Book Review: Antifragile - by Nassim Taleb

Antifragile - by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Summary:

Some interesting and out-there ideas, written in his usual punchy, combative way. The key theme is that some things are “fragile” and we should strive for things that are the opposite. Key examples provide in government, financial markets & business, health etc.

Notes:

  • Some things do well when exposed to volatility/ randomness/ stress. Examples include evolution, technological innovation, culture, ideas etc.

  • Anything that has more upside than downside from random events is “antifragile” but only up a certain amount of tolerable stress.

  • Many modern problems (health, parenting) due to lack of suitable stressors.

  • We can live happily in a world we don’t understand.

  • Heuristics - simplified rules of thumb that make things simple and we know they’re not perfect.

  • Humans often fail to recognize situations outside the contexts they originally encountered them.

  • To innovate, get in trouble. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

  • Most people squander their free time - makes them lazy and unmotivated.

  • Layers of redundancy are the main risk management property of natural systems.

  • Machines are harmed by low-level stressors, organisms are harmed by the absence of low-level stressors (hormesis). Humans do better with acute than with chronic stressors, but need time for recovery.

  • Language learning is best when you need to communicate under pressure, or situational difficulty, suspending one’s fear of making mistakes.

  • Some parts inside of a system may need to be fragile to make the system antifragile.

  • Having a word for something helps spread awareness of it.

  • It’s much easier to sell “Look what I did for you” than “Look what I avoided for you.” Bonus system based on “performance” exacerbates this.

  • Antifragile doesn’t need to have as accurate a picture of the world as the fragile. Make things more robust to defects and forecast errors.

  • Seneca was the richest man in the Roman Empire. He focused on the practical aspect of Stoicism, dealing with adversity, poverty and wealth.

  • Success is asymmetric, you have more to lose than to gain. You become fragile. Possessions make us worry about downside. Seneca’s method was mental exercises to write off possessions. Stoicism is about the domestication, not necessarily the elimination, of emotions.

  • If you have less to lose than to gain, more upside than downside, then you like volatility and are antifragile.

  • Never ask people what they want, or where they want to go, or where they think they should go.
  • What is learnt in the classroom stays largely in the classroom.

  • “Only the autodidacts are free.”