Review Of Antifragile By Nassim Taleb

ISBN: 1400067820

In this book, written by Nassim Taleb (author of Black Swan), we are introduced to antifragility, a concept where some systems are strengthened by volatility instead of weakened by it. For example, a set of wine glasses is fragile because any volatility will break them, but humankind is antifragile thanks to evolution and our ability to adapt to environmental changes. Your muscles are are also antifragile, because volatility in the form of strength-training makes them stronger.

And we can almost always detect antifragility (and fragility) using a simple test of asymmetry: anything that has more upside than downside from random events (or certain shocks) is antifragile; the reverse is fragile.

[...]

It is of great help that Mother Nature— thanks to its antifragility— is the best expert at rare events, and the best manager of Black Swans; in its billions of years it succeeded in getting here without much command-and-control instruction from an Ivy League– educated director nominated by a search committee.

[...]

In short, the fragilista (medical, economic, social planning) is one who makes you engage in policies and actions, all artificial, in which the benefits are small and visible, and the side effects potentially severe and invisible.

There is the medical fragilista who overintervenes in denying the body’s natural ability to heal and gives you medications with potentially very severe side effects; the policy fragilista (the interventionist social planner) who mistakes the economy for a washing machine that continuously needs fixing (by him) and blows it up; the psychiatric fragilista who medicates children to “improve” their intellectual and emotional life; the soccer-mom fragilista; the financial fragilista who makes people use “risk” models that destroy the banking system (then uses them again); the military fragilista who disturbs complex systems; the predictor fragilista who encourages you to take more risks; and many more.

Taleb’s visceral hatred for intellectuals and academics is palpable; he trashes them at least once every few pages. He hates how their attempts at optimization does nothing more than increase the fragility of societies, leading to inevitable black swans that cause tremendous damage. Their efforts at micromanaging complex systems has increased our vulnerability, and we would be better off if those systems were able to self-correct. He uses a rich trove of historical examples, anecdotes, and mathematics to prove his assertions.

…the road to robustification starts with a modicum of harm.

[...]

Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire’s “spleen,” Edgar Allan Poe’s moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many other poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced.

[...]

….never has the world been more prone to more damage; never. It is hard to explain to naive data-driven people that risk is in the future, not in the past.

Taleb asserts that it’s better to allow for smaller mistakes to happen naturally than to try and protect a system from these mistakes, with the result of causing a gigantic meltdown instead. The little stresses are beneficial because the system builds immunity to the big events, as if taking a vaccine.

You can’t predict in general, but you can predict that those who rely on predictions are taking more risks, will have some trouble, perhaps even go bust. Why? Someone who predicts will be fragile to prediction errors. An overconfident pilot will eventually crash the plane. And numerical prediction leads people to take more risks.

[...]

Fragility implies more to lose than to gain, equals more downside than upside, equals (unfavorable) asymmetry. Antifragility implies more to gain than to lose, equals more upside than downside, equals (favorable) asymmetry.

[...]

…economic growth with fragilities is not to be called growth, something that has not yet been understood by governments. Indeed, growth was very modest, less than 1 percent per head, throughout the golden years surrounding the Industrial Revolution, the period that propelled Europe into domination. But as low as it was, it was robust growth— unlike the current fools’ race of states shooting for growth like teenage drivers infatuated with speed.

Since life consists of volatility and stressors, how you can structure your own life to benefit from random events instead of being harmed by them? An example Taleb uses of a profession that is antifragile is the artist. Even when critics attack an artist, it only leads to more attention to his work and thus increased sales. Putting a writer in jail and censoring his work brings more exposure to them (i.e., no publicity is bad publicity).

Another antifragile profession is a taxi cab driver. The driver can have a horrible day at work (or even week), but the normal passenger traffic will inevitably return. On the other hand, a man who works in a corporation is fragile, because one bad quarter or vicious lie from a coworker means he’s fired. He’s also sensitive to mistakes that those higher up the management chain may make. Once unemployed, he can be left destitute for months, even years.

