggest that a key element in the origin of eusociality is defense against enemies, including parasites, predators, and rival colonies. But very few field and laboratory studies have been devised to test this and potential competing hypotheses.

In the fifth and final phase, between colony selection shapes the life cycle and caste systems of the more advanced eusocial species. As a result, many of the clades have evolved very specialized and elaborate social systems.

To summarize very briefly, we suggest that the full theory of eusocial evolution consists of a series of stages, of which the following may be recognized:

  1. The formation of groups.
  2. The occurrence of a minimum and necessary combination of preadaptive traits, causing the groups to be tightly formed. In animals at least, the combination includes a valuable and defensible nest.
  3. The appearance of mutations that prescribe the persistence of the group, most likely by the silencing of dispersal behavior. Evidently, a durable nest remains a key element in maintaining the prevalence. Primitive eusociality may emerge immediately due to springloaded preadaptations.
  4. Emergent traits caused by the interaction of group members are shaped through natural selection by environmental forces.
  5. Multilevel selection drives changes in the colony life cycle and social structures, often to elaborate extremes.

We have not addressed the evolution of human social behavior here, but parallels with the scenarios of animal eusocial evolution exist, and they are, we believe, well worth examining.


The Intellectual Yet Idiot

Go to the profile of Nassim Nicholas Taleb

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking  (suffer the consequences of his talks or suggestions?) “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us

1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them.

With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking.

They can’t tell science from scientism (pseudo-science) — in fact in their image-oriented minds scientism looks more scientific than real science.

(For instance it is trivial to show the following: much of what the Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types — those who want to “nudge” us into some behavior — much of what they would classify as “rational” or “irrational” (or some such categories indicating deviation from a desired or prescribed protocol) comes from their misunderstanding of probability theory and cosmetic use of first-order models.)

They are also prone to mistake the ensemble for the linear aggregation of its components as we saw in the chapter extending the minority rule.

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in most countries, the government’s role is between five and ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP).

The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and is rarely seen outside specialized outlets, think tanks, the media, and universities — most people have proper jobs and there are not many openings for the IYI.

Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite. He fails to naturally detect sophistry.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited.

He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”.

What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences.

While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter.

He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver (again, no real skin in the game as the concept is foreign to the IYI).

Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube.

Not only did he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill.

The IYI has a copy of the first hardback edition of The Black Swan on his shelves, but mistakes absence of evidence for evidence of absence.

He believes that GMOs are “science”, that the “technology” is not different from conventional breeding as a result of his readiness to confuse science with scientism.

Typically, the IYI get the first order logic right, but not second-order (or higher) effects making him totally incompetent in complex domains.

In the comfort of his suburban home with 2-car garage, he advocated the “removal” of Gadhafi because he was “a dictator”, not realizing that removals have consequences (recall that he has no skin in the game and doesn’t pay for results).

The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, election forecasting models, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.

The IYI is member of a club to get traveling privileges;

if social scientist he uses statistics without knowing how they are derived (like Steven Pinker and psycholophasters in general);

when in the UK, he goes to literary festivals; he drinks red wine with steak (never white);

he used to believe that fat was harmful and has now completely reversed;

he takes statins because his doctor told him to do so;

he fails to understand ergodicity and when explained to him, he forgets about it soon later;

he doesn’t use Yiddish words even when talking business;

he studies grammar before speaking a language;

he has a cousin who worked with someone who knows the Queen;

he has never read Frederic Dard, Libanius Antiochus, Michael Oakeshot, John Gray, Amianus Marcellinus, Ibn Battuta, Saadiah Gaon, or Joseph De Maistre;

he has never gotten drunk with Russians; he never drank to the point when one starts breaking glasses (or, preferably, chairs);

he doesn’t even know the difference between Hecate and Hecuba (which in Brooklynese is “can’t tell sh**t from shinola”);

he doesn’t know that there is no difference between “pseudointellectual” and “intellectual” in the absence of skin in the game;

has mentioned quantum mechanics at least twice in the past five years in conversations that had nothing to do with physics.

He knows at any point in time what his words or actions are doing to his reputation.

But a much easier marker: he doesn’t even deadlift.


