of books by Nicholas N Taleb

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB is an scholar and philosophical essayist specializing in volatility of complex system. He worked for over twenty years as a derivatives trader in the banking sector.

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Random House, 2012

Antifragile - a term coined by Nassim Taleb - describes complex systems that show variation, aka volatility, and when a rare event happens, responds with an upside. The system improves or evolves. Fragile systems, in contrast, can be very stable, but never survive a rare but volatile event (breaking glass). Fragile systems are always harmed but never improve upon volatility, as their is no feedback (linearity). As long as small variations are the norm (which they are; putting a glass on a table) the system is stable and appears robust. Antifragile systems are defined by feed-back (non-linearity) and can be harmed and improve in many small ways, but are defined by very rare events that give them an up tick. Think of evolution of living organisms. Mutations are random, and mostly harm organisms, usually not killing them, but sometimes do. Overall, a species is neither harmed nor improves, simply changes. Now imagine a very rare harmful event that kills most, but not all members. The species will recover. Imagine also a very rare large change from a mutation that gives the species a change or benefit to increase its ecological spread. This is a very rare event from which the species will benefit (think antibiotic resistance).

The reason I added this book to the list here, is because Taleb's analysis of antifragile as a term describing 'things that benefit from disorder' is exactly how one should think about biological evolution.


February 16, 2013 /  © 2013 Lukas K. Buehler / go back to Book Review Home