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Beautifying the Universe – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

Beautifying the Universe – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
February 18, 2015

Human beings naturally, healthily, nobly, and heroically seek to live and thrive, with the maximum possible quantity and quality of life.

Humans are god-like creatures, at least potentially, who concoct their own purpose, and find their own meaning. Family, friends, humankind, and the gods can’t supply these.

The Holy Individual naturally and nobly strives for greatness and happiness – and even for sublime transcendence. He attains all of this – if he can – via success and triumph in his battles, and accomplishment and achievement in his work.

The potentially magnificent human individual observes the universe, his fellow man, himself, and all of life. He uses his insight and wisdom to conquer knowledge and draw powerful conclusions. Upon these he develops his sacred hopes and dreams – and then tries to realize them. He works and fights and struggles to move them from the realm of fantasy to the realm of reality.

Human beings need to make the world a better place, both socially and materially, i.e. both improving society and the physical environment. After all, the individual intimately lives in both. They exist for him to use and manipulate – so he should exploit them to the max.

But as a kind of partner to society and the environment – who naturally seeks integration and harmony with them – a proper individual strives to enhance and uplift them as well. He needs to leave the world a better place than he found it.

The ultimate purpose of life seems to be to make the cosmos more beautiful. To render it more organized and harmonious. To leave it more ordered and useful.

It’s the sacred moral duty of every man to make his world less random and chaotic – less metaphysically empty and dead. To render it resonantly more alive, exciting, and intense – if he can. The naturally disintegrating universe needs to be made more well-groomed and exuberant.

The cosmos needs to become more aware of itself. To be ever more all-seeing, and yet successfully introspective too. Ever more cohesive, coherent, self-driven, and self-controlled. Ever more wonderful and lovely to behold.

Art is the most important part of life in many respects. Especially visual and audio art, such as paintings and music. Man is the artistic animal.

A vivacious, dynamic, heroic life is itself a kind of work of art. And it seems to potentially live on forever via memory and records – and eventually via time/space warps and time/space travel.

The universe may be fundamentally cold and indifferent – but it’s always watching. And if a given human being is sufficiently good and great – the cosmos will enjoy and remember him forever.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  ( and author of Pure Liberal Fire: Brief Essays on the New, General, and Perfected Philosophy of Western Liberalism.

Putting Randomness in Its Place (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Putting Randomness in Its Place (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published February 11, 2010
as Part of Issue CCXXXV of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 22, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXXXV of The Rational Argumentator on February 11, 2010, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 22, 2014

A widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “randomness” often results in false generalizations made regarding reality. In particular, the view of randomness as metaphysical, rather than epistemological, is responsible for numerous commonplace fallacies.

To see randomness as metaphysical is to see it as an inherent aspect of reality as such – as embedded inextricably in “the way things are.” Typically, people holding this view will take it in one of two directions. Some of them will see randomness pejoratively – thinking that there is no way reality could be like that: chaotic, undefined, unpredictable. Such individuals will typically posit that, because reality cannot be random, it must therefore be centrally planned by a super-intelligent entity, such as a deity.

Others, however, will use the metaphysical perception of randomness to deny evident and ubiquitously observable truths about our world: the facts that all entities obey certain natural laws, that these laws are accessible to human beings, and that they can inform our decision-making and actions. These individuals typically espouse metaphysical subjectivism – the idea that the nature of reality depends on the person observing it, or that all of existence is in such a chaotic flux that we cannot ever possibly make sense of it, so we might as well “construct” our own personal or cultural “reality.”

But it is the very metaphysical perception of randomness that is in error. Randomness is, rather, epistemological – a description of our state of knowledge of external reality, and not of external reality itself. To say that a phenomenon is random simply means that we do not (yet) have adequate knowledge to be able to explain it causally. Based on past observational experience or some knowledge of aspects inherent to that phenomenon, we might be able to assign probabilities – estimates of the likelihood that a particular event will occur, in the absence of more detailed knowledge about the specifics of the circumstances that might give rise to that event. In some areas of life, this is presently as far as humans can venture. Indeed, probabilistic thinking can be conceptually quite powerful – although imprecise – in analyzing large classes of phenomena which, individually, exhibit too many specific details for any single mind to grasp. Entire industries, such as insurance and investment, are founded on this premise. But we must not mistake a conceptual tool for an external fact; the probabilities are not “out there.” They are, rather, an attempt by human beings to interpret and anticipate external phenomena.