From the reactions to this piece, I discovered that the IYI has difficulty, when reading, in differentiating between the satirical and the literal.


The IYI thinks this criticism of IYIs means “everybody is an idiot”, not realizing that their group represents, as we said, a tiny minority — but they don’t like their sense of entitlement to be challenged and although they treat the rest of humans as inferiors, they don’t like it when the waterhose is turned to the opposite direction (what the French call arroseur arrosé).

(For instance, Richard Thaler, partner of the dangerous GMO advocate Übernudger Cass Sunstein, interpreted this piece as saying that “there are not many non-idiots not called Taleb”, not realizing that people like him are < 1% or even .1% of the population.)

Note: this piece can be reproduced, translated, and published by anyone under the condition that it is in its entirety and mentions that it is extracted from Skin in the Game.

REMOVE SKIN In the GAME:  Like “What would you do?”

John Peter shared this link


Recall from Antifragile and earlier discussions here that a doctor’s answer would be different if you put (emotionally speaking) his skin in the game by asking him “what would you do?” instead of “what should I do?”

The opposite works equally well.

A trick I did use as a trader: under pressure, to remove the emotional burden and the loss of mental clarity, you imagine that you are someone else in the situation.

That someone else should be some precise person, in flesh and blood, say X.

What should X do now? buy more? liquidate, etc.

It applies to any decision, say “should X buy this house?”

You can use the strategy in a lot of dilemmas. Replace yourself with X, and ask: “should X resign because of ethics?”

Commencement Address 2016 at American University in Beirut

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Dear graduating students,

This is the first commencement I have ever attended (I did not attend my own graduation). Further, I have to figure out how lecture you on success when I do not feel successful yet –and it is not false modesty.

Success as a Fragile Construction

For I have a single definition of success: you look in the mirror every evening, and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life.

Let him or her be the only judge; not your reputation, not your wealth, not your standing in the community, not the decorations on your lapel.

If you do not feel ashamed, you are successful. All other definitions of success are modern constructions; fragile modern constructions.

The Ancient Greeks’ main definition of success was to have had a heroic death. But as we live in a less martial world, even in Lebanon, we can adapt our definition of

success as having taken a heroic route for the benefits of the collective, as narrowly or broadly defined collective as you wish.

So long as all you do is not all for you, secret societies used to have a rule for uomo d’onore: do something for yourself and something for other members.

And virtue is inseparable from courage. Like the courage to do something unpopular.

Take risks for the benefit of others; it doesn’t have to be humanity, it can be helping say Beirut Madinati or the local municipality.

The more micro, the less abstract, the better.

Success requires absence of fragility. I’ve seen billionaires terrified of journalists, wealthy people who felt crushed because their brother in law got very rich, academics with Nobel who were scared of comments on the web.

The higher you go, the worse the fall. For almost all people I’ve met, external success came with increased fragility and a heightened state of insecurity.

The worst are those “former something” types with 4 page CVs who, after leaving office, and addicted to the attention of servile bureaucrats, find themselves discarded:

as if you went home one evening to discover that someone suddenly emptied your house of all its furniture.

But self-respect is robust –that’s the approach of the Stoic school, which incidentally was a Phoenician movement.

(If someone wonders who are the Stoics I’d say Buddhists with an attitude problem, imagine someone both very Lebanese and Buddhist).

I’ve seen robust people in my village Amioun who were proud of being local citizens involved in their tribe; they go to bed proud and wake up happy.

Or Russian mathematicians who, during the difficult post-Soviet transition period, were proud of making $200 a month and do work that is appreciated by twenty people –and considered that showing one’s decorations –or accepting awards–were a sign of weakness and lack of confidence in one’s contributions.

And, believe it or not, some wealthy people are robust –but you just don’t hear about them because they are not socialites, live next door, and drink Arak baladi not Veuve Cliquot.

Personal History

Now a bit of my own history. Don’t tell anyone, but all the stuff you think comes from deep philosophical reflection gambling instinct –just imagine a compulsive gambler

playing high priest.

People don’t like to believe it: my education came from trading and risk taking with some help from school.

I was lucky to have a background closer to that of a classical Mediterranean or a Medieval European than a modern citizen.

For I was born in a library –my parents had an account at Librarie Antoine in Bab Ed Driss and a big library.

