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Book Summary: Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb | Forces of Habit

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Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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The Essence

Building on concepts from his previous books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb provides us with a solution to the problems of uncertainty and volatility—embrace the antifragile. Antifragility is what gains from volatility and uncertainty—systems that thrive under shock. We need more antifragility and less complacency in our own lives. The intellectual powerhouse warns against the naive rationalist—Fragilista’s—and their attempts to fragilize the world with no skin in how their decisions change the game. Attempting to remove risk in its entirety only leaves us in a state highly susceptible to the unforeseeable. So instead, take advantage of the stressors and embrace what is unknown by incorporating the various methods of antifragility. Antifragile is truly the modern stoic’s technical guide towards developing an adaptive and resilient perspective for the modern world.

Antifragile Summary Journal Entry:

This is my book summary of Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. The Journal write up also includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

NOTE: Antifragile was by far the most challenging book I had read up to this point. That considered this review is from my first time reading the book over one week and is not representative of the crucial terms discussed. I have much respect for this book and have scheduled it for another read to share with myself and the world the powerful messages hidden in this text.

  • “Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.”
  • Avoid becoming blind to the natural antifragility of systems, they can take care of themselves. Yet when we intervene we do not give the systems a chance to grow for the unexpected shocks.
  • Time is our ultimate guide for idea salience. We must allow for time to lead us through the reality of years prior; the ancient provides valuable lessons. He who does not have a past has no future
  • Neomiania: the love of the modern for its own sake.
  • READ VORACIOUSLY: humanities, math, science, and then, history.
  • What is the modern stoic sage look like? It is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.
  • Progress comes from the young. Our relative freedom from the system and the courage to take action decrease over time as the old become trapped by life situation. Our goal is to stay ambitious. Keep our beginner's mind and avoid static patterns of thought.
  • Mitigating what is fragile is not an option, it is required.
  • Being giving something to study in school is easily forgotten, yet what we decide to read on our own will be remembered.
  • Exposure modification: The most important lessons we can learn are about what to avoid—not what to take on. Reduce most of your exposure to personal risk down to a small number of measures and maximize risk in those areas.
  • Nimium boni est, cui nihil est mali: the good is mostly in the absence of bad. -Ennius
  • Technology is best when it is invisible. Yet our tendency is to notice what varies and changes more then what has played a large role but hasn't changed. Example: Water v. the cellphone. We all anxiously wait for the latest iPhone but never appreciate the orthodoxy of waters influence.
  • Stressors are how we grow and deprivation is the ultimate stressor. “Necessity is the mother of inventions…Poverty makes for experience.”
  • “Books have a secret mission and ability to multiply as everyone who has wall-to-wall bookshelves knows well." This is the result our desire to satisfy the addictiveness of curiosity.
  • Want innovation? Start saying no. There is pride in not doing. Imagine the stress that comes from a limited amount of resources to draw from.
  • “Mother Nature is rigorous until proven otherwise: what humans and science do is flawed until proven otherwise." The systems of nature have survived time—the ultimate stress test for antifragility—while man's theories are a fragile conception of our reality, having had little to stress to prove them wholly viable.
  • Society grows from those who take risks. An increase in risk takers is an increase in growth. They are iconoclastic. The ‘crazy’ humans who have ideas of their own, and use imagination and courage to make these ideas happen.
  • Give weight to what has survived over time. To understand what is to come, you must:
    • Respect the past
    • Be curious about the historical record
    • Have a hunger for the wisdom of elders
    • Understand the notion of heuristics
  • Ideas do not evolve by competing with one another. An idea is sustained through the systems and humans that hold them. No idea survives due to its own merits, but rather, it is that the humans who hold such ideas have survived.
  • READ as little as possible from the last twenty years—with the exception of history books that are not about the last fifty years. Read Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Hayek. TIMELESS TEXTS ARE POWERFUL!
  • Disorder breeds education of the senses, the formation of character, foundation of personality, and the acquisition of true knowledge. Embrace disorder.
  • Big and Fast are Abominations
  • “Do not confuse the purist of happiness with the avoidance if unhappiness; they are not equivalent.”
  • Fraudulent opinions are born when people fit their beliefs to their actions rather than fit their actions to their beliefs.
  • Barbell strategy. Becoming simultaneously conservative and aggressively risky. Have enough safety that you can take very large risks and not be ruined—this is taking advantage of the antifragile.
  • Stoicism is a domestication of emotion, not an elimination. In the same way, the barbell is the domestication of uncertainty, not the elimination.
  • “There is this error of thinking that things always have a reason that is accessible to us—that we can comprehend easily.”
  • How our society deems those worthy of recognition is cruel and unfair; stay out of the game.
  • Fooled by Randomness effect: mistaking the merely associative for the causal. This is discussed at great length in his first book.
  • Epiphenomena: the byproduct of a process may not casually be related to the process. It may be that it said process arises in such a way that we may assume that it is causal.
  • “Lecturing a bird on flying”: not taking the epiphenomenal into consideration. It reasons that theoretical knowledge yields practical application in the same way the practical application can build theoretical knowledge. Models aren't good representations of reality and cause great harm when they disregard the practical for parsimony of the normative. “Theory came later in a lame way, to satisfy the intellectual bean counter.”
  • The characteristics of a loser. After a mistake they…
    • Don’t introspect
    • Don’t exploit it
    • Feel embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information
    • Try to explain why they made the mistake rather than move on
    • Consider themselves a ‘victim’
  • Decision effects supersede logic. Theoretical knowledge aims to explain the structure of the world. But that means little to the function of your actions. We aim for the most payoff as possible, and for much of intellectual history does not focus on payoff over theory (decision over logic).
  • The hedonic treadmill of techno dissatisfaction: Our tendency is to notice the differences and not the commonalities. So when the new version of the technology is released, we justify of demand by acknowledging only what is different.

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what discussed in Antifragile

1. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts by Annie Duke

2. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

3. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Dan Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock

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