Book Learning

Moar Lerning!

Moar Lerning!

So I recently finished reading “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I feel that this merits a post for two reasons: first because it took me a solid two weeks to get through it and second because it took my entire liberal arts undergraduate education to understand it. I’m normally a very fast reader: I can often get through a work of popular fiction in a day or two. Classic fiction takes about a week (unless it is Dickens- then all bets are off). And evidently non-fiction takes me ten days to two weeks to absorb.

Admittedly I expected that this to be a book in a vein similar to the works of Malcolm Gladwell: observations of complex systems with the salient points articulated clearly and objectively in a narrative style that was approachable to the casual reader. It was not. It wasn’t bad or poorly written, it was just dense. I’ve never been so glad to have had a liberal arts education. It was worth the effort, though, and I highly recommend it as a book if you’re interested in systems that get stronger in the face of chaos and are willing to explore everything from ancient mediterranean history to the mathematical models of financial systems along the way.

There’s a chance that I only understood about 16% of that book- not having a background in mathematics or finances or history or philosophy from which to cross-reference the multitude of references, but I like the concept of antifragility and wouldn’t mind incorporating it into my life. Here are the broad strokes of how to be antifragile:


A state of being in which a system or object is not only resilient in the face of adversity, chaos, or disorder but actually becomes stronger as a result. 

– A heuristic (rule of thumb) is better than a comprehensive code of rules.

– Never add something to an equation when taking something else away will get the same result.

– Be smart by not being stupid.

– Take many small risks. Fail many small times.

– Develop theories out of experience, don’t try to create a theory and then put it into practice.

– Reading avidly and broadly in subjects that interest you is the most comprehensive form of education.

– The longer something has existed the longer it is likely to exist.

– Avoid debt: it takes away your freedom to choose what you do with your money.

– Take responsibility for your own risks.

– Have lots of options. Find options that have lots of upside and little to no downside.

– There is a difference between knowing something and being able to put it into words.

I like to think that I already follow a lot of these rules, but I’m looking forward to finding more ways that I can implement them.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 28, 2013.

2 Responses to “Book Learning”

  1. Sound interesting, not sure I’d agree with all of the rules though!

    “The longer something has existed the longer it is likely to exist” is probably not meant to apply to biology – plenty of things that have existed longer than humans are just one asteroid, mutation or encounter with humans away from never existing again!

    And debt is not a complete evil, it expands your opportunities, but requires a lot of discipline, care and expertise and is best avoided by the majority who have none of those.

    • The author’s argument about biological systems is that the individual creatures don’t last that long but their genetic code gets better and stronger the longer it exists. Mostly he was describing that idea in terms of technology: books have existed for hundreds of years but e-readers have only existed for a decade or so, therefore it is more likely that books will out-last e-readers (etc).

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