They bought more books than they could read so they were happy someone was reading the books for them.

Also my father knew every erudite person in Lebanon, particularly historians.

So we often had Jesuit priests at dinner and because of their multidisciplinary erudition they were the only role models for me: my idea of education is to have professors just to eat with them and ask them questions.

So I valued erudition over intelligence –and still do.

I initially wanted to be a writer and philosopher; one needs to read tons of books for that –you had no edge if your knowledge was limited to the Lebanese Baccalaureat program.

So I skipped school most days and, starting at age 14, started reading voraciously.

Later I discovered an inability to concentrate on subjects others imposed on me.

I separated school for credentials and reading for one’s edification.

First Break

I drifted a bit with no focus, and remained on page 8 of the Great Lebanese Novel until the age of 23 (my novel was advancing one page per year).

Then I got a break on the day when at Wharton I accidentally discovered probability theory and became obsessed with it.

But, as I said it did not come from lofty philosophizing and scientific hunger, only from the thrills and hormonal flush one gets while taking risks in the markets.

A friend had told me about complex financial derivatives and I decided to make a career in them.

It was a combination of trading and complex mathematics.

The field was new and uncharted. But they were very difficult mathematically.

Greed and fear are teachers. I was like people with addictions who have a below average intelligence but were capable of the most ingenious tricks to procure their drugs.

When there was risk on the line, suddenly a second brain in me manifested itself and these theorems became interesting.

When there is fire, you will run faster than in any competition. Then I became dumb again when there was no real action.

Furthermore, as a trader the mathematics we used was adapted to our problem, like a glove, unlike academics with a theory looking for some application.

Applying math to practical problems was another business altogether; it meant a deep understanding of the problem before putting the equations on it.

So I found getting a doctorate after 12 years in quantitative finance much easier than getting simpler degrees.

I discovered along the way that the economists and social scientists were almost always applying the wrong math to the problems, what became later the theme of The Black Swan. Their statistical tools were not just wrong, they were outrageously wrong –they still are.

Their methods underestimated “tail events“, those rare but consequential jumps. They were too arrogant to accept it.

This discovery allowed me to achieve financial independence in my twenties, after the crash of 1987.

So I felt I had something to say in the way we used probability, and how we think about, and manage uncertainty.

Probability is the logic of science and philosophy; it touches on many subjects: theology, philosophy, psychology, science, and the more mundane risk engineering–incidentally probability was born in the Levant in the 8th Century as 3elm el musadafat, Science of hazard) used to decrypt messages.

So the past thirty years for me have been flaneuring across subjects, bothering people along the way, pulling pranks on people who take themselves seriously.

You take a medical paper and ask some scientist full of himself how he interprets the “p-value”; the author will be terrorized.

The International Association of Name Droppers

The second break came to me when the crisis of 2008 happened and felt vindicated and made another bundle putting my neck on the line.

But fame came with the crisis and I discovered that I hated fame, famous people, caviar, champagne, complicated food, expensive wine and, mostly wine commentators.

I like mezze with local Arak baladi, including squid in its ink (sabbidej), no less no more, and wealthy people tend to have their preferences dictated by a system meant to milk them.

My own preferences became obvious to me when after a dinner in a Michelin 3 stars with stuffy and boring rich people, I stopped by Nick’s pizza for a $6.95 dish and I haven’t had a Michelin meal since, or anything with complex names.

I am particularly allergic to people who like themselves to be surrounded by famous people, the IAND (International Association of Name Droppers).

So, after about a year in the limelight I went back to the seclusion of my library (in Amioun or near NY), and started a new career as a researcher doing technical


When I read my bio I always feel it is that of another person: it describes what I did, Not what I am doing and would like to do.

On Advice and Skin in the Game

I am just describing my life.

I hesitate to give advice because every major single piece of advice I was given turned out to be wrong and I am glad I didn’t follow them.

I was told to focus and I never did.

I was told to never procrastinate and I waited 20 years for The Black Swan and it sold 3 million copies.

I was told to avoid putting fictional characters in my books and I did put in Nero Tulip and Fat Tony because I got bored otherwise.

I was told to Not insult the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal; the more I insulted them the nicer they were to me and the more they solicited Op-Eds.

