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Antifragile

From R/W Book Club

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Published 2012

goodreads rating 3.95 (8300)

This book picked for the June 2014 meetings.

Added by Dan Frankowski on October 22, 2012 12:00:00 AM

Members who read this book:
Erik Jordan Tom Erickson Jamie Thingelstad Nick Swenson 

Considered for 2 meetings: June 2014, March 2013.

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Club rating 3.75 (2 ratings)

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Antifragility is a great concept, but I found the frequent intrusion of the author's ego distracting and didn't find a lot of insight on the mechanisms that make systems antifragile.

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Antifragile is a challenging book yet rewarding to the intrepid -- and not easily offended -- reader. Nassim Taleb is a serious thinker & doer. His ideas are rigorously considered and explained with a lot of depth and character. Like a minor prophet, Taleb enjoys tossing the modern equivalent of graven images against rocks to show they come from dust yet stick with him and you will be left with profound issues to consider. My personal study of History and my participation in securities markets are consistent with his elucidation of what's up. Upon reading it the discussion group could not identify a software language that was Antifragile. Are any companies Antifragile? (Reinsurance?). The book is worth reading to understand who Fat Tony is, what the green lumber problem is and to reflect on the backpacking habits of the stoic.

Antifragile

12 December 2014 06:07:23

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In Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts forward the concept of antifragility, the notion that there are some systems that become stronger as a result of damage. He argues, correctly I think, that anti fragility is different than resilience: whereas resilience has to do with the ability of a system to recover from perturbation, antifragility has to do with systems that not only recover but that grow stronger. The immune system is a good example of an antifragile system, with exposure to various agents promoting the formation of anti-bodies.

Antifragile was a bit disappointing, though, because I did not come away with a better understanding of what characteristics of a system contribute to its antifragility. After reading Antifragile, I at some point returned to Thinking in Systems by Donnella Meadows (which we subsequently read as a group), which helped me get a better understanding of antifragility. Although Meadows does not use the concept, per se, her discussions of resilience in systems was helpful.

Meadows writes “resilience arises from a rich structure of many feedback loops that can work in different ways to restore a system even after a large perturbation. A single balancing loop brings a system back to its desired state. Resilience is provided by several such loops, operating through different mechanisms, at different time scales, and with redundancy — one kicking in if another one fails.” [p. 76] I like this very much because it offers insights into how to design systems for increased resilience. I also appreciate Meadows’ observation that because resilience is often not evident except in the recovery of a system from perturbation, “people often sacrifice resilience for stability, or or for productivity, or for some other more immediately evident recognizable system property.” [p 77]

Meadows also ventures into the territory of antifragility, as she writes about “meta-resilience” and “meta-meta-resilience,” to wit: “A set of feedback loops that can restore or rebuild feedback loops is resilience at a still higher level — meta-resilience if you will. Even higher meta-meta-resilience comes from feedback loops that can learn, create, design and evolve ever more complex restorative structures. Systems that can do this are self-organizing…” While it seems to me that anti-fragility is one type of meta-meta-resilience, and that antifragility involves self-organization — i.e. making the system more complex — after this very interesting bit, she veers back into a discussion of resilience and a bit of marveling at the capabilities of self-organizing systems.

I think there is an interesting line of thought to be pursued regarding the generation of new feedback loops that increase the resilience of systems. It is a sort of systems aikido, in that a system must in some sense internalize the ‘insults’ that threaten its stability in a way that enables it to counter them. Another way of putting it is to ask how a’ type of insult’ can drive the evolution of a feedback of a feedback loop that counters it. Perhaps its time to read a book on immunology.