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Notes from Antifragile

Excerpts and paraphrasing of the most interesting concepts presented in Nassim Taleb's book Antifragile. Whereas this slideshow may give something of an overview of the book, I wholeheartedly recommend reading it in its entirety.

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Notes from Antifragile

  1. 1. ANTIFRAGILE:
 THINGS THAT GAIN FROM DISORDER BOOK BY: NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB NOTES BY: SAMI PAJU www.mindspace.fi :: www.samipaju.com
  2. 2. FRAGILE RESILIENT / ROBUST ANTIFRAGILE THE RESILIENT RESISTS SHOCKS AND STAYS THE SAME. THE ANTIFRAGILE GETS BETTER. IT DOES NOT JUST TOLERATE UNCERTAINTY AND RANDOMNESS, IT LOVES IT. ! ANTIFRAGILITY IS A PROPERTY OF LIVING, ORGANIC (AND COMPLEX) SYSTEMS. ! MACHINES ARE HARMED BY LOW-LEVEL STRESSORS (MATERIAL FATIGUE), ORGANISMS ARE HARMED BY THE ABSENCE OF LOW-LEVEL STRESSORS (HORMESIS).
  3. 3. FRAGILE RESILIENT / ROBUST ANTIFRAGILE DEPRIVING ANTIFRAGILE SYSTEMS OF VOLATILITY, RANDOMNESS, AND STRESSORS WILL HARM THEM. YET MUCH OF MODERN MANAGEMENT AND POLICY-MAKING IS FOCUSED ON ELIMINATING VOLATILITY AND VARIATION. FIRMS BECOME VERY WEAK DURING LONG PERIODS STEADY PROSPERITY DEVOID OF SETBACKS, AND HIDDEN VULNERABILITIES ACCUMULATE SILENTLY UNDER THE SURFACE—SO DELAYING CRISES IS NOT A VERY GOOD IDEA.
  4. 4. FRAGILE RESILIENT / ROBUST ANTIFRAGILE 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. 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.
  5. 5. DETECTING FRAGILITY OF SYSTEMS ANYTHING THAT HAS MORE UPSIDE THAN DOWNSIDE FROM RANDOM EVENTS (OR CERTAIN NON-LETHAL SHOCKS) IS ANTIFRAGILE. THE REVERSE IS FRAGILE. ! IT IS EASIER TO FIGURE OUT IF SOMETHING IS FRAGILE (I.E. DOES DOUBLING THE EXPOSURE TO SOMETHING MORE THAN DOUBLE THE HARM IT WILL CAUSE?) THAN TO PREDICT THE OCCURRENCE OF AN EVENT THAT MAY HARM IT. ! YOU CANNOT SAY WITH ANY RELIABILITY THAT A CERTAIN REMOTE EVENT 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.
  6. 6. BLACK SWAN EVENTS IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT, WITH SIGNIFICANT IMPACT. ! ALTHOUGH USUALLY PREDICTED / EXPLAINED AFTERWARDS BY ANALYSTS… ! ANTIFRAGILITY TRANSLATES INTO CAPABILITY TO WITHSTAND - AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF - BLACK SWAN EVENTS. ! PERFECT RESILIENCE / ROBUSTNESS IS UNATTAINABLE.
  7. 7. THE GREAT TURKEY PROBLEM A TURKEY IS FED FOR A THOUSAND DAYS BY A BUTCHER; EVERY DAY CONFIRMS TO ITS STAFF OF ANALYSTS THAT BUTCHERS LOVE TURKEYS “WITH INCREASED STATISTICAL CONFIDENCE.” THE BUTCHER WILL KEEP FEEDING THE TURKEY. AND THEN COMES THE THANKSGIVING. RIGHT WHEN THE TURKEY’S CONFIDENCE IN THE STATEMENT THAT ‘THE BUTCHER LOVES TURKEYS’ IS MAXIMAL AND “IT IS VERY QUIET” AND SOOTHINGLY PREDICTABLE IN THE LIFE OF THE TURKEY. ! THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE (OF HARM) IS NOT THE EVIDENCE OF ABSENCE. A MISTAKE THAT IS PREVALENT IN INTELLECTUAL CIRCLES AND ONE THAT IS GROUNDED IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES.
