The Freakonomics Saga Goes on

Here is a quite harsh critique of the new book of the Freakonomics brand. It basically argues that the mine is exhausted and they are simply overextending it.

The problem is, what to do with such reviews? We have explained several times how very bad reviews of Antifragile almost convinced us not to read it (it would have been an enormous mistake). On the other side, just in last week’s chapter, we find how Taleb explains how books are antifragile and benefit from bad critics.

At the end, the review turns out to be useless.

Antifragile: 2. Overcompensation and Overreaction Everywhere

Following our reading calendar, we will comment and discuss the second chapter of Antifragile.

Here we have a better understanding of the practical aims of this book, how Taleb offers some real, anti-intuitive advice on how to improve our lives, by rejecting some clichés and embracing the paradoxes of antifragility.

First of all, Taleb presents a very interesting critique against comfort. It is overcompensation, some stress, difficulties what really gives the best of ourselves. Stress, and not comfort is the key to creativity. As he says in page 80:

That excess energy released from overreaction to setback is what innovates

We shouldn’t obsess in creating comfort zones, but embrace difficulty and necessity as our best friends. Airplane pilots that have everything automated tend to make more mistakes and have more accidents than those what have some challenges to respond to.

Even more paradoxically, the best way to teach something, Taleb tells us, is not to make it very easy to digest, funny to hear and with a clear and friendly voice. In order to learn we need to push attention of the hearer further, to make things sound complicated, to talk in whispers, in order to make the attention of the students really work.

And it is better to work with some background noise than in complete silence.

Of course, these recommendations have their limits. Taleb doesn’t think it is a good idea to write an essay on the runaway of Heathrow Airport.

 I always thought that being clear is far better than being obscure, but then I also realize than when you explain a complex subject very clearly to someone that doesn’t know about it, he or she may either dismiss it as “obvious” or get a very simplistic idea of what you are trying to say. Instead, when one is being somewhat obscure and produce the material little by little, not making the connections too obvious, the ideas one wants to transmit are better understood and remembered.

As a professor I’ve been thinking a lot on this subject. How can teaching become antifragile?

Selection by Lot

On several occasions in private conversations, I have told friends that our political systems are so dysfunctional in putting appropriate people in power that we would gain if, let’s say, members of congress were selected by lot from the entire population. I have never been taken seriously and I think that it was interpreted as a kind of joke. It was not although it was not either a backing of lot system.

So I am now pleasantly shocked to discover that there is an organized line of thought of people that are arguing around that idea. There seems to be a lot historical precedents of lot used as a measure to balance the power of corruption, gangs and nepotism in perverting the fairness of ballots.

Here you have a page full or references for those interested in digging into the question.