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Missive #29

From the bestselling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost philosophers of our time, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a book on how some systems actually benefit from disorder.

In The Black Swan Taleb outlined a problem; in Antifragile he offers a definitive solution: how to gain from disorder and chaos while being protected from fragilities and adverse events. I read Fooled by Randomness by Taleb in April 2021 and did not like it at all. This book is much better although it still rambles from time to time it is not as technical and he tells you when you can skip sections. The quotes should give you a good idea of what he says. For what he calls the “antifragile” is one step beyond robust, as it benefits from adversity, uncertainty and stressors, just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension.

Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, and proposing that things be built in an antifragile manner. Extremely ambitious and multidisciplinary, Antifragile provides a blueprint for how to behave—and thrive—in a world we don’t understand and which is too uncertain for us to even try to understand. He who is not antifragile will perish. Why is the city state better than the nation state, why is debt bad for you, and why is almost everything modern bound to fail? The book covers innovation, health, biology, medicine, life decisions, politics, foreign policy, urban planning, war, personal finance, and economic systems. Throughout, the voice and recipes of the ancient wisdom from Phoenician, Roman, Greek, and Medieval sources are heard loud and clear. Book promo @ goodreads.com

These are only some of the possible quotes from the book. It is chock full of very good information.

If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.
Just as being nice to the arrogant is no better than being arrogant toward the nice, being accommodating toward anyone committing a nefarious action condones it.

Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens—usually.

We humans scorn what is not concrete. We are more easily swayed by a crying baby than by thousands of people dying elsewhere that do not make it to our living room through the TV set. The one case is a tragedy, the other a statistic. Our emotional energy is blind to probability. The media make things worse as they play on our infatuation with anecdotes, our thirst for the sensational, and they cause a great deal of unfairness that way. At the present time, one person is dying of diabetes every seven seconds, but the news can only talk about victims of hurricanes with houses flying in the air.

Pharma plays the game of concealed and distributed iatrogenics*, and it has been growing. It is easy to assess iatrogenics when the surgeon amputates the wrong leg or operates on the wrong kidney, or when the patient dies of a drug reaction. But when you medicate a child for an imagined or invented psychiatric disease, say, ADHD or depression, instead of letting him out of the cage, the long-term harm is largely unaccounted for. Iatrogenics is compounded by the “agency problem” or “principal-agent problem,” which emerges when one party (the agent) has personal interests that are divorced from those of the one using his services (the principal). An agency problem, for instance, is present with the stockbroker and medical doctor, whose ultimate interest is their own checking account, not your financial and medical health, respectively, and who give you advice that is geared to benefit themselves.… anything in which there is naive interventionism, nay, even just intervention, will have iatrogenics*.

*iatrogenic: [adjective] induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures.

Designer drugs have a main property—they are designed (and are therefore teleological). But it does not look as if we are capable of designing a drug while taking into account the potential side effects.… [T]his is a religious belief in the unconditional power of organized science, one that has replaced unconditional religious belief in organized religion.

It is not well advertised that there is no evidence that abilities in chess lead to better reasoning off the chessboard—even those who play blind chess games with an entire cohort can’t remember things outside the board better than a regular person. We accept the domain-specificity of games, the fact that they do not really train you for life, that there are severe losses in translation. But we find it hard to apply this lesson to technical skills acquired in schools, that is, to accept the crucial fact that what is picked up in the classroom stays largely in the classroom. Worse even, the classroom can bring some detectable harm, a measure of iatrogenics hardly ever discussed.

People with a variety of lung diseases, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, used to be put on mechanical ventilators. The belief was that constant pressure and volume were desirable—steadiness seemed a good idea. But the reaction of the patient is nonlinear to the pressure (convex over an initial range, then concave above it), and he suffers from such regularity. Further, people with very sick lungs cannot take high pressure for a long time.

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