Antifragile

I finally finished the book “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is a very deep, technical book that only increases my intense respect for the intellect and thought processes of this author. My understanding has grown of how in modern society we tend to move more and more toward policies and actions with known benefits that are small and visible, while comfortably accepting potential side effects which could be severe and invisible. (see pg 37).

Here are some concepts I took from the book:

  • Modify exposure instead of trying to predict future.
  • Evidence of absence is not absence of evidence.
  • Not seeing a cataclysmic event is excusable, building something¬†fragile to it is not
  • Redundancy is key – “Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothings unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens – usually.” p107
  • Keep the Lindy effect in mind for predictions (which in my opinion we should avoid anyways): “For the perishable, every additional day in its life translates into a shorter additional life expectancy. For the non-perishable, every additional day may imply a longer life expectancy.” p782
  • “The robustness of an item is proportional to its life!” p784
  • Do not be deceived or mislead by information. It leads to overconfidence and error. “Information has a nasty property: it hides failures.” p790
  • …fragility [is] simply vulnerability to the volatility of things it affects

Fragility means vulnerable to volatility. Add redundancy to your personal life, modify risk exposures, ration supply of information, embrace non-linearity of systems to be Antifragile.

Here are other excepts from the book. Unfortunately, my bookmarking function malfunctioned in my e-reader, so I do not have all the pages referenced.:

It is much easier to sell “look what I did for you” than “Look what I avoided for you.”

Procrastination turned out to be a way to let events take their course and give the activists the chance to change their minds before committing to irreversible policies.

I’ve looked in history for heroes who became heroes for what they did not do, but it is hard to observe non-action;

As a rule, intervening to limit size (of companies, airports, or sources of pollution), concentration, and speed are beneficial in reducing Black Swan risks.

…indeed, as in medicine, we tend to over-intervene in areas with minimal benefits (and large risks) while under-intervening in areas in which intervention is necessary, like emergencies. So the message here is in favor of staunch intervention in some areas, such as ecology or to limit the economic distortions and moral hazard caused by large corporations.

Someone with a linear payoff needs to be right more than 50% of the time. Someone with a convex payoff, much less. The hidden benefit of antifragility is that you can guess worse than random and still end up better off.

Let us not confuse rationalizing with rational – the two are almost always exact opposites. p35

Sophistication, a certain brand of sophistication, also brings fragility to Black Swans: as societies gain in complexity, with more and more “cutting edge” sophistication in them and more and more specialization, they become increasingly vulnerable to collapse. p80

Antifragility for one is fragility for someone else – Where we introduce the idea that we think too much, do very little – Fail for others to succeed… p159

The best way to mitigate interventionism is to ration the supply of information, as naturalistically as possible.

Much of modern life is preventable chronic stress injury.

Nothing is open-ended in nature – death is a maximum outcome for a unit. So things end up convex on one end, concave on the other. p1084