I was told to avoid lifting weights for a back pain and became a weightlifter: never had a back problem since.

If I had to relive my life I would be even more stubborn and uncompromising than I have been.

One should never do anything without skin in the game.

If you give advice, you need to be exposed to losses from it. It is an extension to the silver rule.

So I will tell you what tricks I employ.

Do not read the newspapers, or follow the news in any way or form. To be convinced, try reading last years’ newspaper.

It doesn’t mean ignore the news; it means that you go from the events to the news, not the other way around.

If something is nonsense, you say it and say it loud. You will be harmed a little but will be antifragile – in the long run people who need to trust you will trust you.

When I was still an obscure author, I walked out of a studio Bloomberg Radio during an interview because the interviewer was saying nonsense.

Three years later Bloomberg Magazine did a cover story on me.

Every economist on the planet hates me (except of course those of AUB).

I’ve suffered two smear campaigns, and encouraged by the most courageous Lebanese ever since Hannibal, Ralph Nader, I took reputational risks by exposing large evil corporations  such as Monsanto, and suffered a smear campaign for it.

Treat the doorman with a bit more respect than the big boss.

If something is boring, avoid it –save taxes and visits to the mother in law. Why?

Because your biology is the best nonsense detector; use it to navigate your life.

The No-Nos

There are a lot of such rules in my books, so for now let me finish with a maxim. The following are no-nos:

Muscles without strength, friendship without trust, opinion without risk, change without aesthetics, age without values, food without nourishment, power without fairness,

facts without rigor, degrees without erudition, militarism without fortitude, progress without civilization, complication without depth, fluency without content,

and, most of all, religion without tolerance.


Minority rule: it takes a few very intolerant and tenacious people to make the system more honest

No troll should be able to abuse the media and academic system!

Ethical Breaches

Background: After being called a BS vendor by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the past, Smith in a vendetta, has written 4 articles with similar attempts at discrediting and distorting without the slightest familiarity with the subject. More on these, later, as this is not the end.

Rule 1: You shall not use a media company such as Bloomberg to troll people you hate.
Rule 2: You shall not use the credibility of an academic position to troll people, particularly when you have failed academia and are concealing that you were terminated.
The article makes sure we know that Noah Smith is an assistant professor at Stony Brooks.
Except that I was told in January that he had been “resigned” for not meeting academic standards and was not coming back for the Jan 2016 semester,
in fact “never coming back”.
Smith claimed a sabbatical which conflicts with what I was told by faculty members.
Smith should not be using sham affiliations for positions he doesn’t have so he can talk about a subject he knows nothing about.

This is a public service for others who might fall prey to the overactive BS operator passing for expert Noah Smith (who was thrown out of academia for not meeting standards), with the misfortune of having been given a voice on Bloomberg, thus risking to turn Bloomberg (otherwise with tight standards) into a BS vending operation.

John Peter  shared this link of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. April 18 at 4:38pm ·

Added a page as public service (he will now leave me alone, this is to protect others, preserve the integrity of the system)
This is the minority rule: it takes only a few very very intolerant and tenacious people to make the system more honest.

Summary of Breaches of Journalistic Ethics & Logic  in Noah Smith’s Bloomberg View Article on The Black Swan of April 16, 2016

Ethical Flaw

Taleb in The Black Swan:

There are two varieties of rare events:

a) the narrated Black Swans, those that are present in the current discourse and that you are likely to hear about on television, and

b) those nobody talks about, since they escape models—those that you would feel ashamed discussing in public because they do not seem plausible. I can safely say that it is entirely compatible with human nature that the incidences of Black Swans would be overestimated in the first case, but severely underestimated in the second one.
This miscalculation problem is a little more subtle.

In truth, outliers are not as sensitive to underestimation since they are fragile to estimation errors, which can go in both directions.

As we saw in Chapter 6, there are conditions under which people overestimate the unusual or some specific unusual event (say when sensational images come to their minds)—which is how insurance companies thrive.

So my general point is that these events are very fragile to miscalculation, with a general severe underestimation mixed with an occasional severe overestimation.

Noah Smith in Bloomberg View: [goes on and on presenting the Black Swan as only overestimating market crashes]… In other words, Taleb might be wrong — people might be overestimating, rather than underestimating, the risk of market crashes.