The recognition of randomness as epistemological can be of great aid both to those who believe in biological evolution and to advocates of the free market. Neither the laws of evolution, nor the laws of economics, of course, would fit any definition of “randomness.” Rather, they are impersonal, abstract principles that definitively describe the general outcomes of particular highly complex sets of interactions. They are unable to account for every fact of those interactions, however, and they are also not always able to predict precisely how or when the general outcome they anticipate will ensue. For instance, biological evolution cannot precisely predict which complex life forms will evolve and at what times, or which animals in a current ecosystem will ultimately proliferate, although traits that might enhance an animal’s survival and reproduction and traits that might hinder them can be identified. Likewise, economics – despite the protestations of some economists to the contrary – cannot predict the movements of stock prices or prices in general, although particular directional effects on prices from known technological breakthroughs or policy decisions can be anticipated.

Evolution is often accused of being incapable of producing intelligent life and speciation because of its “randomness.” For many advocates of “intelligent design,” it does not appear feasible that the complexity of life today could have arisen as a result of “chance” occurrences – such as genetic mutations – that nobody planned and for whose outcomes nobody vouched. However, each of these mutations – and the natural selection pressures to which they were subject – can only be described as random to the extent that we cannot precisely describe the circumstances under which they occurred. The more knowledge we have of the circumstances surrounding a particular mutation, the more it becomes perfectly sensible to us, and explicable as a product of causal, natural laws, not “sheer chance.” Such natural laws work both at the microscopic, molecular level where the proximate cause of the mutation occurred, and at the macroscopic, species-wide level, where organisms with the mutation interact with other organisms and with the inanimate environment to bring about a certain episode in the history of life.

So it is with economics; the interactions of the free market seem chaotic and unpredictable to many – who therefore disparage them as “random” and agitate for centralized power over all aspects of human life. But, in fact, the free market consists of millions of human actors in billions of situations, and each actor has definite purposes and motivations, as well as definite constraints against which he or she must make decisions. The “randomness” of behaviors on the market is only perceived because of the observer’s limited knowledge of the billions of circumstances that generate such behaviors. We can fathom our own lives and immediate environments, and it may become easier to understand the general principles behind complex economies when we recognize that each individual life has its own purposes and orders, although they may be orders which we find mistaken or purposes of which we disapprove. But the interaction of these individual microcosms is the free market; the more we understand about it, the more sensible it becomes to us, and the more valid conclusions we can draw regarding it.

The reason why evolution and economies cannot be predicted at a concrete level, although they can be understood, is the sheer complexity of the events and interactions involved – with each event or interaction possibly being of immense significance. Qualitative generalizations, analyses of attributes, and probabilistic thinking can answer some questions pertaining to these complex systems and can enable us to navigate them with some success. But these comprise our arsenal of tools for interpreting reality; they do not even begin to approach being the reality itself.

When we come to see randomness as a product of our limited knowledge, rather than of reality per se, we can begin to appreciate how much there is about reality that can be understood – rather than dismissed as impossible or inherently chaotic – and can broaden our knowledge and mastery of phenomena we might otherwise have seen as beyond our grasp.

Click here to read more articles in Issue CCXXXV of The Rational Argumentator.

How Time and Uncertainty Can Make Us “Antifragile” – Article by David Howden

How Time and Uncertainty Can Make Us “Antifragile” – Article by David Howden

The New Renaissance Hat
David Howden
January 26, 2014

Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York: Random House, 2012).

No two buzzwords define the present crisis more than “contagion” and “robustness” in the world of economists and policy wonks. The current interrelated nature of the financial system has bred a fragile situation where the success of the greater economy supposedly hinges on its individual components, such as banks that are too big to fail. To combat this fragility, economists have increasingly sought to build robust institutions. Such institutions will remain strong in the face of adverse effects if an individual component of the economy fails — be it subprime mortgages, sovereign debt, deposit-taking institutions or investment banks. This approach to the crisis stresses that if we cannot battle contagion, we had better construct strong institutions to weather future storms.

Nassim Taleb takes great issue with this approach in his new book Antifragile. His view is that constructing such so-called robust institutions is not sufficient as they continually fight yesterday’s battles. Instead the focus should be in building “antifragile” insti­tutions. Although often confused with robustness or resilience, an antifragile institution is not only unharmed by adverse events, but is actually strengthened by them. Building antifragile institutions will not only strengthen the global economic arena, but also have wide-ranging social applications.

Taleb’s latest work builds on two of his previous books, Fooled by Randomness (2001) and The Black Swan (2007). The common theme underlying all three is that there are events which are fundamentally unknowable — true uncertainties — in distinction to merely risky outcomes. Since we cannot know in advance what these events are, or what their effects will be, we should not exert too much effort in constructing contingency plans.

