Notas de “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder -Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Uno de los mejores libros que he leído ultimanente. Para mi imprescindible para entender la incertidumbre y el mundo en que vivimos.

El autor es Nassim Nicholas Taleb conocido por su libro “Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” y que previamente había escrito “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets”. Junto con “Antifragile” conforman una trilogía (el autor no los presenta como tal) donde el concepto del riesgo y su gestión es el hilo conductor. El Sr Taleb es un experto en esta disciplina. Es profesor y en su día fue un broker y gestor de derivados. Por lo que sabe de lo que habla . Si lo sigues en twitter (@nntaleb) verás que está peleado con el mundo y ha iniciado una cruzada contra académicos (charlatanes les llama) y muchos de los paper que escriben. Su toma y daca con personas como Paul Krugman y Steve Pinker merecen su seguimiento. Su máxima crítica es la falta de rigurosidad y de comprensión de la estadística. Una persona interesante de conocer.

A continuación comparto notas/fragmentos destacados que he ido subrayando a medida que leía. Están en bruto sin editar. Algunas de esta notas no les encontrarás sentido ya que están descontextualizadas, pero creo que son suficientes para dar una idea del contenido de este gran libro. En MAYÚSCULAS las que considero imprescindibles. Espero que te sean de utilidad.

Domain Independence Is Domain Dependent

Chapter 2. Overcompensation and Overreaction Everywhere

+ The excess energy released from overreaction to setbacks is what innovate @innovación


+ Salir de las zonas de confort. Looked at comfort, almost any form of comfort, as a road to waste.1 He did not like it when we had it too easy, as he worried about the weakening of the will.

+ One should have enough self-control to make the audience work hard to listen, which causes them to switch into intellectual overdrive.
+ MENTAL EFFORT moves us into higher gear, activating more vigorous and more analytical brain machinery.
+ **Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens — usually**.


Chapter 3. The Cat and the Washing Machine

+ Artificial, man-made mechanical and engineering contraptions with simple responses are complicated, but not “complex,” as they don’t have interdependencies

+ But with complex systems, **INTERDEPENDENCIES** are severe

###STRESSORS ARE INFORMATION: errors and their consequences are information

+ As I said, the predictability of specific events is low, and it is such opacity that makes it low. Not only that, but because of **NONLINEARITIES**, one needs **higher visibility** than with regular systems — instead what we have is opacity.

**Crimes Against Children**

+ This is my term for an aspect of modern life that treats humans as washing machines, with simplified mechanical responses — and a detailed user’s manual. It is the systematic removal of **uncertainty and randomness** from things, trying to make matters highly predictable in their smallest details. All that for the sake of comfort, convenience, and efficiency. TENDEMOS A SIMPLIFICAR LA REALIDAD PARA HACERLA MANEJABLE Y ENTENDIBLE, PERO CON LA SIMPLIFICACIÓN SE PIERDE INFORMACIÓN QUE PUEDE SER RELEVANTE.

+ Antifragility by layers: The most interesting aspect of evolution is that it only works because of its 
+ Antifragility; it is in love with stressors, randomness, uncertainty, and disorder — while individual organisms are relatively fragile, the gene pool takes advantage of shocks to enhance its fitness. 
+ Nature is antifragile up to a point but such point is quite high — it can take a lot, a lot of shocks.
+ **TEORÍA DE LA EVOLUCIÓN**: So, in a way, while hormesis corresponds to situations by which the individual organism benefits from direct harm to itself, evolution occurs when harm makes the individual organism perish and the benefits are transferred to others, the surviving ones, and future generations.
+ **Antoine Danchin** For him, analysis needs to accommodate the fact that an organism is not something isolated and stand-alone: **there are layering and hierarchies**. LAS INTERDEPENDENCIAS NO SON IGUALES. HAY JERARQUÍAS. 
+ **How does this layering operate?** A tree has many branches, and these look like small trees; further, these large branches have many more smaller branches that sort of look like even smaller trees. This is a manifestation of what is called **fractal self-similarity**, a vision by the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot. There is a similar hierarchy in things and we just see the top layer from the outside

**Thank You, Errors**

+ Good systems such as **airlines are set up to have small errors**, independent from each other — or, in effect, negatively correlated to each other, since mistakes lower the odds of future mistakes. This is one way to see how one environment can be **antifragile (aviation)** and the other fragile (modern economic life with “earth is flat” style interconnectedness).


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

+ If every plane crash makes the next one less likely, every bank crash makes the next one more likely. La fragilidad del sistemas financiero. 
**Why the Aggregate Hates the Individual**

+ We saw that antifragility in biology works thanks to **layers**. This **rivalry** between suborganisms **contributes to evolution**: cells within our bodies compete; within the cells, proteins compete, all the way through

###Competencia > evolución

+ For the economy to be antifragile and undergo what is called evolution, every single individual business must necessarily be fragile, exposed to breaking — evolution needs organisms (or their genes) to die when supplanted by others, in order to achieve improvement, or to avoid reproduction when they are not as fit as someone else
+ Individuos = fragile > Humanidad = antifragile. Todo tiene un límite.


+ Natural and naturelike systems want some overconfidence on the part of individual economic agents, i.e., the overestimation of their chances of success and underestimation of the risks of failure in their businesses, provided their failure does not impact others. In other words, they want local, but not global, overconfidence.

+ People have difficulty realizing that the solution is building a system in which nobody’s fall can drag others down — for continuous failures work to preserve the system

###Cortafuegos > todo sistema necesita para evitar ser fragile. Cortar interdependencias > Layers

Necesidad de crear cortafuefos en la interconexión de las economías debido a los efectos de la globalización. 

+ We are fragilizing social and economic systems by denying them stressors and randomness, putting them in the Procrustean bed of cushy and comfortable — but ultimately harmful — modernity


+ treating an organism like a simple machine is a kind of simplification or approximation or reduction that is exactly like a Procrustean bed. It is often with the most noble intentions that we do so, as we are pressured to “fix” things, so we often blow them up with our fear of randomness and love of smoothness
+ **Bottom-up Variations**:


+ Take for now that the small (in the aggregate, that is, a collection of small units) is more antifragile than the large — in fact the large is doomed to breaking, a mathematical property we will explain later, that, sadly, seems universal as it applies to large corporations, very large mammals, and large administrations


Twelve Thousand Years
Nor did the point escape Machiavelli. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, citing him: “It seemed, wrote Machiavelli, that in the midst of murders and civil wars, our republic became stronger [and] its citizens infused with virtues.… A little bit of agitation gives resources to souls and men


A collection of statelings is similar to the restaurant business we discussed earlier: volatile, but you never have a generalized restaurant crisis — unlike, say, the banking business. Why? Because it is composed of a lot of independent and competing small units that do not individually threaten the system and make it jump from one state to another. RANDOMNESS IS DISTRIBUTED RATHER THAN CONCENTRATED

**Hungry Donkeys**
So far we have argued that preventing randomness in an antifragile system is not always a good idea

The idea of injecting random noise into a system to improve its functioning has been applied across fields. By a mechanism called stochastic resonance, adding random noise to the background makes you hear the sounds (say, music) with more accuracy.

*Métodos estocásticos son los probabilísticos* No sabes a ciencia cierta si un suceso ocurrirá pero le puedes asignar una probabilidad.

And, ironically, the so-called chaotic systems, those experiencing a brand of variations called chaos, can be stabilized by adding randomness to them


In fact, these systems tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface

**Intervention and Iatrogenic**
And the final lesson is that one should not expect laurels for bringing the truth


When I wrote Fooled by Randomness, which argues — a relative of this message — that


+ In fact we humans are very bad at filtering information, particularly short-term information, and procrastination can be a way for us to filter better, to resist the consequences of jumping on information, as we discuss next

+ Time is the best test of fragility it encompasses high doses of disorder — and nature is the only system that has been stamped “robust” by time
**Neuroticism in Industrial Proportions**

The supply of information to which we are exposed thanks to modernity is transforming humans from the equable second fellow into the neurotic first one. For the purpose of our discussion, the second fellow only reacts to real information, the first largely to noise. The difference between the two fellows will show us the difference between noise and signal. Noise is what you are supposed to ignore, signal what you need to heed. INFOXICACIÓN
+ Internet es adictivo. 
+ Tiempo real. Demasiado cerca para poder tener perspectiva. Al final sobrerreacionamos. Ultrasensible.


+ In business and economic decision making, reliance on data causes severe side effects — data is now plentiful thanks to connectivity, and the proportion of spuriousness in the data increases as one gets more immersed in it. A very rarely discussed property of data: it is toxic in large quantities — even in moderate quantities

+ have been repeating that in a natural environment, a stressor is information
+ we are not made to understand the point, so we overreact emotionally to noise. The best solution is to only look at very large changes in data or conditions, never at small ones.

+ we are living in a more and more fragile world, while thinking it is more and more understandable.

+ the best way to mitigate interventionism is to ration the supply of information, as naturalistically as possible

It has been very hard for me to explain that the more data you get, the less you know what’s going on, and the more iatrogenics you will cause. People are still under the illusion that “science” means more data.
**On Suckers and Nonsuckers**
### Stay robust to how others treat you
###Is This Really Serious?
+ My point is that wisdom in decision making is vastly more important — not just practically, but philosophically — than knowledge.

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

+ When you become rich, the pain of losing your fortune exceeds the emotional gain of getting additional wealth, so you start living under continuous emotional threat
+ So he played a trick on fate: kept the good and ditched the bad; cut the downside and kept the upside


+ To see why asymmetric payoffs like volatility, just consider that if you have less to lose than to gain, more upside than downside, then you like volatility (it will, on balance, bring benefits), and you are also antifragile
+ Este razonamiento está detrás de la lucha de clases y de las revoluciones sociales.

+ Stoicism in the literature is of some indifference to fate — among other ideas of harmony with the cosmos that I will skip here. It is about continuously degrading the value of earthly possessions

###On the Irreversibility of Broken Packages
The first step toward antifragility consists in first decreasing downside, rather than increasing upside; that is, by lowering exposure to negative Black Swans and letting natural antifragility work by itself.

###Seneca’s Barbell
Or, if I have to work, I find it preferable (and less painful) to work intensely for very short hours, then do nothing for the rest of the time (assuming doing nothing is really doing nothing), until I recover completely and look forward to a repetition, rather than being subjected to the tedium of Japanese style low-intensity interminable office hours with sleep deprivation. Main course and dessert are separate

Do You Really Know Where You Are Going?
+ So let us call here the teleological fallacy the illusion that you know exactly where you are going, and that you knew exactly where you were going in the past, and that others have succeeded in the past by knowing where they were going

+ The error of thinking you know exactly where you are going and assuming that you know today what your preferences will be tomorrow has an associated one. It is the illusion of thinking that others, too, know where they are going, and that they would tell you what they want if you just asked them.

+ Optionality will take us many places, but at the core, an option is what makes you antifragile and allows you to benefit from the positive side of uncertainty, without a corresponding serious harm from the negative side.

+ 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 of trial and error, with no comparative shame in failing, starting again, and repeating failure

###The option is an agent of antifragility.

**Option and Asymmetry**
+ The formula in Chapter 10 was: antifragility equals more to gain than to lose equals more upside than downside equals asymmetry (unfavorable) equals likes volatility

+ growth in society may not come from raising the average the Asian way, but from increasing the number of people in the “tails,” that small, very small number of risk takers crazy enough to have ideas of their own, those endowed with that very rare ability called imagination, that rarer quality called courage, and who make things happen.

Chapter 13. Lecturing Birds on How to Fly
implementation does not necessarily proceed from invention. It, too, requires luck and circumstances

The Soviet-Harvard Department of Ornithology
The error of naive rationalism leads to overestimating the role and necessity of the second type, academic knowledge, in human affairs — and degrading the uncodifiable, more complex, intuitive, or experience-based type

The important difference between theory and practice lies precisely in the detection of the sequence of events and retaining the sequence in memory

Academia is well equipped to tell us what it did for us, not what it did not — hence how indispensable its methods are. This ranges across many things in life. Traders talk about their successes, so one is led to believe that they are intelligent — not looking at the hidden failures

Chapter 14. When Two Things Are Not the “Same Thing”
+ It would seem a reasonable investment if one accepts the notion that university knowledge generates economic wealth

+ But this is a belief that comes more from superstition than empiricism. Remember the story of Switzerland in Chapter 5 — a place with a very low level of formal education. I wonder if my nausea comes from the feeling that these desert tribes are being separated from their money by the establishment that has been sucking dry their resources and diverting them to administrators from Western universities. Their wealth came from oil, not from some vocational know-how, so I am certain that their spending on education is completely sterile and a great transfer of resources (rather than milking antifragility by forcing their citizens to make money naturally, through circumstances).

+ There is something that escapes the Abu Dhabi model. Where are the stressors
+ Recall the quote by Seneca and Ovid to the effect that sophistication is born of need, and success of difficulties
+ People from Amioun only do well when shaken.” That’s antifragility.
+ Education → Wealth and Economic Growth or Wealth and Economic Growth → Education
+ immediately inferring that education makes a country rich, without even checking. Epiphenomenon here again. (The error in reasoning is a bit from wishful thinking, because education is considered “good”; I wonder why people don’t make the epiphenomenal association between the wealth of a country and something “bad,” say, decadence, and infer that decadence, or some other disease of wealth like a high suicide rate, also generates wealth.)

+ This argument is not against adopting governmental educational policies for noble aims such as reducing inequality in the population, allowing the poor to access good literature and read Dickens, Victor Hugo, or Julien Gracq, or increasing the freedom of women in poor countries, which happens to decrease the birth rate. But then one should not use the excuses of “growth” or “wealth” in such matters.

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

The Green Lumber Fallacy 
+ So I saw the less is more in action: the more studies, the less obvious elementary but fundamental things become; activity, on the other hand, strips things to their simplest possible model

+ Sometimes, even when an economic theory makes sense, its application cannot be imposed from a model, in a top-down manner, so one needs the organic self-driven trial and error to get us to it. For instance, the concept of specialization that has obsessed economists since Ricardo (and before) blows up countries when imposed by policy makers, as it makes the economies error-prone; but it works well when reached progressively by evolutionary means, with the right buffers and layers of redundancies

+ And my argument is that you don’t go to school to learn optionality, but the reverse: to become blind to it.

+ He claims to never hire economists and finance people, just physicists and mathematicians, those involved in pattern recognition accessing the internal logic of things, without theorizing

Prometheus and Epimetheus
+ we have seen the power of optionality as an alternative way of doing things, opportunistically, with some large edge coming from asymmetry with large benefits and benign harm. It is a way — the only way — to domesticate uncertainty, to work rationally without understanding the future, while reliance on narratives is the exact opposite: one is domesticated by uncertainty, and ironically set back

+ We separated knowledge into two categories, the formal and the Fat Tonyish, heavily grounded in the antifragility of trial and error and risk taking with less downside, barbell-style — a de-intellectualized form of risk taking (or, rather, intellectual in its own way). In an opaque world, that is the only way to go.

**Chapter 15. History Written by the Losers**

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

+ Kealey, who we mentioned was not a historian and, thankfully, not an economist, in The Economic Laws of Scientific Research questions the conventional “linear model” (that is, the belief that academic science leads to technology) — for him, universities prospered as a consequence of national wealth, not the other way around.
+ David Edgerton did some work questioning the link between academic science and economic prosperity, along with the idea that people believed in the “linear model” (that is, that academic science was at the source of technology) in the past. People were no suckers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; we believe today that they believed in the said linear model then but they did not. In fact academics were mostly just teachers, not researchers, until well into the twentieth century.

+ Visibly the money should go to the tinkerers, the aggressive tinkerers who you trust will milk the option.

**The Case in Medicine**
 + We have not digested the fact that cures for cancer had been coming from other branches of research. You search for noncancer drugs (or noncancer nondrugs) and find something you were not looking for (and vice versa).

+ Further, the increase in our theoretical understanding — the “epistemic base,” to use Mokyr’s term — came with a decrease in the number of new drugs.

+ The difference between humans and animals lies in the ability to collaborate, engage in business, let ideas, pardon the expression, copulate. Collaboration has explosive upside, what is mathematically called a superadditive function

+ Crucially, this is an argument for unpredictability and Black Swan effects: since you cannot forecast collaborations and cannot direct them, you cannot see where the world is going. All you can do is create an environment that facilitates these collaborations, and lay the foundation for prosperity. And, no, you cannot centralize innovations, we tried that in Russia.
+ Corporations are in love with the idea of the strategic plan. They need to pay to figure out where they are going.


+ A management scholar, William Starbuck, has published a few papers debunking the effectiveness of planning — **it makes the corporation option-blind**, as it gets locked into a non-opportunistic course of action

+ Matthew Stewart, who, trained as a philosopher, found himself in a management consultant job, gives a pretty revolting, if funny, inside story in The Management Myth. It is similar to the self-serving approach of bankers. Abrahamson and Friedman, in their beautiful book A Perfect Mess, also debunk many of these neat, crisp, teleological approaches. It turns out, strategic planning is just superstitious babble.