Wittgenstein’s Ruler | Nassim Taleb & The Incerto

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What Is Wittgenstein’s Ruler? | Fooled By Randomness & Nassim Taleb

Wittgenstein’s Ruler is yet another term original to the ‘Incerto‘. The first and debut book from Nassim Taleb, Fooled By Randomness.

Wittgenstein’s Ruler test’s whether you are being fooled by the authority of your measuring stick – and so being taken for a ride – or whether you indeed are taking an accurate measurement.

This is how Taleb puts it in the book…

Unless the source of a statement has extremely high qualifications, the statement will be more revealing of the author than the information intended by him. This applies to matters of judgment. According to Wittgenstein’s ruler: Unless you have confidence in the ruler’s reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler. The less you trust the ruler’s reliability, the more information you are getting about the ruler and the less about the table.

Nassim Taleb – Fooled By Randomness

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Applications Of Wittgenstein’s Ruler

Take criticism as an example.

Does the source of the criticism hold authority, verification and is high qualification? Does their criticism against you indicate the truth of the matter, or rather does it measure the criticiser instead?

There is all the difference in the world between a criticism from your father then there is someone competing with you at work – or even, perhaps some random person online.

Is your ruler measuring the table, or is the table measuring the ruler? Beware of the ever present and infectious survivorship bias. Don’t allow yourself to be set off down the completely wrong path straight away.

Wittgenstein’s Ruler

This concept can get nihilistic pretty quickly.

If you lose touch with how you instinct assesses each interaction with Wittgenstein’s Ruler you can get into the territory where you have no idea whether it is the ruler or the table that is measuring the distance.

You don’t know what you don’t know to a functional infinity.

To escape this spiral loop – one must build from the ground up a series of ever more confident understandings of one’s environment, yet never have it fixed in cement – whilst foundational structures must be robust, they must also be malleable. 

Wittgenstein’s Ruler can take you places.

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