So visibly Noah Smith is not familiar with the book that he is discussing.

This led to an incoherent response: Noah Smith said he “agrees with points above” (not explaining then his Taleb is “wrong” other than to create hype), and his editor, James Grieff saying “He read the book but disagrees with it”. His editor claims that “he read the book”is like someone claiming he read War and Peace, it takes place in Venezuela.

Background: Noah Smith has a long documented track record of writing critiques of books he hasn’t seen, and discussing papers he hasn’t read.

Here you have authors spending 10 years writing a book, and some troll with a megaphone critiquing it on things that have nothing to do with the content.

I first became aware of it when he previously commented on my skin-in-the-game without realizing there was the expression of a mathematical theorem, when it was on page 2.

Logical Fiasco

The editor has to have a problem to miss the severe asynchrony. Noah Smith  takes a book published in 2007 (before the last crisis), discussing events until 2006, then says “Taleb is wrong” from inference on market estimation of probability between 2007-2016 and what decision to take today based on prices today, 2016.

Perhaps the participants adjusted to events of 2007, the book, or something else.  The claim by Noah Smith about the Black Swan concerns the market value of risk, not the structure of risk, which is something subsequent to the book. That his editor missed the asynchrony is very, very strange…

Other Violations of Professionalism

Noah Smith has no familiarity with finance.

In 2009 I made a statement in Moscow about 4 trades to do. I was not aware of being filmed and used trader language.

One of them was short T Bonds. After I communicated to Noah Smith that he was a BS vendor, he advertised in 2014 my claim of short bonds … in 2009 as a way to wreck my credibility in every way possible.  Did he report on the other trades in the ensemble? No.

Did it hit him that trades are something that don’t last 4 years? No.

Did it hit him that bonds collapsed after the talk? (markets happen to go up and down).  No.

Did he realize that I have several hundred thousand trades in my career and no self respecting scientist would play the media megaphone to select one, particularly 5 years later without knowing the true outcome?

This is why he couldn’t write an academic paper: his mind has a defect in its logical wiring.

No finance academic would commit the lack of professionalism of cherry-picking a trade in a portfolio, and, worse, not realizing that a dynamic trader buys and sells and there is low correlation between the trade and the fate of the market.

How can someone that ignorant about finance write about finance?

It used to be Carthage must be destroyed.

Now it is: Delenda est Salafi-stan (Daesh land)

For centuries, the western world had no moral standard: All its strategy was based on power domination.

There were no good, bad, evil people to ally with or fight against: Pure uncompromising sense of terror tactics in all its variations.

WSIS (Wahhabi State in Syria and Iraq) is challenging the western brutality, terror tactics, pre-emptive wars, colonial domination, economic boycott…

The western world ire against WSIS is robbing them from the monopoly of deciding, planning and executing the terror tactics in over 134 States, led by the USA.

After the signing of the second Punic war peace treaty, between Carthage and Rome for the dominion of the Mediterranean trade, Cato the ancient kept demanding that Rome should launch a third pre-emptive war on Carthage.

Cato had visited Carthage with many other Roman senators and had noted that the nemesis of Rome was making rapid stride in recovering from the last war and gaining economic advantages.

For years, Cato kept starting or ending his speeches at the Roman Senate with variations around “Delenda est Cartago“, *Carthage must be destroyed*.

Until the Roman fleet went and destroyed Carthage, ending its threat for ever.

Carthage was far more cultured and civilized than Rome, and never attempted an open war on Rome, even when Rome was crawling out of the caves.

Hannibal could have easily entered Rome that was evacuated, but he refrained and lingered 12 years in Italy, defeating all the attacks of the Roman legions.

Carthage was willing to share the Mediterranean Sea as the hub of civilization and trade.

Rome position was the same as Bush Junior: You are either with us or against us.  Total dominion was the motto of this nascent empire.

After the latest Paris terror attacks, Holland announced that war on terror and Daesh will resume until ISIS is destroyed.

How war ever destroyed an idea, rooted in religious misgivings and myths?


Delenda est Salafi-stan.