Approaching women in order to gain sex is antifragile. A failed approach at the coffee shop costs you a negligible amount of time, but the upside from that approach is sexual intercourse. Trying to get laid from your social circle is fragile, because a bad interaction can get you completely ostracized from the group, destroying all the time you spent maintaining relations with its members. Starting over with a new social group will take another large investment, but going outside to chat up girls in the city square takes a small one. Being antifragile means minimizing your downside while maximizing your upside. I’ve inadvertently applied antifragile techniques to my life when it comes to sex, income, and mobility.

Taleb highlights the benefits of Stoic philosophy, which appeals to me more than Buddhism or Taoism because of it’s active instead of passive nature and pliability of use in modern times. He offers many thoughts on personal success:

…the key phrase reverberating in Seneca’s oeuvre is nihil perditi, “I lost nothing,” after an adverse event. Stoicism makes you desire the challenge of a calamity. And Stoics look down on luxury: about a fellow who led a lavish life, Seneca wrote: “He is in debt, whether he borrowed from another person or from fortune.”

[...]

Success brings an asymmetry: you now have a lot more to lose than to gain. You are hence fragile.

[...]

When you become rich, the pain of losing your fortune exceeds the emotional gain of getting additional wealth, so you start living under continuous emotional threat. A rich person becomes trapped by belongings that take control of him, degrading his sleep at night, raising the serum concentration of his stress hormones, diminishing his sense of humor, perhaps even causing hair to grow on the tip of his nose and similar ailments. Seneca fathomed that possessions make us worry about downside, thus acting as a punishment as we depend on them.

[...]

If an additional quantity of wealth, say, a thousand Phoenician shekels, would not benefit you, but you would feel great harm from the loss of an equivalent amount, you have an asymmetry. And it is not a good asymmetry: you are fragile.

[...]

Simple test: if I have “nothing to lose” then it is all gain and I am antifragile.

[...]

If you take risks and face your fate with dignity, there is nothing you can do that makes you small; if you don’t take risks, there is nothing you can do that makes you grand, nothing.

[...]

Don’t be fooled by money. These are just numbers. Being self-owned is a state of mind.

[...]

…a free person: someone who cannot be squeezed into doing something he would otherwise never do.

[...]

Many, like the great Roman statesman Cato the Censor, looked at comfort, almost any form of comfort, as a road to waste. He did not like it when we had it too easy, as he worried about the weakening of the will. And the softening he feared was not just at the personal level: an entire society can fall ill.

[...]

A man is honorable in proportion to the personal risks he takes for his opinion— in other words, the amount of downside he is exposed to.

He offered thoughts on lifting weights in gyms:

People who build their strength using these modern expensive gym machines can lift extremely large weights, show great numbers and develop impressive-looking muscles, but fail to lift a stone; they get completely hammered in a street fight by someone trained in more disorderly settings. Their strength is extremely domain-specific and their domain doesn’t exist outside of ludic— extremely organized—constructs. In fact their strength, as with overspecialized athletes, is the result of a deformity.

On how to make a decision:

If you have more than one reason to do something (choose a doctor or veterinarian, hire a gardener or an employee, marry a person, go on a trip), just don’t do it. It does not mean that one reason is better than two, just that by invoking more than one reason you are trying to convince yourself to do something. Obvious decisions (robust to error) require no more than a single reason.

On which books to read:

One of my students (who was majoring in, of all subjects, economics) asked me for a rule on what to read. “As little as feasible from the last twenty years, except history books that are not about the last fifty years,” I blurted out, with irritation…

On which drinks to imbide:

…my rule is drink no liquid that is not at least a thousand years old—so its fitness has been tested. I drink just wine, water, and coffee. No soft drinks. Perhaps the most possibly deceitfully noxious drink is the orange juice we make poor innocent people imbibe at the breakfast table while, thanks to marketing, we convince them it is “healthy.” (Aside from the point that the citrus our ancestors ingested was not sweet, they never ingested carbohydrates without large, very large quantities of fiber. Eating an orange or an apple is not biologically equivalent to drinking orange or apple juice.) From such examples, I derived the rule that what is called “healthy” is generally unhealthy, just as “social” networks are antisocial, and the “knowledge”-based economy is typically ignorant.

