“Antifragile” Quotes

I recently read “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like the quotes, please buy the book.

Antifragile Cover“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” (3)

“We can almost always detect antifragility (and fragility) using a simple test of asymmetry: anything that has more upside than downside from random events (or certain shocks) is antifragile; the reverse is fragile.” (5)

“We are witnessing the rise of a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureaucrats, bankers, Davos-attending members and academics with too much power and no real downside and/or accountability. They game the system while citizens pay the price.” (6)

“You need perfect robustness for a crack not to end up crashing the system. Given the unattainability of perfect robustness, we need a mechanism by which the system regenerates itself continuously by using, rather than suffering from, random events, unpredictable shocks, stressors, and volatility.” (8)

“You cannot say with any reliability that a certain remote even tor shock is more likely than another, but you can state with a lot more confidence that an object or a structure is more fragile than another should a certain event happen.” (9)

“Modernity has replaced ethics with legalese, and the law can be gamed with a good lawyer.” (15)

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” (15)

“the robust or resilient is neither harmed nor helped by volatility and disorder, while the antifragile benefits from them.” (17)

“The sword of Damocles represents the side effect of power and success: you cannot rise and rule without facing this continuous danger – someone out there will be actively working to topple you.” (34)

“Fiscal deficits have proven to be a prime source of fragility in social and economic systems.” (36)

“For society, the richer we become, the harder it gets to live within our means. Abundance is harder for us to handle than scarcity.” (42)

“When I was a pit trader, I learned that the noise produced by the person is inverse to the pecking order: as with mafia dons, the most powerful traders were the least audible. One should have enough self-control to make the audience work hard to listen, which causes them to switch into intellectual overdrive.” (43)

“Loss of bone density and degradation of the health of the bones also causes aging.” (58)

“Much of modern life is preventable chronic stress injury.” (64)

“Some parts on the inside of a system may be required to be fragile in order to make the system antifragile as a result.” (66)

“Evolution is not about a species, but at the service of the whole of nature.” (69)

“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. This is why the fragile needs to be very predictive in its approach, and, conversely, predictive systems cause fragility.” (71)

“If every plane crash makes the next one less likely, every bank crash makes the next one more likely. We need to eliminate the second type of error – the one that produces contagion – in our construction of an ideal socioeconomic system.” (73)

“A loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on.” (74)

“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.” (75)

“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. Paradoxically, many government interventions and social policies end up hurting the weak and consolidating the established.” (76)

“This is the central illusion in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing – and that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.” (84)

“The problem is that by creating bureaucracies, we put civil servants in a position to make decisions based on abstract and theoretical matters, with the illusion that they will be making them in a rational, accountable way.” (89)

“We can also see from the turkey story the mother of all harmful mistakes: mistaking the absence of evidence (of harm) for evidence of absence, a mistake that we will see tends to prevail in intellectual circles and one that is grounded in the social sciences.” (93)

“When a currency never varies, a slight, very slight move makes people believe that the world is ending. Injecting some confusion stabilizes the system. Indeed, confusing people a little bit is beneficial – it is good for you and good for them. For an application of the point in daily life, imagine someone extremely punctual and predictable who comes home at exactly six o’clock every day for fifteen years. You can use his arrival to set your watch. The fellow will cause his family anxiety if he is barely a few minutes late. Someone with a slightly more volatile – hence unpredictable – schedule, with say, a half -our variation, won’t do so.” (101)

“Stability is not good for the economy: firms become very weak during long periods of steady prosperity devoid of setbacks, and hidden vulnerabilities accumulate silently under the surface – so delaying the crises is not a very good idea.” (101)

“In a computer simulation, Alessandro Pluchino and his colleagues showed how adding a certain number of randomly selected politicians to the process can improve the functioning of the parliamentary system.” (104)

“Absence of political instability, even war, lets explosive material and tendencies accumulate under the surface.” (105)

“The problem with artificially suppressed volatility is not just that the system tends to become extremely fragile; it is that, at the same time, it exhibits no visible risks.” (106)

“While we now have a word for causing harm while trying to help (iatrogenics), we don’t have a designation for the opposite situation, that of someone who ends up helping while trying to cause harm.” (113)

“We tend to over-intervene in areas with minimal benefits (and large risks) while under-intervening in areas in which intervention is necessary, like emergencies.” (119)

“It’s much easier to sell “Look what I did for you” than “Look what I avoided for you.” Of course a bonus system based on “performance” exacerbates the problem.” (121)

“The more data you get, the less you know what’s going on.” (128)

“Political and economic “tail events” are unpredictable, and their probabilities are not scientifically measurable. No matter how many dollars are spent on research, predicting revolutions is not the same as counting cards; humans will never be able to turn politics and economics into the tractable randomness of blackjack.” (133)

“Warren Buffett tries to invest in businesses that are “so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will.”” (137)

“People are cruel and unfair in the way they confer recognition, so it is best to stay out of that game.” (148)

“You can’t predict in general, but you can predict that those who rely on predictions are taking more risks, will have some trouble, perhaps even go bust. Why? Someone who predicts will be fragile to prediction errors.” (150)

“To become a successful philosopher king, it is much better to start as a king than as a philosopher.” (152)

“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. Random events won’t affect us either way (we are too strong to lose, and not greedy to enjoy the upside).” (153)

“Success brings an asymmetry: you now have a lot more to lose than to gain.” (154)

“For my last job, I wrote my resignation letter before starting the new position, locked it up in a drawer, and felt free while I was there.” (155)

“If you have more to lose than to benefit from events of fate, there is an asymmetry, and not a good one.” (157)

“I initially used the image of the barbell to describe a dual attitude of playing it safe in some areas (robust to negative Black Swans) and taking a lot of small risks in others (open to positive Black Swans), hence achieving antifragility. That is extreme risk aversion on one side and extreme risk loving on the other, rather than just the “medium” or the beastly “moderate” risk attitude that in fact is a sucker game (because medium risks can be subjected to huge measurement errors).” (161)

“Antifragility is the combination aggressiveness plus paranoia.” (161)

“In risky matters, instead of having all members of the staff on an airplane be “cautiously optimistic,” or something in the middle, I prefer the flight attendants to be maximally optimistic and the pilot to be maximally pessimistic or, better, paranoid.” (162)

“Georges Simenon, one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, only wrote sixty days a year, with three hundred days spent “doing nothing.” He published more than two hundred novels.” (165)

“The worst side effect of wealth is the social associations it forces on its victims, as people with big houses tend to end up socializing with other people with big houses. Beyond a certain level of opulence and independence, gents tend to be less and less personable and their conversation less and less interesting.” (174)

“No one at present dares to state the obvious: 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.” (180)

“The story of the wheel on the suitcase also illustrates the point of this chapter: both governments and universities have done very, very little for innovation and discovery, precisely because, in addition to their blinding rationalism, they look for the complicated, the lurid, the newsworthy, the narrated, the scientistic, and the grandiose, rarely for the wheel on the suitcase. Simplicity, I realized, does not lead to laurels.” (190)

“We see a high degree of academic research in countries that are wealthy and developed, leading us to think uncritically that research is the generator of wealth.” (197)

“Academia is well equipped to tell us what it did for us, not what it did not – hence how indispensable its methods are.” (200)

“Serious empirical investigation shows no evidence that raising the general level of education raises income at the level of a country. But we know the opposite is true, that wealth leads to a rise of education.” (203)

“I am not saying that for an individual, education is useless: it builds helpful credentials for one’s own career – but such effect washes out at the country level.” (204)

“Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is.”” (213)

“An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived!” (215)

“He wondered ‘how traders could handle these complicated exotics if they do not understand the Girsanov theorem… 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.” (218-219)

“I wondered if I was living on another planet or if the gentleman’s PhD and research career had led to this blindness and his strange loss of common sense – or if people without practical sense usually manage to get the energy and interest to acquire a PhD in the fictional world of equation economics.” (219)

“Traders trade -> traders figure out techniques and products -> academic economists find formulas and claim traders are using them -> new traders believe academics -> blowups (from theory-induced fragility)” (220)

“Practitioners don’t write; they do. Birds fly and those who lecture them are the ones who write their story. So it is easy to see that history is truly written by losers with time on their hands and a protected academic position.” (220)

“We don’t put theories into practice. We create theories out of practice.” (221)

“A patent side effect of mathematics is making people over-optimize and cut corners, causing fragility. Just look how the new is increasingly more perishable than the old.” (223)

“Do not invest in business plans but in people.” (238)

“Find a problem first, and figure out the math that works for it, rather than study in a vacuum through theorems and artificial examples, then change reality to make it look like these examples.” (247)

“Much of what other people know isn’t worth knowing.” (248)

“To this day I still have the instinct that the treasure, what one needs to know for a profession, is necessarily what lies outside the corpus, as far away from the center as possible.” (248)

“There is this error of thinking that things always have a reason that is accessible to us – that we can comprehend easily.” (249)

“We practitioners and quants aren’t too fazed by remarks on the part of academics – it would be like prostitutes listening to technical commentary by nuns.” (264)

“What is fragile is something that is both unbroken and subjected to nonlinear effects – and extreme, rare events, since impacts of large size (or high speed0 are rarer than ones of small size (and slow speed).” (270)

“In spite of what is studied in business schools concerning “economies of scale,” size hurts you at times of stress; it is not a good idea to be large during difficult times.” (279)

“Someone with a linear payoff needs to be right more than 50 percent of the time. Someone with a convex payoff, much less. The hidden benefit of antifragility is that you can guess worse than random and still end up outperforming.” (299)

“Being fooled by randomness is that in most circumstances fraught with a high degree of randomness, one cannot really tell if a successful person has skills, or if a person with skills will succeed – but we can pretty much predict the negative, that a person totally devoid of skills will eventually fail.” (303)

“I once testified in Congress against a project to fund a crisis forecasting project. The people involved were blind to the paradox that we have never had more data than we have now, yet have less predictability than ever.” (307)

“As shown from the track record of prophets: Before you are proven right, you will be reviled; after you are proven right, you will be hated for a while, or what’s worse, your ideas will appear to be “trivial” thanks to retrospective distortion.” (310)

“For the perishable, every additional day in its life translates into a shorter additional life expectancy. For the nonperishable, every additional day may imply a longer life expectancy.” (318)

“In general, the older the technology, not only the longer it is expected to last, but the more certainty I can attach to such a statement.” (319)

“We confuse the necessary and the causal: because all surviving technologies have some obvious benefits, we are led to believe that all technologies offering obvious benefits will survive.” (321)

“A writer with arguments can harm more people than any serial criminal.” (384)

“Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have – or don’t have – in their portfolio.” (389)

“Never ask the doctor what you should do. Ask him what he would do if he were in your place. You would be surprised at the difference.” (389)

“The Romans removed the soldiers incentive to be a coward and hurt others thanks to a process called decimation. If a legion loses a battle and there is suspicion of cowardice, 10 percent of the soldiers and commanders are put to death, usually by random lottery.” (392)

“Myles Burnyeat provides the example of a philosopher who puzzles about the reality of time, but who nonetheless applies for a research grant to work on the philosophical problem of time during next year’s sabbatical – without doubting the reality of next year’s arrival.” (394)

“Only he who has true beliefs will avoid eventually contradicting himself and falling into the errors of postdicting.” (397)

“My experience is that most journalists, professional academics, and other in similar phony professions don’t read original sources, but each other, largely because they need to figure out the consensus before making a pronouncement.” (399)

“Marketing beyond conveying information is insecurity.” (403)

“We accept that people who boast are boastful and turn people off. How about companies? Why aren’t we turned off by companies that advertise how great they are?” (404)

“A simple solution, but quite drastic: anyone who goes into public service should not be allowed to subsequently earn more from any commercial activity than the income of the highest paid civil servant. It is like a voluntary cap (it would prevent people from using public office as a credential-building temporary accommodation, then going to Wall Street to earn several million dollars).” (412)

“More data means more information, perhaps, but it also means more false information.” (416)

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