Antifragile: 1. Between Damocles and Hydra

Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar

Nassim Taleb begins the first chapter of the book with the style of fractal narrative that we are already used to from previous books. The concepts of the book are not presented in a progressive and linear way as Atul Gawande did in our previous read: The Checklist Manifiesto. Here, instead, the key ideas keep coming and going in different levels and contexts trying to gain and entrance to your mind. Taleb knows that narratives prevail over syllogisms in human hearts and tries hard to take full advantage of it.

This chapter begins trying to explain an idea which has no word in our languages and is named “antifragility”. It uses mythological images to illustrate fragility (Damocles sword), robustness (Phoenix bird) and antifragility (Hydra), something that gains from harm.

It presents some old ideas in the field of medicine that somehow harvest the idea of gain from harm: Mithridatization (immunity to a poison by repeated exposure to low doses of it) and Hormesis (health benefits from low doses of substances that in higher doses are harmful). The helpful effects of the latest are interpreted as the positive reaction of the body (an antifragile system) to stressors.

These insights of medicine, however, have not extended to other areas of knowledge because we humans are domain constraint and have a very difficult time applying the principles learned in one context to another.

This is the general idea. However, mixed with all that appear suggestions to ideas that will be developed in full in posterior chapters:

Modernity as a suppression of stressors.

Modernity as an increase of fragility in front of black swans.

Impossibility of verbal expression of some ideas that manifest themselves by the acts of people or in artistic ways like mythology.

Bankers, financers and central bankers as a pest of our times

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One thought on “Antifragile: 1. Between Damocles and Hydra

  1. The main thing that strikes me most re-reading this first chapter is how right is Taleb about observing there is a blind spot here. No languages have a world for antifragile things. No words, so it’s difficult to think about antifragile things, to realize that they exist at all.
    But we are, as Taleb said, only intellectually blind to antifragility, not organically, so like the tribes who don’t have a different term for colors blue and green but are able to distinguish them, we can interact with antifragile things in action, despite we can’t write treatises about them later.
    This big difference between action and thinking is also a key element of the book, as we’ll see.

    And then, when you read Antifragile, things are different. You start to see the antifragile, and be able to name it and, oh, boy, the world will never be the same again.

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