He introduces many interesting asides, such as:

  • Revolutions happen when people are hungry to become martyrs.
  • A loser is not one who fails, but one who doesn’t introspect.
  • Procrastination is a sign of low motivation. It can be solved by either changing your environment or doing something you feel passionate about.
  • “…the more data you get, the less you know what’s going on.”
  • A system built on probability, forecasting, and managing risk is bound to collapse.
  • It is better to arrive at a conclusion through experience than reasoning.
  • Heuristic knowledge is more valuable than theoretical.
  • “Don’t put theories into practice… create theories out of practice.”
  • Never attempt to answer a question that makes no sense to you.
  • Large size makes systems inherently fragile.
  • If you are already healthy, there is no medicine or supplementation that will make you feel better, but there are things you can take which cause harm to your healthy state.
  • Mother nature is always more correct than a scientist who comes up with a new theory based on a small set of data that was likely incorrectly computed.
  • Ignore anyone who doesn’t apply their ideas or theories to their own life.
  • If a product is heavily marketed, it’s either inferior or harmful.
  • “Systems make small errors, design makes large ones.”
  • Statistics and numbers can be used to prove anything. Time and nature will sort out the liars.

I thought I was well-read, but Taleb’s heroic bookishness of reading 30-60 hours a week would stun even professional book reviewers. And with this self-taught knowledge comes the ability to make connections across disparate disciplines, a concept explained in Robert Green’s Mastery. Combine a mathematician with someone extremely well-versed in ancient history and you get the ideas that Taleb has put forth that has so quickly changed how we look at finance and modern economies. While the book has some technical passages, Taleb does a great job at explaining his work for those who don’t have mathematical backgrounds.

It’s hard to categorize Antifragile. It’s part-history, part-philosophy, and part-mathematics. Most books introduce derivitive thought that I’ve seen elsewhere, but Taleb’s book introduces completely new ideas that lit up my brain. Very rarely do I read a book and think, “This book will change how I see the world,” but this one managed to do it. It’s easily the most important work I’ve read in the past year.

Read More: “Antifragile” on Amazon

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  • Slimy_:Indians

    Honestly i would like ask taleb why degenerate Hindus are alive today, why that filthy indian society has not collapsed by now

  • NECSI

    In one week, join Black Swan author Nassim Taleb and NECSI president Yaneer Bar-Yam for a special exec program on “Antifragility.” Cambridge, Nov 4-5: http://bit.ly/10BCvAN

  • OkSeinfeld

    It seems interesting, but his ideas against prediction seem to cast a negative light on basically any large-scale endeavor that hasn’t been done before. Building a bridge is a prediction that based on your calculations, the bridge will hold. Building a plane is a prediction that the plane will work. Building a spaceship is a prediction that it will reach outer space.

    Starting the United States of America was a prediction that we could have a Democratic Republic when all the countries our founders knew were Monarchies.

    Experiments don’t always work out but that’s how we make progress, by trying and trying and trying, by learning from failures and building on our knowledge base.

    Is he actually against trying these new things because they’re based on predictions and calculations that may prove wrong?

  • DMVARG

    I like the book also, but Stoicism is not an active philosophy at all. Stoics believe in fate, in determinism, in the cosmos – which is an incredibly passive philosophy. How can one be active when all the events in their lives are supposedly preordained?

    The Stoics argue that the only thing you truly have control over is your emotions and your attitude towards these predetermined events. Hardly an “active” philosophy. Hell, even the Cyreniacs have a more active philosophy than the Stoics.

  • SWPL_Bro

    Are you sure taxi drivers are anti-fragile?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car

  • Eli

    I think Taleb makes more money selling books than he ever did in the markets.

  • Guest

    ..

  • anonymous

    event spam? just searching for mentions of Taleb’s name on blogs? Huh?

    This is new.

  • Slashfund

    “Active” is probably not the right way to describe it, but it’s not “passive” either. Everything being preordained includes your actions too. Compare the accomplishments of those who believe it was their “destiny” to those who believe they “could have done anything”

  • http://quintuscurtius.com/ Quintus Curtius

    Will check this book out.

  • Mike

    Well endeavors like you mentioned can be very fragile.

    A bridge fragile to the weather, a spaceship fragile to conditions of outer space, and USA fragile to war or financial hardship.

    The point Nassim is making isn’t to not make predictions and follow through. The idea isn’t to stay away from good ideas or not to take risks, it’s to have an overall idea your fragility in any endeavor and to minimize it as much as possible.

    Realizing that black swans are a real thing that will occur, it’s important to take steps in your life and endeavors to make them less fragile.

  • Lemon

    Ha, wonderful stuff.

    This is all covered by the field of Cybernetic Systems….which studies the control of complex systems. One concept in particular: The Law of Requisite Variety…basically explains why centralized bureaucratic control of complex systems (the economy of the former Soviet Union for example, or the US Educational system today) inevitably and predictably destroys that system.

    Unfortunately no political party currently uses these principles correctly. Liberals always want to enact centralized planning controls on highly complex systems, which always always fail. Liberatarians want to get rid of “all” control, which doesn’t work either (you still need non-centralized regulatory controls for complex systems to ensure they don’t evolve to destroy the health/wellbeing of society).

    Cyberneticians have been arguing these points for decades with politicians and gotten nowhere. Politics is simply not able to comprehend anything above a 4-year old level.

  • Giovonny

    Wow!
    What a book and what a review!
    I think I just realized that I don’t like intellectuals!?!?
    Whats the point of knowledge if its not improving your life and/or the world you live in???
    My life has always been “Anti Fragile”. I’m working hard to ensure that the rest of my life is “Anti-Fragile”!
    What a concept! Beautiful stuff!

  • Frank G

    Roosh
    I can see your like me man you live variety and get bored easily

    The point here-
    You talked about how you could run game if
    Your were
    Homeless and a how
    To article in tips
    Of
    How to run rhenultate
    Street
    Game by living on them would
    Help
    Enlighten fellow game
    Enthusiats.

    Like how to close
    If
    You clothes are wrinkled
    From your duffel bag
    Answers
    For
    The
    Hamster
    When asked what do you do?
    Where do you live?
    How
    To get the bang
    In a tent
    Or sleeping bag in a park or urban area
    How
    To Mack on girls on the street etc

  • JL

    Your right they’re a bunch of idiots and work for satan worshiper billionaire international jooos aka Khazars from Georgia read Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand and Facts Are facts by Benjamin Freedman to see that joos can’t even be honest about their ancestors. Although I’m Latin I’ve always known Asians and Arabs are smart and don’t like the double crosser joos because they have high enough iqs to see when some self entitled group (aka joos) are screwing them over. Hollywood the publishing industry military industrial complex American media all on common link of twisted evil.

  • Samseau

    Only $2900 a ticket! Totally worth it.

  • BC

    You seem to be confusing engineering (proven calculations, i.e.,replicable) with science (theories and predictions often based on what a person wants to believe rather than drawn from actual practice and experience, especially the “soft” sciences).

  • geeksDontHurt

    Excellent post, althoug I disagree with Taleb’s trashing of intellectuals. Intellectuals are simply house rats or monks have no social or political influence whatsoever, they do not interfere with the social matrix in no way whatsoever. The great thing about htem is that they produce theory, and that is how far it goes. And theory is like a gun, it does not inflict any harm in itself.

  • Connor Bryant Steel

    Nice review. Hadn’t heard of the book but sounds interesting and will check it out.
    Incidentally, I agree with Giovanny’s first comment.

    I think that we get too busy consuming endless knowledge, but it’s useless without the discipline, action and follow through to actually do it and keeop doing it to get success.

    http://www.learningthesteel.com

    has a good book about how to do this and actually DO the things to get success

  • Campeche grande para Chicas

    Roosh
    I used to read the blog
    Maniacally
    But since you changed the layout it’s so damn slow to surf it on my I Phone.
    It sucks ass how large the fonts are now. I remember
    The old site I could cruise all around at warp speed now I want to leave after reading one article because its so
    Annoying having to scroll so Mitch to get new text
    When it used to be smooth and fast. I’m missing out on learning because of some
    Fluffy new red site.
    The blue was a lot better layout. Blues a good relaxing focused color.
    Red is annoying are we in a brothel on 110th St. With all the red?

