Antifragile: 3. The Cat and the Washing Machine

Following the schedule of our reading calendar.

I myself, while writing these lines, try to avoid the tyranny of a precise and explicit plan, drawing from an opaque source inside me that gives me surprises. Writing is only worth it when it provides us with the tingling effect of adventure (p. 63)

Taleb confesses that he has not a plan when writing and just let’s his mind follow its way. And indeed we can see it in every chapter and every paragraph.

This chapter tries to build on the idea of the dichotomy between the complex, alive, organic on one side and the designed, man-made, inert on the other. The first needs randomness and stress to thrive the second suffers from them. From here criticizes comfort-laden modernity as a source of “preventable chronic stress injury”, explains the concept of opacity of causality in complex networks, hints at Plato as the Father of the political fragilistas and defends sadness as a personal right and a social need. And many other things, of course.

A lot of food for thought as usual and, as usual, every chapter as a micro cosmos of the intellectual foundations of the whole book.

Now, to the details.

To avoid unpleasant misunderstandings, he carefully states:

What we observe in “aging” is a combination of maladjustment and senescence, (…) maladjustment is avoidable (p. 55)

however, he goes so far in his point that one cannot help thinking that he is defending some kind of “aging as a delusion” or “the magic key for healthy retirement”. I think that we don’t have, by far, the amount of evidence required to make strong statements in this subject. His intuitions are, of course, more that welcomed.

Also, the analogy with Kaufman’s idea of complex systems as dynamic structures out of equilibrium, in my opinion, goes too far. Is a kind of poetic one but I don’t see in detail how the antifragility of a system must be a consequence of it being a dynamic process out of equilibrium.

And a Talebian quote to end:

The fragilista mistakes the economy for a washing machine that needs monthly maintenance, or misconstrues the properties of your body for those of a compact disc player. (p. 59)

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One thought on “Antifragile: 3. The Cat and the Washing Machine

  1. You said:
    >Also, the analogy with Kaufman’s idea of complex systems as dynamic structures out of equilibrium, in my opinion, goes too far. Is a kind of poetic one but I don’t see in detail how the antifragility of a system must be a consequence of it being a dynamic process out of equilibrium.

    The way I see it, complexity theory is key to get a full grasp of the idea of antifragility. As stated before in this chapter, antifragility is a property of living beings. Human made artifacts tend to be fragile or robust, but it’s quite difficult to find an artificial creature that is antifragile.

    How do we explain that? Unless we want to give “life” special, mystical properties, we have to consider what makes life special; a good candidate is remember how living organisms use information in order to keep their structure: Living beings consume energy in order to avoid entropy, make copies of themselves, and so on.

    So antifragile systems are special systems that use energy to avoid entropy and use information of the outside world to reconfigure themselves to keep themselves together.

    This is a pedagogical book to introduce the concept to the general public, but I’d say that Taleb has in mind a mathematical theory, based on complexity theory, which can be used to better understand what antifragile is

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