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?

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5 thoughts on “Antifragile: 2. Overcompensation and Overreaction Everywhere

  1. Nassim tries to understand the mechanism underlying the phenomenon of antifragility and gives us an explanation. A logical one, but let’s not forget that not everything that is logical is true.
    If I understand his idea, some systems react actively in front of stress with a reaction intended to balance and diminish the effects of that stress. Sometimes, be it because the system overreacts or because the stress was lower than expected or whatever any cause, the effect overcompensates.
    And this overcompensation can generate unintended effects that can, at the end, be more favorable to the system than the initial state.
    The traditional explanation of the Hormesis would be wrong. It is not because low doses are beneficial. It is because low doses make non lethal harm that makes the body react and get stronger.

    • It is also important to realize that this understanding does not come from theory but through experience. As we’ll see later in the book, Taleb considers that tinkering leads to more antifragile type of knowledge than theorizing, which gives you only very fragile theories.
      So, we know that overcompensation is good for us, and we learn and create better under stress than in a relaxed context, not because of cognitive sciences or neurophysiology but from direct experience on how we act and feel in comfort and in stress.
      We see it with weightlifting, as Taleb explains his own experience, or in the military, just consider the stress and dire conditions which Navy SEALs have to endure.

    • However, just experience is not enough. Consider what Taleb calls “The Lucretius problem”; the idea that the tallest mountain you ever seen is the tallest possible mountain. Just because the strongest earthquake you’ve ever seen are 8 in the Richter scale, it doesn’t mean that a stronger earthquake is possible, as we tragically learnt in Fukushima.

      So, due to our obsession with living in the comfort zone, we end up becoming fragilistas, considering that the situation we are living is the only possible one, and when a black swan comes, ecological, political and economical disasters happen.

  2. Pingback: The Freakonomics Saga Goes on | El Pla Subtil

  3. Pingback: Recommended Reading: Antifragile by Nassim Nicolas Taleb - HydraClub

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