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.




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