Antifragile: 13. Lecturing Birds on How to Fly

Following the schedule of our reading calendar.

There is a belief deeply ingrained in our modern world which is the most lasting and poisonous legacy of Enlightenment. Progress comes from the intellectual and scientific understanding of the world. Equipped with that knowledge, we can apply our reason to derive the practical and technological uses of it that creates the innovations that we call progress.

Taleb labels this belief as “naive rationalism” and devotes this whole chapter to (successfully in my opinion) destroy it.

Innovation doesn’t come from rational understanding of the world, it comes from tinkering in a random way using basic heuristics and selecting the best results. Technological evolution happens by the same logic and mechanisms of natural evolution. He gives us a lot of examples, centered in the wheeled suitcase story, about how difficult it is to get to the inventions or the practical uses of them, even when you are close to it. It is only in retrospect that there seems to be a logical and directed path in the steps of the process of discovery.

Consider two types of knowledge (…) The error of naive rationalism leads to overestimating the role and necessity of the second type, academic knowledge, in human affairs -and degrading the uncodifiable, more complex, intuitive or experience-based type. (p. 194)

This naive rationalism which is behind the politics of government institutions in the world (the Soviet-Harvard experts) is maintained and reinforced by a series of interpretation fallacies to which our poor, jungle adapted brains are pray. Selection bias, causation by correlation, historical reinterpretation and others make us belief that our reason is in charge. Academia is really convinced that it is lecturing birds how to fly.

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One thought on “Antifragile: 13. Lecturing Birds on How to Fly

  1. This was a very relevant chapter for me. It helped to put the work we do in universities in perspective, and consider that there are other much more relevant sources of knowledge than the academic one.

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