Tuesday, 1 January 2013


I have recently started reading the book: "Antifragile", by Nassim Taleb, author of "The Black Swan", and although I am only 70 or so pages into the book, I do not hesitate to thoroughly recommend it, although you may find (as I have) the personal, brash and argumentative style somewhat jarring.

As somebody who was weaned on Gleick, and who's bookshelf is packed with pop-sci books with "Complexity" or "Chaos" somewhere in the title, Taleb's central thesis is falling on fertile, and very well prepared ground. It is nice to have a book that brings some new ammunition, and new nuance to old arguments.

For example, in the predictive vs reactive control spectrum, it is clear that Taleb would argue vociferously for the merits of reactive control. His position seems to be based on two observations: The first is a behavioral bias: our propensity to smooth over and absorb past surprises, to rationalise and to confabulate, to fool ourselves into believing that past events were predictable when they were anything but, and to continue reinforcing the (erroneous) belief that we can predict and control the future. The second is the notion that unexpected events are more common that we expect, and that using past behavior to model future events will tend to underestimate the frequency and impact of those events. (A topic I have covered before).

 "It is far easier to figure out if something is fragile than to predict the occurrence of an event that may harm it" ... "Fragility is quite measurable, risk, not so at all, particularly risk associated with rare events".

1 comment:

  1. There is also the very human need for power and control. Now, as a child, I was brought up to believe that most objectionable personality traits are, at the core, failings in self-confidence:- The bully is to be pitied rather than despised.

    As I have grown up, I have found that to be a very true observation. Very frequently, as we become more nervous, and less secure in our own position, we seek to increase the level of control that we have; increase our power and our dominance over those around us. I have observed this not only in many of the people I have encountered over the years, but also in myself, and, yes, even in my parents. (Knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient, to grant wisdom).

    So, in the presence of uncertainty and unpredictability, our natural instincts doubly fail us - firstly by making us underestimate the probability of unpredictable events, and secondly by making us become more rigid and controlling when unpredictable events *do* occur.