Thursday, 6 June 2013

derivative antifragility?

antifragileI've just been reading that newish AntiFragile book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It's about how adaptive behaviour can strengthen systems, although ex-derivatives trader Taleb's pompous style requires a reader's mental machete to hack to the main points.

The book's core message takes a kind of Nietsche theme of 'what does not kill me makes me stronger' and expands it out to several hundred pages. When you think you've finished reading an idea, another whole section of the same theme appears, like the doubling regrowth of a severed Hydra's head.

I'll summarise it. We know if we shake a box marked 'Fragile' we break the contents. People don't mark boxes 'Robust' and if we were to shake them then nothing inside changes. A box marked 'Antifragile', when shaken, could reconfigure its components into something better. A bit like evolution. Yes, that's the main riff of the book. Things that gain from disorder.

The Mr Bombastic style insults as many people as possible on the way to this conclusion, whilst hinting that the self-aggrandising author dead lifts 330lbs, so we'd better not insult him. As a burly ranter fond of Malbec in Michelin restarants, his good lines are flashes spread across oft-times repetitive and self-justifying pages. "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," as Taleb would surely state it. Several times. Cross referenced. And maybe in Latin.

Taleb previously wrote the Black Swan book about 'one off' events that can't be predicted but have big effects. If that book identified the randomness of some key events, this one tries to turn the events and interconnectedness to advantage.

There's some good ideas in the book, which I found only started to lock in after 15% read and by treaing his asides as humorous. There's plenty of other people quoting Taleb's brilliance, although I wonder how they have suppressed their irritation of his style to get to the end of the book?

Instead I'll be reminded of Kanye West, whose oft-played stadium lyrics sampling Daft Punk and quoting Twilight of the False Gods, make a similar point to the book.

(Work it, make it, do it,
Makes us harder, better, faster, stronger!)

(Work it harder make it better,
do it faster makes us stronger,
more than ever, never over,
Our work here is never over)

N-now th-th-that that don't kill me
Can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now
'Cause I can't wait much longer
I know I got to be right now


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