Since Sep 11, 2001 no focus to cut the SOURCE of terrorism: Salafi funding of terror and intolerance in schools was widespread after the invasion of the Soviet Union of Afghanistan in 1980.

The Jihadists flocked to Afghanistan with the blessing of the USA and the western States.

Saudi Arabia began a program of building thousands of religious schools (Madrassat) in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Africa.

Most Mosques built in Europe, and they are by the hundreds, are funded by Saudi Arabia and the clerics appointed by this Wahhabi most reactionary monarchy.

Religious Schools spreading the Wahhabi extremist intolerant sect.

And no government challenging the Non-Tolerance dogma disseminated by these Mosques and Madrassat.

After 2001, the USA decided to let Saudi Arabia dominate the religious teaching while refocusing its attention on Invading Iraq in 2003, for no valid or urgent reasons.

Someone who went to school on Sept 11 in Saudi Arabia, now age 18 is brainwashed by the system to believe that all Shiites, Christians, and other minorities are deviant beings whose death doesn’t count

Over 3 decades, million of Moslems have been brainwashed to fight the new Crusaders, of every religious sect Not exactly matching the Wahhabi dogma.

And ISIS is the exact copy of the Wahhabi mind set.

The Saudi Wahhabis are the real foe

We must take our fight to the preachers and financiers of terror.

Singling out ISIS is a sure message that the USA, France and England are Not serious in eliminating terrorist attacks: They want to keep to the strategy of destabilizing the Middle-East.

Note: The Wahhabi tribes had made it a policy of devastating Damascus and Basra since the 18th century and Britain was the main supporter of this tribe in funds and weapons.

Egypt of Muhammad Ali defeated this tribe after a lengthy incursion and entered its capital in 1820.

Again, Britain resupplied this tribe with funds and new weapons in order to weaken the Ottoman Empire and captured the port of Aden.

The US conservative protestant religion liked the Wahhabi sect because it destroyed all shrines and even obliterated the shrines in Meddina and was about to raze the tomb of the Prophet and even destroy the Kaa3ba in 1925.

Curriculum of Intolerance: Saudi Wahhabi monarchy

Since 2001 our policy for fighting Islamic terrorists has been missing the elephant in the room.

Sort of like treating symptoms and completely missing the disease.

Policymakers and slow-thinking bureaucrats stupidly let terrorism grow by ignoring the roots.

We lost a generation: someone who went to grammar school in Saudi Arabia (our “ally”) after September 11 is now an adult, indocrinated into believing and supporting Salafi violence, hence encouraged to finance it –while we got distracted by the use of complicated weapons and machinery.

 Nassim Nicholas Taleb posted on FB

Even worse, the Wahabis have accelerated their brainwashing of East and West Asians with their madrassas (thousands of Wahhabi brand of religious schools), thanks to high oil revenues, and that since 1980 and the fight against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.

So instead of invading Iraq, blowing up Jihadi John and individual terrorists, thus causing a multiplication of these people, it would have been be easier to focus on the source of all problems: the Wahabi/Salafi education and promotion of intolerance by which a Shiite or a Yazidi or a Christian are deviant people.

If we absolutely need to put people in Guantanamo, it is the Salafi preachers, Wahhabi clerics, not just the people swayed by their teaching.

And if we need to correct Saudi problems, we need to start by sending to them OUR preachers, educating them into tolerance, explaining the very concept of the separation of church and state.

Or, better even, encourage Muslim preachers who promote religious tolerance (laka dinak wa li dini: You have your religion and I have mine) — instead of seeing them ostracized.

And if you find violence unavoidable, it should be directed at the Saudi and Qatari funders of violence, as well as the Salafi theorists, rather than the young performers.

PS:  Beware the usual ISIS crypto-sympathizer who sort of “explains” (that is, justifies) what happened (intentionally killing civilians) with some other Western event that can go all the way to the crusades…

Otherwise it is “biased”.

You cannot condemn ISIS without at the same time trying to be “balanced“? Who are they fooling?

This is the technique of bundling problems that can be treated independently and you need to learn to deal with them by forcing them to discuss the problem of ISIS on its own.

Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom released a report analyzing a set of Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks in use during the current academic year in Islamic studies courses for elementary and secondary students.
The textbooks promote an ideology of hatred toward people, including Muslims…




March 2023

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