Posted on 08/25/2013

Photo taken on August 25, 2013

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Pages 187-188
Nassim N Taleb

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I carry a large wheeled suitcase mostly filled with books on almost all my travels. It is heavy. …….

Can you imagine that it took close to six thousand years between the invention of the wheel (by, we assume the Mesopotamians) and this brilliant implementation (by some luggage maker in a drab industrial suburb)? And billions of hours spent by travelers like myself schlepping luggage through corridors full of rude customs offiers.

Worse, this took place three decades or so after we put a man on the moon. And consider all this sophistication used in sending someone into space, and its totally negligible impact on my life, and compare it to this lactic acid in my arms, pain in my lower back, soreness in the palms of my hands, and sense of helplessness in front of a long corridor. Indeed, though extremely consequential, we are taking about something trivials: a very simple technology.

But the technology is only trivial retrospectively – not prospectively. All those brilliant minds, usually disheveled and rumpled, who go to faraway conferences to discuss Godel, Shmodel, Riemann’s Conjecture, quarks, shmarks, had to carry their suitcases through airport terminals, without thinking about applying their brain to such an insignificant transportation problem. (We said that the intellectual society rewards “difficult” derivations, compared to practice in which there is no penalty for simplicity.) And even if those brilliant minds had applied their supposedly overdeveloped brains to such an obvious and trivial problem, they probably would not have gotten anywhere.

This tells us something about the way we map the future. we humans lack imagination, to the point of not even knowing what tomorrow’s important things look like. We use randomness to spoon-feed us with discoveries – which is why antifragility is necessary.

The story of the wheel itself is even more humbling than that of the suitcases: we keep being reminded the Mesoamericans did not invent the wheel. They did. They had wheels. But the wheels were on small tops for children. Ift was just like the story of the suitcase: the Mayans and Zapotecs did not make the leap to the application. They used vast quantities of human labor, corn maize, and lactic acid to move gigantic slabs of stone in the flat spaces ideal for pushcarts and chariots where they built their pyramids they even rolled them on logs of wood. Meanwhile, their small children were rolling their toys on the stucco floors (or perhaps not even doing that, as the toys might have been solely used for mortuary purposes.) ~ Pages 187-188 “Antifrigalie” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
4 years ago.