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By TheophileEscargot (Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 02:25:02 PM EST) Reading, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Antifragile", "Deep sleeper". Links

What I'm Reading
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is the third book of his I've read, after "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan".

Taleb is well known and justifiably smug about being prepared for, and prospering by, the financial crisis. "Antifragile" tries to extend his ideas further into more realms of politics and everyday life.

"Antifragile" is a term he uses to describe systems that are actively strengthened by small shocks. This is not the same as "resilience" or "robustness", qualities which endure shocks, but don't improve because of them. His clearest examples are systems of banking and capitalism made up of many small firms, where small shocks weed out the weakest firms, leaving the overall system stronger. Systems where there are a few large banks and firms are fragile: a large shock can cause immense harm.

He also gives several examples form the human body, where exercise makes you stronger by tiring you in the short term. (Other examples there are less convincing: I'm not convinced that the progressive poisoning to make you immune to poison does more good than harm.)

Taleb is also keen on Stoicism, and regards some of the aspects of stoicism as making you antifragile, though he doesn't give much detail.

Antifragility is sometimes a property of the individual unit, but sometimes of the whole system. Evolution and capitalism work by eliminating the weaker units, which isn't particularly nice if you're in one of them.

It's an interesting enough idea, but I think Taleb tries to extend it too far. For instance, it seems to me that sometimes there is a trade-off between antifragility and robustness. Taleb says that leagues of city-states are antifragile, where centralized states are fragile. However, if you look at the way leagues of city-states have been gobbled up by their centralized neighbours, it seems that antifragility has lost out the the greater strength of centralization.

For another example, some nations have kept out flooding by large-scale flood defences. If every individual tried to flood-proof their house, that would be a more antifragile solution: but not necessarily a better one.

It seems to me unlikely that antifragility is always the best solution in all circumstances: there are going to be situations where you lose out onm economies of scale, greater strength, greater robustness because of it. Without some guide to when antifragility best applies, the idea isn't immensely useful in all domains.

Taleb also links the concept of Antifragility to a kind of Burkean conservatism, where he's skeptical of big ideas, grand plans, and innovations. Again though, while it's often better to adapt, sometimes a complete rebuilding is useful: the important thing is to judge when.

Overall: fairly interesting, but I think his earlier books are better to start with.

What I'm Reading 2
Deep Sleeper by Phil Hester, illustrated by Mike Huddleston. Comic about a man who finds his dreams leading him into a world of people who astrally project themselves.

Some effective black and white artwork of figures dissolving into shapes. The storyline is OK, though a bit predictable. It's quite like the "Ghost Story" Dresden files book.

Overall, good comic, worth a look.

Pics. Dances. 1940, 1920.

Articles. Stalin the editor.

Sci/Tech. LinkedIn endorsements designed to be viral (not useful).

Random Ancient Roman cooking blog, via. Victorian London maps.

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Daydream believer | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Poisoning: by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 09:49:48 PM EST
Think live vaccines, or drug tolerance.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Mithridates by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 12:18:17 AM EST
There is historical precedent.  But it likely depends much on the sort of poison you are talking about. 
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
ethanol is a neurotoxin by bobdole (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 09:34:45 AM EST
there is ample precedence for self-poisoning with ethanol ;-).
-- The revolution will not be televised.
[ Parent ]
different mechanisms by bobdole (4.00 / 1) #5 Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 09:33:04 AM EST
Live vaccines is the development of antibodies, while drug tolerance is usually related to reduced delivery or reduced effect. 
-- The revolution will not be televised.
[ Parent ]
Reduced effect by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #8 Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 08:01:11 PM EST
Isn't that the end state we're seeking here? See: antivenins.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
well by bobdole (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Oct 10, 2013 at 10:10:02 AM EST
reduced efficacy or effectiveness is the sum of delivery and effect on target organ/cell. The point was however that it is dissimilar to vaccines :-).

-- The revolution will not be televised.
[ Parent ]
Or homeopathy... N/t by gmd (2.00 / 0) #7 Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 03:41:42 PM EST

gmd - HuSi's second most dimwitted overprivileged user.
[ Parent ]
I'm not well versed in 'resiliance' by lm (4.00 / 1) #2 Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 10:17:17 PM EST
But the one experience I have with it, a talk by Kenneth Ginsburg on raising children to be resilient, makes the idea of 'resilience' sound very similar to the way you describe Taleb's idea of being 'antifragile'. Granted, Ginsburg's scope is narrowly focused on child psychology rather than systems.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
He didn't need a new word by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #3 Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 11:04:31 PM EST
Some Burkean conservative he is propagating redundant latinisms when there is a great existing word in resilience.

Robustness fair point.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
Daydream believer | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback