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100 Best Lines From the Book: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

Read the book, without reading it

Logically, the exact opposite of a “fragile” parcel would be a package on which one has written “please mishandle” or “ please handle carelessly.”

100 Best Lines From the Book: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

Being antifragile is the key to living a good life.

Ever since I have come across the concept of antifragility as proposed by Nassim Taleb, I have been borderline obsessed with it. I have told quite a few people about it as well.

Nassim Taleb has written a compelling, convincing, and much-needed account in his book, ‘Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’ . He convinces us that humans, markets, and political systems need to be antifragile.

I have compiled a list of 100 quotes to give you an in-depth overview of the book.

Here they are:

  1. Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. …You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.

  2. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resist shocks and stay the same; the antifragile gets better.

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

  4. Criticism itself can be antifragile to repression, when the fault finder wants to be attacked in return in order to get some validation.

  5. A human body can benefit from stressors (to get stronger), but only to a point.

  6. I feel anger and frustration when I think that one in ten Americans beyond the age of high school is on some kind of antidepressant, such as Prozac.

  7. Some parts on the inside of a system may be required to be fragile in order to make the system antifragile as a result.

  8. When you are fragile, you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible — for deviations are more harmful than helpful.

  9. When you want deviations, and you don’t care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful, you are antifragile.

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

  11. In other words, some class of rash, even suicidal, risk taking is healthy for the economy — under the condition that not all the people take the same risks and that these risks remain small and localized.

  12. Sacrifice for the sake of the group is behind the notion of heroism: it is good for the tribe, bad for those who perish under the fever of war.

  13. There is something like a switch in us that kills the individual in favor of the collective when people engage in communal dances, mass riots, or war.

  14. In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using the same logic (the entrepreneur is still alive, though perhaps morally broken and socially stigmatized, particularly if he lives in Japan).

  15. The media makes 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.

  16. A combination of empire (for some affairs) and semi-independent regions (left alone for their own business) provides more stability than the middle: the centralized nation-state with flags and discrete borders.

  17. Indeed, confusing people a little bit is beneficial — it is good for you and good for them.

  18. Variations also act as purges. Small forest fires periodically cleanse the system of the most flammable material, so this does not have the opportunity to accumulate.

  19. The longer one goes without a market trauma, the worse the damage when commotion occurs.

  20. Unfortunately, you cannot randomize a political party out of existence. What is plaguing us in the United States is not the two-party system, but being stuck with the same two parties.

  21. People are shocked and outraged when I tell them that absence of political instability, even war, lets explosive material and tendencies accumulate under the surface.

  22. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policy makers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite. These artificially constrained systems become prone to Black Swans.

  23. My definition of modernity is humans’ large-scale domination of the environment, the systematic smoothing of the world’s jaggedness, and the stifling of volatility and stressors.

  24. Thank you modernity: it was “scientific progress,” the birth of the clinic and its substitution for home remedies, that caused death rates to shoot up, mostly from what was then called “hospital fever”…

  25. Here, all I am saying is that we need to avoid being blind to the natural antifragility of systems, their ability to take care of themselves, and fight our tendency to harm and fragilize them by not giving them a chance to do so.

  26. Psychologists and economists who study “irrationality” do not realize that humans may have an instinct to procrastinate only when no life is in danger.

  27. If you want to accelerate someone’s death, give him a personal doctor.

  28. Significant signals have a way to reach you.

  29. Consider that every day 6,200 persons die in the United States, many of the preventable causes. But the media only report the most anecdotal and sensational cases (hurricanes, freak accidents, small plane crashes), giving us a more and more distorted map of real risks.

  30. Forecasting can be downright injurious to risk-takers — no different from giving people snake oil medicine in place of cancer treatment, or bleeding, as in the story of George Washington.

  31. What is nonmeasurable and nonpredictable will remain nonmeasurable and nonpredictable, no matter how many PhDs with Russian and Indian names you put on the job — and no matter how much hate mail I get.

  32. Stoicism, seen this way, becomes pure robustness — for the attainment of a state of immunity from one’s external circumstances, good or bad, and an absence of fragility to decisions made by fate, is robustness.

  33. Success brings you asymmetry: you now have a lot more to lose than to gain. You are hence fragile.

  34. A rich person becomes trapped by belongings that take control of him, degrading his sleep at night, raising the serum concentration of his stress hormones, diminishing his sense of humor, perhaps even causing hair to grow at the tip of his nose and similar ailments.

  35. The barbell (a bar with weights on both ends that weight lifters use) is meant to illustrate the idea of a combination of extremes kept separate, with an avoidance of the middle.

  36. So just as stoicism is the domestication, not the elimination, of emotions, so is the barbell a domestication, not the elimination, of uncertainty.

  37. Never ask the people what they want, or where they want to go, or where they think they should go, or, worse, what they think they will desire tomorrow.

  38. Financial independence, when used intelligently, can make you robust; it gives you options and allows you to make the right choices. Freedom is the ultimate option.

  39. Risk taking ain’t gambling, and optionality ain’t lottery tickets.

  40. We humans lack imagination, to the point of not even knowing what tomorrow’s important things look like. We use randomness to spoon-feed us with discoveries — which is why antifragility is necessary.

  41. Now, since a very large share of technological know-how comes from the antifragility, the optionality, of trial and error, some people and some institutions want to hide the fact from us (and themselves), or downplay its role.

  42. We are very likely to believe that skills and ideas that we actually acquired by antifragile doing, or that came naturally to us (from our innate biological instinct), came from books, ideas, and reasoning.

  43. As per the Yiddish saying: “If the student is smart, the teacher takes the credit.”

  44. The real world relies on the intelligence of antifragility, but no university would swallow that — just as interventionists don’t accept that things can improve without their intervention.

  45. Also, note that I am not saying that universities do not generate knowledge at all and do not help growth (outside, of course, of most standard economics and other superstitions that set us back); all I am saying is that their role is overly hyped-up and that their members seem to exploit some of our gullibility in establishing wrong causal links, mostly on superficial impressions.

  46. People with too much smoke and complicated tricks and methods in their brains start missing elementary, very elementary things.

  47. Theory should stay independent from practice and vice versa — and we should not extract academic economists from their campuses and put them in positions of decision making.

  48. As Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is.”

  49. Nobody worries that a child ignorant of the various theorems of aerodynamics and incapable of solving an equation of motion would be unable to ride a bicycle.

  50. No, we don’t put theories into practice. We create theories out of practice.

  51. It is just that things that are implemented tend to want to be born from practice, not theory.

  52. There is a body of know-how that was transmitted from master to apprentice, and transmitted only in such a manner — with degrees necessary as a selection processor to make the profession more respectable, or to help here and there, but not systematically.

  53. Much of all of this is a religious belief in the unconditional power of organized science, one that has replaced unconditional religious belief in organized religion.

  54. …studying the chemical composition of ingredients will make you neither a better cook nor a more expert taster — it might even make you worse at both. (Cooking is particularly humbling for teleology-driven fellows)

  55. The difference between humans and animals lies in the ability to collaborate, engage in business, let ideas, pardon the expression, copulate.

  56. For one the invisible hand is the market, for the other it is God.

  57. Corporations are in love with the idea of the strategic plan. They need to pay to figure out where they are going.

  58. It turns out, strategic planning is just superstitious babble.

  59. Our misunderstanding of convex tinkering, antifragility, and how to tame randomness is woven into our institutions — though not consciously or explicitly.

  60. Seeing the nontransferability of skills from one domain to the other led me to skepticism in general about whatever skills are acquired in a classroom, anything in a non-ecological way, as compared to street fights and real-life situations.

  61. Good students, but nerds — that is, they are like computers except slower. Further, they are now totally untrained to handle ambiguity.

  62. Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living, compared to a structured, fake, and ineffective life of an empty-suit CEO with a preset schedule and an alarm clock.

  63. Lions in captivity live longer; they are technically richer, and they are guaranteed job security for life, if these are the criteria you are focusing on…

  64. 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.

  65. 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.

  66. I figured out that whatever I selected myself I could read with more depth and more breadth — there was a match to my curiosity.