  • Sid

    Mao Zedong’s sense of well being was antifragile. He was most happy during revolutions, civil war and when taking great leaps, not small steps. “Long-lasting peace,” he claimed, “is unendurable to human beings, and tidal waves of disturbance have to be created in this state of peace … When we look at history, we adore the times of [war] when dramas happened one after another … which make reading about them great fun. When we get to the periods of peace and prosperity, we are bored … Human nature loves sudden swift changes.”

  • shabby

    Became red pill and read this book at roughly the same time, and in fact they complement each other perfectly. Take the manosphere as a whole:

    - Rejection as feedback is touted throughout the manosphere and is the articulation of gaining from volatility.
    - Approaching girls is necessarily an empirical science involving risk and feedback so bullshit is minimal (in a certain respect impossible) for those with field experience.
    - Since it involves risk and failure, the system benefits as a whole. Taleb says ‘what kills me makes others stronger’ – the rooshvforum is an example of a place where the mistakes of some benefit the collective as they are discussed.

    Parallels exist too between Taleb’s approach to religion and the manosphere’s support of traditional gender roles (and recently religion too). What they both implicitly endorse is heuristic tinkering that has stood the test of time (plus with gender roles there are the obvious biological differences between genders).

    The connections are easy to make because the main point of both (although it is only implicit in the manosphere) is to draw lessons from volatility. How Taleb has been able to make the principles explicit, simple and beautiful is beyond me. Not only that, he has even provided a mathematical companion that is available in full on his website.

    In my opinion, this is the most important modern philosopher’s best book. The guy is also a badass with a vey strong frame. A life-changing read for sure.

  • Harland

    To get
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  • Robard

    When I was watching the Greenwald interview on CNN the concept involuntarily came to mind, even though I’ve only been reading second hand explanations. The NSA would be an excellent example of the catastrophic vulnerability of all-encompassing, comprehensive systems to black swans.

  • Robard

    A small criticism: I see from Wikipedia that Taleb coined the term “ludic fallacy”, meaning “the misuse of games to model real-life situations”, but the word ludic in its normal dictionary sense – ie showing spontaneous and undirected playfulness – carries almost the opposite meaning to what he is trying to convey in the extract quoted here.

  • Razor Riddick

    What I’m interest in seeing, now that this concept has entered the manosphere, is how weird HBD people are going to use sophistry to claim that this (along with every cool new intellectual concept) is actually a validation of HBD. Their attempts to co-opt everything into “proof” of HBD are usually hilariously awful.

  • someperspectiveplease

    how ironic it is, roosh v, that you are essentially a thatcherite.

  • G Real

    Giovanny from the forums???
    Where in Nor Cal is a good place to game. I heard Davis, Chico, and Roseville have fine women? Truth or bull? What about the hos at Tahoe?

  • Michael Drumel

    — No 1 thing everone needs to understand is that the MERE CONCEPT of “being Antifragile” vs “being Fragile” and the debate between the two, is NOTHING OTHER than the product of a “FRAGILE SOUL that wants to protect itself from harm” … You have already broken the rules of Antifragility, simply because you are discussing about you can become Antifragile to protect your fragile self. …

    — No 2 : yes I know, I ‘m extremely intelligent. You don’t wanna know how much. Interestingly enough, I Game well and get scarce results from it. Check out my debate with Tom Torrero in the comment section of Roosh’s previous post “Day Game killed my Night Game”.

    — No 3 : LIFE is Anti-Fragile … SPECIES are Fragile.
    By promoting being Anti-Fragile what you ‘re essentially saying is that you don’t care if humanity disappears and another species takes its place. FUCK NATURE. FUCK LIFE. I am human and I seek the survival of my species.
    We humans are NOT evolutionary anti-fragile, as no other species is. Have you heard of “the Dinosaurs”?

