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What I Learnt from Antifragile (I)

There seems never to be the right time to write or the right amount that I could learn from Antifragile, so I’m just going to take a long, rambling stab at it this morning.

It will be a living document that I’ll keep adding to on the blog, sooner or later, but for now, this is just for you, my dear newsletter1 family.

Here goes …

While I love the way he writes, I don’t have that much a familiarity with English that, I can easily process stuff like this, every time I just want to grab a principle quickly.

“what physicists call the phenomenology of the process is the empirical manifestation, without looking at how it glues to existing general theories.”

or

“In Peri mystikes theologias, Pseudo-Dionysos did not use these exact words, nor did he discuss disconfirmation, nor did he get the idea with clarity, but in my view he figured out this subtractive epistemology and asymmetries in knowledge.”

Drives me bonkers every time.
Hence this little screed for me to look at, whenever I want to.

Antifragile

I got lucky when I stumbled on Antifragile in early 2013.

I was slogging at the end of nearly a decade long effort of digging my sorry ass out of debt.

And while I was doing that, I was trying to learn how to handle money better.

How to invest it well or at least the general principles, of how not to lose money, forget about growing it.

And more importantly, how be resilient enough, to handle stuff that life threw at me.

How not to stress.

I had it upto here, stressing about every bad thing that came along.

I was thinking about the same thing that Taleb espoused in this book.

It was not the title, Antifragile, that grabbed me, but the subtitle:

How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand

And the Prologue sucked me in totally,

Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.

Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind. This summarizes this author’s nonmeek attitude to randomness and uncertainty.

We just don’t want to just survive uncertainty, to just about make it. We want to survive uncertainty and, in addition—like a certain class of aggressive Roman Stoics—have the last word. The mission is how to domesticate, even dominate, even conquer, the unseen, the opaque, and the inexplicable.

How?

He then takes nearly 500 pages of dense prose like the two quotes up above to explain the how.

Make no mistake, I loved it. I enjoyed it.

I re-read this book every 8–12 months.

But I am definitely not smart enough to extract the principles I need, at a moments notice.

Hence this post(s).

Everything below, is now what I understand, (or think I understand) from Antifragile.

And why am I doing this?

Because the book changed my life for the better.

It gave me what Zig Ziglar called a new pair of glasses, to look at life with.

Or what Charles T Munger and Shane Parrish would call, a latticework of mental models.


Reading Order

If you get into Taleb zealotry like I have, and want to read the entire Incerto, then this is the order I suggest you do it.

  1. Antifragile
  2. Antifragile
  3. Antifragile
  4. The Bed of Procrustes
  5. Skin in the Game
  6. Fooled by Randomness / The Black Swan

Antifragile is the main work.

Even though it is the fourth chronologically. Every other book can be looked at as offshoots of some chapter in Antifragile.

Optionality

It is always good to have options. It is always good to check alternatives.

You gain a lot of freedom that way.

Options might be free, or you might have to pay for them.

But unless they are really expensive (which it really is not in most of life), it is always good to have options.

Case in point, after one case too many of being burnt over non refundable tickets, I started buying my air tickets, directly from the airline with the option to get a full refund.

Twice now, paying a bit more for this option has saved my hind quarters. Once I had to reschedule an entire multi city trip and the other was full refund, just as Covid hit.

Lesson learnt.

Now I look for options and alternatives even more in other areas of my life.

Domain Blindness

Some principle you use / do / see in one area of your life, can just as easily exist in others.

You can either diet and go to the gym and lift weights or become a manual labourer who hasn’t enough to eat and carries loaded bags.

The principle is the same. And the end result is the same. You drop fat and gain a six pack.

If you we can’t see the principle at work, we have a case of domain blindness.

I knew I could do a little bit every day on a certain task at work and get it done.

It never struck me to do the same to develop my skills.

Now that I see and am no longer domain blind, I use the same principle (steady, slow iteration) to lose weight, to complete my 12th standard and learn programming.


This is all I remember for now.
I’ll write more, as I realise more.



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  1. This was sent to my newsletter subscribers on Oct 4th, 2020. If you are reading this on the blog, you really should subscribe, if you want to read my stuff as soon as I put it out.