Title: Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder
Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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I might as well confess from the start that I’ve only read Book IV (of VII) of ‘Antifragile’ in full. The fourth book’s critique of academia was my primary interest in reading Taleb, and is compelling enough to discuss on its own.
Before we go any further, we have to define ‘antifragile.’ To Taleb, a word like ‘resilient’ just does not do, not connoting the particular traits he wants to convey. It’s not enough that one is able to withstand adversity, but to benefit precisely from it.
“The fragile is the package that would be at best unharmed, the robust would be at best and at worst unharmed. And the opposite of fragile is therefore what is at worst unharmed.”
– Location 721-722 (Amazon Kindle edition)
Book IV is entitled ‘Optionality, technology, and the intelligence of antifragility.’ It examines the gap between intellect and action. Expertise in a certain field may not be located where most believe.
“[Y]our work and ideas, whether in politics, the arts, or other domains, are antifragile if, instead of having one hundred percent of the people finding your mission acceptable or mildly commendable, you are better off having a high percentage of people disliking you and your message (even intensely), combined with a low percentage of extremely loyal and enthusiastic supporters.”
– Location 3214-3215
“[Y]our assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.”
– Location 3336
“[I]n the long run, happy errors bring gains, unhappy errors bring losses.”
– Location 3260
“[E]conomics is not a science…”
– Location 3746
I take issue with this, because it conflates science with practical application. Economics involves far more variables than reproducible experiments in physics, but involves exact principles no less. A difference in number of variables shouldn’t be a basis for being classified scientific, but rather merely determines the limitation of the methods used to ascertain ‘truths.’
Economics may lack value in predicting precise timing of, say, market crashes, but even then, such events, when they do happen, are understood just as thoroughly as a predicted astronomical phenomenon. The trick here is to distinguish between those fitting their logical inconsistencies to facts, and those who grasp facts in a logical manner.
“‘Real men don’t use sheets’…”
“[S]tudying the chemical composition of ingredients will make you neither a better cook nor a more expert taster—it might even make you worse at both.”
– Location 4087-4088
Taleb’s ‘Extremistan’ pertains to situations involving sudden, consequential changes, as opposed to moderate fluctuations in ‘Mediocristan’:
“‘[M]ost companies’ in Extremistan make no profit—the rare event dominates, and a small number of companies generate all the shekels.”
– Location 4176-4177
“[W]hat is picked up in the classroom stays largely in the classroom. Worse even, the classroom can bring some detectable harm…”
– Location 4261-4262
“Avoidance of boredom is the only worthy mode of action.”
– Location 4340-4341
I don’t quite agree with this statement. Considering what many, myself included, are accustomed to from their upbringing, there is a need to increase resistance to boredom. Otherwise, there are certainly many points to be missed that more disciplined habit-forming allows, at the risk of finding some aspects ritualistic in the interim.
‘Rational’ Socrates is contrasted with Taleb’s practical ‘Fat Tony’:
“What Socrates is seeking relentlessly are definitions of the essential nature of the thing concerned rather than descriptions of the properties by means of which we can recognize them.”
– Location 4470-4471
We are guided not so much by rational considerations but things arrived at via often non-conscious trial.
“[T]he probability (hence True/False) does not work in the real world; it is the payoff that matters.”
– Location 4596
“[S]ystems without top-down controls would specialize progressively, slowly, and over a long time, through trial and error, get the right amount of specialization—not through some bureaucrat using a model… [S]ystems make small errors, design makes large ones.”
– Location 7795-7797
For more notes on books I’ve read, visit https://paulspurpose.com/tag/notes/.
Buy Nassim Taleb’s ‘Antifragile’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.