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“Fooled by Randomness” by Nicholas Taleb


This Book Club session was the Nightwatchman Society’s first completely virtual discussion, as it was held amidst the Covid-19 outbreak that is currently affecting many countries around the world, including Sri Lanka. It was held on the 1st of April, 2020 on the platform “Zoom” at 5.00 PM.

Our chosen book for this session was “Fooled by Randomness” by Nicholas Taleb – an intriguing read about the fallibility of human cognition, particularly focusing on the often underestimated roles that chance and randomness play in our lives.

The conversation began with a focus on Chapter 2  and 3 of the book, which focus on alternative histories and the nature in which people engage with history as a mechanism to shape the future. The question of whether we can truly learn from the past, and whether learning from history equals changing our approaches in the future was tackled from several aspects. With the current pandemic as an example, the extent to which we can learn and use past events to prepare for the future was also raised in line with the book’s message on the unexpected and random that can interject into our lives. 

The discussion later shifted its focus to look at risk in relation to randomness – and how we as humans, attempt to calculate, give significance to, and predict risk. The validity of judging and shaping one’s perspective based purely on the outcome as opposed to the factors that affected the outcome was another interesting point that was brought forward with the example of the game Russian Roulette; “lucky fools never realize they are lucky fools”.

Other points that were discussed include “the Social Treadmill effect” (the concept of constantly returning to the same state of mind and being despite how much you forward), Probability and how people are “probability blind” and more.

This session featured our largest crowd yet, with 2o overall participants and many more thought-provoking insights! If you’d like to join our book club sessions, just drop us an email at info@nightwatchmansociety.org