  67. The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise.

  68. …I managed to read nothing prescribed by school…

  69. But there is something central in following one’s own direction in the selection of readings: what I was given to study in school I have forgotten; what I decided to read on my own, I still remember.

  70. A hero is someone imbued with intellectual confidence and ego, and death is something too small for him.

  71. If you sat with a pencil and jotted down all the decisions you’ve taken in the past week, or, if you could, over your lifetime, you would realize that most of them have had asymmetric payoff, with one side carrying a larger consequence than the other. You decide principally based on fragility, not probability.

  72. Remember that there is no empirical evidence to support the statement that organized research in the sense it is currently marketed leads to the great things promised by universities.

  73. In a way it is no different from racketeering: one needs a decent university “name” to get ahead in life; but we know that collectively society doesn’t appear to advance with organized education.

  74. Education is an institution that has been growing without external stressors; eventually the thing will collapse.

  75. The difference between a thousand pebbles and a large stone of equivalent weight is a potent illustration of how fragility stems from nonlinear effects.

  76. For the antifragile, shocks bring more benefits (equivalently, less harm) as their intensity increases (up to a point).

  77. Those recommending the nutritional policies fail to understand that “steadily” getting your calories and nutrients throughout the day, with “balanced” composition and metronomic regularity, does not necessarily have the same effect as consuming them unevenly or randomly, say by having a lot of protein one day, fasting completely another, feasting the third, etc.

  78. A squeeze occurs when people have no choice but to do something, and do it right away, regardless of the costs.

  79. Bottlenecks are the mothers of all squeezers.

  80. Black swan effects are necessarily increasing, as a result of complexity, interdependence between parts, globalization, and the beastly thing called “efficiency”, that makes people now sail too close to the wind.

  81. We can easily see the costs of fragility swelling in front of us, visible to the naked eye. Global disaster costs are today more than three times what they were in the 1980s, adjusting for inflation.

  82. We are prone to make more severe errors because we are simply wealthier.

  83. The key is that the nonlinear is vastly more affected by extreme events — and nobody was interested in extreme events since they had a mental block against them.

  84. There are many things without words, matters that we know and can act on but cannot describe directly, cannot capture in human language or within the narrow human concepts that are available to us.

  85. In political systems, a good mechanism is one that helps remove the bad guy; it’s not about what to do and who to put in.

  86. More data — such as paying attention to the eye colors of people of the people around when crossing the street — can make you miss the big truck.

  87. Convincing — and confident — disciplines, say, physics, tend to use little statistical backup, while political science and economics, which have never produced anything of note, are full of elaborate statistics and statistical evidence.

  88. Antifragility implies — contrary to initial instinct — that the old is superior to the new, and much more than you think.

  89. Even now, we are using technology to reverse technology.

  90. And the great use of the tablet computer (notably the iPad) is that it allows us to return to Babylonian and Phoenician roots of writing and take notes on a tablet (which is how is started).

  91. Every time you take an antibiotic, you help, to some degree, the mutation of germs into antibiotic-resistant strains.

  92. If there is something in nature you don’t understand, odds are it makes sense in a deeper way that is beyond your understanding.

  93. Religion has invisible purposes beyond what the literal-minded scientistic-scientifiers identify — one of which is to protect us from scientism, that is, them.

  94. Among those things the role of religion is to tame the iatrogenics of abundance — fasting makes you lose your sense of entitlement.

  95. Now it may or may not be true that walking effortlessly is as necessary as sleep, but since all my ancestors until the advent of the automobile spent much of their time walking around (and sleeping), I try to just follow the logic, even before some medical journal catches up to the idea and produces what referees of medical journals call “evidence.”

  96. Words are dangerous: postdictors, who explain things after the fact — because they are in the business of talking — always look smarter than predictors.

  97. Have you noticed that while corporations sell you junk drinks, artisans sell you cheese and wine?

  98. Anything one needs to market heavily is necessarily either an inferior product or an evil one.

  99. Mistakes made collectively, not individually, are the hallmark of organized knowledge — and the best argument against it. The argument “because everyone is doing it” or “that’s how others do it” abounds.

  100. 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.


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