Lindy effect books

The Lindy Effect and its Meaning for Books

The "Lindy Effect" idea originated with Albert Goldman and was further developed by Benoit Mandelbrot and Nassim Taleb to describe a phenomenon related to intangible objects. This article examines the meaning of the lindy effect as a filter for books and other things.

The Lindy Principle Uses Time as a Filter

The lindy effect refers to timeless things that do not undergo natural decay. This includes books, ideas, religions, and certain types of food. It's not about the physical matter itself but rather its intellectual or functional representation. For instance, a "Lindy book" refers not to the printed paper but to the contained words and ideas. Food is considered Lindy if it has been consumed for a long time, like olive oil, in contrast to modern food industry inventions like jelly beans. According to the lindy principle, things that have existed for ten years are likely to exist for at least another ten years. If something is a hundred years old, it will likely survive for another five hundred years. The concept of Lindy is rooted in the filtering effect of time. Lindy becomes something only if it has proven itself through evolution. This is why religious traditions endure for long periods — they represent mysterious filters shaped by centuries and millennia of experience. Time often proves them right.

Some Practical Considerations

Will e-book readers replace paper books? Far from it! E-books lack the tactile and visual experience of traditional books and cannot fully replicate them. Books offer additional uses. They serve as decorative elements that can be displayed on shelves. They can be used as paperweights, quick reference tools, and more.

The real competitors of e-book readers are tablets, as they combine nearly the same advantages and uses. They are portable, compact, can store a large number of books in electronic format, and are large enough for comfortable reading.

More Examples of the Lindy Phenomenon

  • Nutrition: Why should we switch our diet, which has been functioning for 10,000 years, to artificial foods, and why would that be healthy?
  • Technology: Most technologies don't survive, like the Fax.

The Lindy Principle and the Absorbing Barrier

Nassim Taleb explains that the lindy effect emerges due to the distance to an absorbing barrier. An example from the world of books: Ideas do not survive if their carriers die. In book form, ideas can continue to exist. However, they will only be read in the future if they have context-independent relevance. The absorbing barrier for books includes events tied to the book (a political scandal, a president) that become irrelevant after a certain time. The author must place the events in a context that truly relates to the principles of life; otherwise, the book will fade into obscurity twenty years later.

The Lindy Effect as a Proxy

The Lindy Effect also functions as a proxy filter. Age alone is not the primary determinant of longevity. The challenge lies in our lack of foreknowledge regarding the factors contributing to survival. Therefore, this proxy filter stands as our best choice, as other filters make assumptions about short-term ecological rationality that may not endure in the long run. For instance, during the pandemic, it was wise to invest in pandemic-related stocks. However, once the pandemic subsides, this filter becomes obsolete.

Proxy filters can activate short-term filters if they align with the Lindy principle. Over time, erroneous filters emerge and then fade away. Lindy proxies help eliminate these erroneous filters. Consider, for example, the belief that vegetable oils are healthy because of their plant-based nature. The Lindy filter rejects this notion, even though it doesn't examine the specific property in question.

What attributes can describe a proxy filter for the lindy effect?
  1. Time Dependency: The proxy is either time-based (Lindy) or relevant only within specific time frames.
  2. (Structural) Coupling: The proxy can either be tightly linked to a single factor, where low complexity makes the proxy obsolete, or weakly associated with multiple factors, which is relevant in high-complexity scenarios. In high-complexity situations, the proxy can be linked to a Lindy factor (like the number of books read) or exhibit negative linkage to a non-Lindy factor, which is relevant solely for negative filters.
  3. Symmetry: A substantial divergence between the proxy and the actual event suggests that the proxy's connection to the factors was too weak. In the case of election forecasts, excessive weight is placed on the "response to surveys" factor, as pivotal election decision-making occurs in a distinct context with numerous influential factors.
  4. Flexibility: The proxy should have broad applicability, meaning it can be applied across a wide range of scenarios and possess a high number of potential paths.

The rediscovery of books and the lindy principle

If a book is out of print, does it mean it ceased to be lindy? This would be a false interpretation of the lindy principle. A book is lindy if it is still read today or if it is deemed worth rediscovering. One great example is the rediscovery of the works of 17th century philosopher Arnold Geulincx by Samuel Beckett. When his works were almost forgotten, Samuel Beckett reintroduced Geulincx's philosophy to a greater audience again.

Relative Lindyness

In a future where widespread illiteracy, as portrayed in a dystopian novel, becomes a reality, the question arises: does a book lose its "lindy" status? If such a scenario unfolds, it wouldn't mean anything in relation to one specific book but would rather mean that books and reading were in general not lindy enough to survive such a cultural decline. The lindy book itself would retain its relative lindyness.

The books in the Lindy Book Database where selected according to heuristics described in the criteria page. These heuristics serve as proxys to find lindy books.


Goldman, Albert (13 June 1964). „Lindy’s Law“. The New Republic. p. 34–35.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas: Lindy as a Distance from an Absorbing Barrier.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas: Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder

Dellanna, Luca: The Lindy Effect: Definition, Examples, and Generalization

Tucker, David: Samuel Beckett and Arnold Geulincx: Tracing a Literary Fantasia

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