Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto #4)

Abundance is harder for us to handle than scarcity.

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

Avoidance of boredom is the only worthy mode of action. Life otherwise is not worth living.)

Difficulty is what wakes up the genius

Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad -- at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.

Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather. Finally, a thought. He who has never sinned is less reliable than he who has only sinned once. And someone who has made plenty of errors—though never the same error more than once—is more reliable than someone who has never made any.

He who has never sinned is less reliable than he who has only sinned once.

If there is something in nature you don't understand, odds are it makes sense in a deeper way that is beyond your understanding. So there is a logic to natural things that is much superior to our own. Just as there is a dichotomy in law: 'innocent until proven guilty' as opposed to 'guilty until proven innocent', let me express my rule as follows: what Mother Nature does is rigorous until proven otherwise; what humans and science do is flawed until proven otherwise.

If you have more than one reason to do something (choose a doctor or veterinarian, hire a gardener or an employee, marry a person, go on a trip), just don’t do it. It does not mean that one reason is better than two, just that by invoking more than one reason you are trying to convince yourself to do something. Obvious decisions (robust to error) require no more than a single reason.

It is as if the mission of modernity was to squeeze every drop of variability and randomness out of life— with the ironic result of making the world a lot more unpredictable, as if the goddesses of chance wanted to have the last word.

I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.

Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time.

Many people keep deploring the low level of formal education in the United states (as defined by, say, math grades). Yet these fail to realize that the new comes from here and gets imitated elsewhere. And it is not thanks to universities, which obviously claim a lot more credit than their accomplishments warrant. Like Britain in the Industrial Revolution, America's asset is, simply, risk taking and the use of optionality, this remarkable ability to engage in rational forms fo trial and error, with no comparative shame in failing again, starting again, and repeating failure.

Modernity has replaced ethics with legalese, and the law can be gamed with a good lawyer.

Most humans manage to squander their free time, as free time makes them dysfunctional, lazy, and unmotivated—the busier they get, the more active they are at other tasks.

Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have—or don’t have—in their portfolio.

Only the autodidacts are free.

Seneca and stoicism as a back door to explain why everything antifragile has to have more upside than downside

Some can be more intelligent than others in a structured environment—in fact school has a selection bias as it favors those quicker in such an environment, and like anything competitive, at the expense of performance outside it. Although I was not yet familiar with gyms, my idea of knowledge was as follows. People who build their strength using these modern expensive gym machines can lift extremely large weights, show great numbers and develop impressive-looking muscles, but fail to lift a stone; they get completely hammered in a street fight by someone trained in more disorderly settings. Their strength is extremely domain-specific and their domain doesn't exist outside of ludic—extremely organized—constructs. In fact their strength, as with over-specialized athletes, is the result of a deformity. I thought it was the same with people who were selected for trying to get high grades in a small number of subjects rather than follow their curiosity: try taking them slightly away from what they studied and watch their decomposition, loss of confidence, and denial. (Just like corporate executives are selected for their ability to put up with the boredom of meetings, many of these people were selected for their ability to concentrate on boring material.) I've debated many economists who claim to specialize in risk and probability: when one takes them slightly outside their narrow focus, but within the discipline of probability, they fall apart, with the disconsolate face of a gym rat in front of a gangster hit man.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.

Suckers try to win arguments, nonsuckers try to win.

that if you need something urgently done, give the task to the busiest (or second busiest) person in the office.

The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations. Remember that food would not have a taste if it weren’t for hunger; results are meaningless without effort, joy without sadness, convictions without uncertainty, and an ethical life isn’t so when stripped of personal risks.

The biologist and intellectual E. O. Wilson was once asked what represented the most hindrance to the development of children; his answer was the soccer mom. He did not use the notion of the Procrustean bed, but he outlined it perfectly. His argument is that they repress children's natural biophilia, their love of living things. But the problem is more general; soccer moms try to eliminate the trial and error, the antifragility, from children's lives, move them away from the ecological and transform them into nerds working on preexisting (soccer-mom-compatible) maps of reality. Good students, but nerds--that is, they are like computers except slower. Further, they are now totally untrained to handle ambiguity. As a child of civil war, I disbelieve in structured learning . . . . Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all those things that make life worth living, compared to the structured, fake, and ineffective life of an empty-suit CEO with a preset schedule and an alarm clock.

The irony of the process of thought control: the more energy you put into trying to control your ideas and what you think about, the more your ideas end up controlling you.

The minute I was bored with a book or a subject I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether - when you are limited to the school material and you get bored, you have a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement.

The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of the pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise. And you find gold, so to speak, effortlessly, just as in rational but undirected trial-and-error-based research. It is exactly like options, trial and error, not getting stuck, bifurcating when necessary but keeping a sense of broad freedom and opportunism.

Trial and error is freedom.

The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has a simple heuristic. Never ask the doctor what you should do. Ask him what he would do if he were in your place. You would be surprised at the difference

The simpler, the better. Complications lead to multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects.

This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.

You may never know what type of person someone is unless they are given opportunities to violate moral or ethical codes.