It is at this point that my first quibble with the book arises, and one I had with its predecessor The Black Swan. Taleb bifurcates between two definitions of uncertain events. On the one hand he invokes random or fundamentally unknowable events. Readers of this journal will be sympathetic to this definition of uncertainty, bearing close resemblance to Mises’s own use of “case probabilities”[1] (1949, pp. 110–113), or Shackle’s (1949) use of “non-seriable, non-divisible” events.[2] On the other hand, it is also clear that Taleb also thinks of uncertain events as merely rare events. These are events located on the fat or long tails on a probability distribution. Even though he thinks that these represent true uncertainty, there is no doubt that he is referring to funda­mentally probabilistic events.

This quibble aside, one can apply much of the remaining work cognizant that Taleb’s terminology differs from that of the Austrian economists, and also that the domain of his theory is slightly different than he thinks.

Something is “antifragile” if it gets stronger from a negative event. What are some examples? Taleb applies the prefix of his book liberally to outline what choices we should be pursuing. Indeed, the body of the book gives a long list of antifragile actions that, at least on one level, boil down to doing the exact opposite of what you think you should be doing.

Authors should be shocked to learn that there is almost no news that can harm a writer’s credibility, and that any publicity is good publicity (pp. 51–52). Corporations and governments that try to “reinstill confidence” should not be trusted because they would do so only if they were ultimately doomed (p. 53). Children shouldn’t be on antidepressants as this removes a source of learning from the life experience and thus make individuals less capable of dealing with unwanted events later in life (p. 61). The sinking of the Titanic was a positive disaster as it put shipbuilders on their toes, and possibly avoided an even larger accident later (p. 72). The general theme is that those who make errors are stronger than those who don’t — reliability, or antifragility — only comes when something is regularly tested by an unwanted event.

The theory has merit. Consider this lesson applied to central bank policies. In the wake of the dot-com bust a concerted effort by the world’s central banks flooded the global financial system with liquidity. The liquidation of assets that should have happened never did, and as a result lenders and borrowers didn’t learn their lesson on prudential money management. The seeds were sown for the larger crisis starting in 2007–2008 because a simple lesson was not learned when the financial system’s problems were still in relative infancy.

There is much to learn from this book and much to be wary of. At the end of the day, Taleb reckons the best test of an anti-fragile institution is Mother Nature mixed with a healthy dose of time. In chapter 21 he criticizes the prevailing orthodoxy of “neomania,” the mistaken belief that newer is better. Those institutions that have existed the longest are, in all likelihood, those that will continue to exist into the future. As an example, imagine that the year is 1988 and answer the following: which structure will last the longest, the Berlin Wall or the Great Pyramid of Giza.

In this test, as in much of the book, Taleb asks too much and too little. He asks too much because those institutions with the most longevity were once upon a time also the ones with the least. There must be a better test than longevity, as it only pushes the problem back in time to identify the source of antifragility. It cannot be turtles all the way down.

An applied example relevant to the present financial crisis would involve looking for those institutions that have been strengthened by current affairs. The crisis has taken its toll on many aspects of the financial services industry, but some general types of products have proven surprising resilient, or antifragile. Governments with prudent fiscal policies — e.g., Germany, Switzerland and Singapore — have fared well and indeed been strengthened as finances deteriorate in more profligate countries. Investment funds capitalizing on what were once unorthodox strategies, such as gold and other precious metal holdings, have out-performed more traditional investments as the financial crisis worsens. Readers of this journal will also notice that their stock in Austrian economics has increased in value over the past decade. Question begging and failed policies developed through more mainstream theories have led many former outsiders to the ranks of Austrian economists. An unwanted event caused an offsetting positive outcome in all these scenarios. That is what being antifragile is about.

Taleb asks too little by not exploring the true sources of antifragility. He comes close, alluding in many places that market-based institutions better combat the false security that planned institutions create. Explaining and elaborating on this link would do much to take the fundamental merits of antifragility to the next level. It would be, however, fodder for another book.


[1] Mises, Ludwig von. 1949. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1998.

[2] Shackle, G. L. S. 1949. Expectations in Economics. Westport, Conn.: Gibson.

David Howden is Chair of the Department of Business and Economics and professor of economics at St. Louis University’s Madrid Campus, Academic Vice President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, and winner of the Mises Institute’s Douglas E. French Prize. Send him mail. See David Howden’s article archives.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.

Putting Randomness in Its Place – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Putting Randomness in Its Place – Video by G. Stolyarov II

A widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “randomness” often results in false generalizations made regarding reality. In particular, the view of randomness as metaphysical, rather than epistemological, is responsible for numerous commonplace fallacies.

– “Putting Randomness in Its Place” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II