Antifragile: 11. Never Marry the Rock Star

Following the schedule of our reading calendar.

We were presented in the previous chapter with Seneca’s approach to the domestication of emotions, on one side, and his method for the creation of the “upside-downside” asymmetry, on the other.

This chapter comes to give us details of that later idea. Taleb labels it “the barbell strategy” to simplify the, according to him, too technical term “bimodal strategy”. I think that this is an unfortunate decision that blurs unnecessarily things. Bimodal would be perfect.

The idea is clear. (In fact this is an unusually highly structured chapter). Activities in every domain of life have to be divided into extremely conservative and very risky, forgetting all the middle range. The conservative actions have to guarantee survival,

One finds similar ideas in ancestral lore: it is explained in a Yiddish proverb that says “Provide for the worst; the best can take care of itself.” (p. 163)

the risky have to create the possibility of big success.

The chapter is full of examples where such rule can be applied and points at a central misconception of our times: we measure efficiency, growth rate and other dynamic traits of systems and forget about its survivability. All the economic procedures and financial mechanisms of our world are not prepared to handle this question. And this is a disaster.

Indeed, growth was very modest, less that 1 percent per head, throughout the golden years surrounding the Industrial Revolution, the period that propelled Europe into domination. But as low as it was, it was robust growth -unlike the current fool’s race of states shooting for growth like teenage drivers infatuated with speed. (p. 161)

Antifragile Chapter Ten Seneca’s Upside and Downside

Following our reading calendar here comes chapter ten.

This is a fascinating detour into stoicism. I have to admit that I never paid too much attention to stoic philosophy. My high-school professors did a great work of brainwashing on me convincing me that stoicism was just a bunch of masochists that didn’t enjoy life.

I have to say that I enjoyed the interpretation that Taleb presents here of Seneca, making him one of the first antifragile philosophers.

First of all he makes a very important emphasis on the fact that Seneca was incredibly rich. This is something that is usually passed when talking about Seneca, or is used to point as a fatal inconsistency in his work. But as Taleb cleverly argues, Stoicism is not about being poor and acting like a vegetable. In his own words:

“the modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”


And Stoicism makes a lot more sense when read from that point of view and not as Taleb tongue-in-cheek says “people who study Stoicism seem to want Seneca and other Stoics to think like those who study Stoicism.”

Taleb finally uses Seneca ideas to introduce us to the concept of asymmetry: Fragility creates an asymmetrical imbalace: more to loose than to gain. And antifragility brings us with the contrary phenomenon: more to gain than to loose.

Taleb considers that Seneca in de beneficiis was actually proposing an strategy to find these asymmetries and be sure that you try to be as antifragile as possible. He calls it the barbell method and will be explained in the next chapter.



Let the Oracle Decide

Sometimes we should trust the gods more than our reason. Religions and Oracles as a mean to introduce randomness in human affairs. We know this concept from Antifragile. Here is an interesting paper that argues that, given the complexity of our world, random decisions are often better than thought decisions because our biases can be much worst than randomness.

It also talks about the uses of random decision in politics. A subject that we already presented in a previous post.

Learn any language in record time and never forget it

Non standard ways of learning is one of our favorite subjects here, and specially how to learn a new language. He have already commented (in Spanish) some posts from Tim Ferris’ blog The Four Hour Work Week about this subject, but this one brings something new. We already have discussed about linking words to experiences, about using flash cards, and so on, but this guy seem to have really designed a system with lots of detail, no just giving general directions like find the most used word and get some flashcards.
Check it out for yourself!

His book is going to be published in august. Probably I’ll get a copy

Antifragile: 9. Fat Tony and the Fragilistas

Following the schedule of our reading calendar.

We are presented here with a short literary presentation of two characters already known from previous books: Nero Tulip and Fat Toni. The first is probably a kind of Nassim’s alter ego with a lot of coincidences in their lives and characters. The second, Fat Toni, represents the essence of a man of action in Taleb’s sense of the word. Somehow Fat Toni is a kind of guy and personality that Taleb admires although is completely out of reach to him.

Both guys, coming from two universes, have understood the basic game going on: suckers that don’t understand the non-predictability of our world will loose all their money. Each one has arrived to this understanding from different ways: one from erudite comprehension of the subject, the other by everyday life experience.

The text is full of deep reflections that show emotional turbulence in Taleb’s (everybody’s?) life:

To Nero one should first warn people that they are suckers, while Tony was against the very notion of warning. “You will be ridiculed,” he said; “words are for sissies.” (…) These people won’t give you and your ideas respect unless you take their money. (p. 148)

There is another dimension to the need to focus on actions and avoid words: the health-eroding dependence on external recognition. People are cruel and unfair in the way they confer recognition, so it is best to stay out of that game. (p. 148)