  • anon1

    fantastic. i’ll definitely have to pick this one up.

    i like the binary one choice decisions, and on asymmetry [being a rich man makes your wealth burdensome, being poor people are hungry for what they dont have]

    but i didnt quite understand his comment on books.

    is he saying dont read any books from the last 20 years, or any history books that are less than 50 years old?

  • anon1

    while this is true, it does not preclude the importance of his points. ditto with tim ferriss [who i still like], his bank came from selling people an idea, a dream, and a few tips on how to get there. then he negotiated each rise in prominence with tying himself to richer people, and he gets money through angel investing, deals, speaking and contracts.

    does it make his advice any less relevant? no because it helped me get off my ass and actually find mutual resources/blogs etc that in turn drove me to become the person i am today.

    its actually crazy how TF is so embedded in paleo culture [4hb], red pill [neil strauss, okay he's whipped now but this was when the game was first coming out], tucker max [incredible shitbag and salesman], nassim taleb too, business/psychology [buffet, and a bunch of silicon valley types, ryan holiday of confessions of a media manipulator fame etc], sports science [de simones work etc, also in 4hb], heck even stoicism i first learned from his recommendations about seneca. its a beautiful time for intersection of resources and areas of interest for red pill men within the world.

  • Mike Caputo

    The flashing-neon subtext of this to me is that as our society has become more feminized, among other things, we’ve become more risk-averse, and standards of achievement have been lowered in order to increase temporary good feeling. The result is that people in numerous occupations end up like the weight lifters who only do well inside an extremely limited scope, but have a highly visible marker of their apparent superiority (bulging musculature): they think of themselves as accomplished, but the minute you throw the tiniest wrench into their textbook operating procedures, they’re flummoxed and flustered and at a complete loss.

    This is why, for example, most people can’t write a grammatical sentence.

    So this seems like yet another argument in favor of the idea that it is absolutely essential to reverse the feminizing tide if we’re going to avoid losing the core features of a functioning economy that allow civilization to exist.

    Thanks for the excellent review – I just bought it.

  • Mike Caputo

    I wonder if the usage here is based more on the original Latin meaning than the anglicized version. If I understand it correctly, the ludic fallacy is the notion that an organized game can act as a substitute for real-world learning even though it removes much of the unpredictability that exists in the real world. Since the original Latin word refers to games, and games are “extremely organized constructs” compared to the real world, then it makes more sense.

    I agree though that at first glance it seems counterintuitive.

  • highclimer2010

    It sounds like the same type who thinks himself intelligent after reading Malcolm Gladwell would enjoy this pop-sociology/pop-philosophy book.

  • Jackreacher

    This book is MIND BLOWING! I rarely finish any of the books I start reading and I’m finishing up this one in just a few days and will be using this as a solid reference. Roosh what a nugget you found! The concept of anti fragility is VERY well developed and I will say this book should be in the collection of any practical man. I can’t exalt the book enough so I’ll just take a page from one of his chapters and say this is a HORRIBLE book and the author is a wise ass. Don’t read his book at all! Even he says his books need to be banned what does that tell you! ;-)

  • euneaux

    Nothing wrong with making interesting ideas accessible to middle-brow intellects. Let’s be honest, how many genuine intellectual powerhouses are spooking around here?

    I appreciate the kind of stimulating ideas and book reviews that the editors here share. The independence of their perspective and the willingness to reach farther to challenge us masses are refreshing.

    Of course Taleb’s latest could possibly be more entertainment than enlightenment, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve read it.

  • fluffybiskuts

    Thanks Roosh….will buy and read this book.
    This Taleb /Black Swan guy totally predicted the financial collapse of 2008 too…

  • BBR

    Hmmmm

  • JohannKierk

    Just read the book.

    I really hope you continue to publish reviews and recommend books, Roosh.
    All the stuff so far has been of very high quality. Unusual how consistent the high quality has been.

  • Brianmark

    I read his earlier book “Fooled by Randomness”. I really disliked this guy by the end of the book. He thinks he’s smarter than everybody. He spends lots of time bad mouthing everyone. He’s super arrogant. I still never learned how randomness affects us in everyday life.