  8. 8. THE FRAGILISTA MEDICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PLANNING… ! SOMEONE WHO MAKES YOU ENGAGE IN POLICIES AND ACTIONS IN WHICH THE BENEFITS ARE SMALL AND VISIBLE, AND THE SIDE-EFFECTS POTENTIALLY SEVERE AND INVISIBLE. ! THE POLICY FRAGILISTA WHO MISTAKES ECONOMY FOR A WASHING MACHINE IN NEED OF CONTINUOUS FIXING BY HIM. !
  9. 9. COMPLEX SYSTEMS A COMPLEX SYSTEM, CONTRARY TO WHAT PEOPLE BELIEVE, DOES NOT REQUIRE COMPLICATED SYSTEMS AND REGULATIONS AND INTRICATE POLICIES. THE SIMPLER, THE BETTER. COMPLICATIONS LEAD TO MULTIPLICATIVE CHAINS OF UNANTICIPATED EFFECTS. BECAUSE OF OPACITY (DIFFICULTY TO SEE), INTERVENTION LEADS TO UNFORESEEN CONSEQUENCES, FOLLOWED BY APOLOGIES ABOUT THE “UNFORESEEN” ASPECT OF THE CONSEQUENCES, THEN TO ANOTHER INTERVENTION TO CORRECT THE SECONDARY EFFECTS, LEADING TO AN EXPLOSIVE SERIES OF BRANCHING “UNFORESEEN” RESPONSES, EACH ONE WORSE THAN THE PRECEDING ONE. ! COMPLEX AND COMPLICATED ARE NOT THE SAME THING. COMPLEXITY MEANS SEVERE INTERDEPENDENCIES WITHIN THE SYSTEM, MAKING IT HARD TO SEE THE ARROW FROM CAUSE TO CONSEQUENCE.
  10. 10. COMPLEX SYSTEMS THE DISTRIBUTION IS MOVING AWAY FROM 80/20. E.G. 99 % OF INTERNET TRAFFIC IS TO LESS THAN 1 % OF SITES, 99 % OF BOOK SALES COME FROM LESS THAN 1 % OF AUTHORS, A SMALL NUMBER OF HOMELESS PEOPLE COST THE STATES A DISPROPORTIONATE AMOUNT, A SMALL NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES IN A CORPORATION CAUSE THE MOST PROBLEMS, THE SICKEST 10 % OF PATIENTS CONSUME 64 % OF TOTAL HEALTH CARE COSTS, WHEREAS HALF THE POPULATION ACCOUNTS FOR LESS THAN 3 % OF THE COSTS. ! 1 % MODIFICATION OF SYSTEMS CAN LOWER FRAGILITY (OR INCREASE ANTIFRAGILITY) BY ABOUT 99 %—AND ALL IT TAKES IS A FEW STEPS, OFTEN AT LOW COST, TO MAKE THINGS BETTER AND SAFER.
  11. 11. NAIVE INTERVENTIONISM WE NAIVELY FRAGILIZE SYSTEMS BY PROTECTING THEM. THE AVOIDANCE OF SMALL MISTAKES MAKES THE LARGE ONES MORE SEVERE. ! 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, SEEMING TO BE CALM AND WITH MINIMAL VARIABILITY AS SILENT RISKS ACCUMULATE BENEATH THE SURFACE. ALTHOUGH THE STATED INTENTION OF POLITICAL LEADERS AND ECONOMIC POLICY MAKERS IS TO STABILISE THE SYSTEM BY INHIBITING FLUCTUATIONS, THE RESULT TENDS TO BE THE OPPOSITE. THESE ARTIFICIALLY CONSTRAINED SYSTEMS BECOME PRONE TO BLACK SWANS.
  12. 12. THE AGENCY PROBLEM TRANSFER OF FRAGILITY: THE ONE WHO CARRIES FRAGILITY AND RISK IS NOT THE ONE WHO BENEFITS FROM POTENTIAL PAYOFF. ! THE SAME ECONOMISTS WHO CAUSED THE FINANCIAL CRISIS (AND PROFITED FROM IT, BEING EXPERT CONSULTANTS), THEN POSTDICTED THE CRISIS, HAVE THEN BECAME THEORISTS ON WHAT HAPPENED. NO WONDER WE WILL HAVE LARGER CRISES. ! CORPORATE MANAGERS HAVE INCENTIVES WITHOUT DISINCENTIVES. SOMEHOW THESE MANAGERS HAVE BEEN GIVEN FREE OPTIONS BY INNOCENT SAVERS AND INVESTORS. ! TAXPAYERS TAKE THE DOWNSIDE, MANAGERS GET THE UPSIDE.
  13. 13. THE AGENCY PROBLEM VOLATILITY BENEFITS MANAGERS SINCE THEY ONLY GET THE PAYOFFS. THE MORE VARIATIONS, THE BETTER FOR THEM, HENCE THEY ARE ANTIFRAGILE. CONSIDER: 1) MARKET GOES UP 50 %, THEN GOES BACK DOWN TO ERASE ALL GAINS. 2) MARKET DOES NOT MOVE AT ALL. ! VISIBLY, 1) IS MORE PROFITABLE TO THE MANAGERS, WHO CAN CASH IN THEIR STOCK OPTIONS. WHEREAS THE SOCIETY HAS THE EXACT OPPOSITE PAYOFF SINCE THEY FINANCE BANKERS AND CHIEF EXECUTIVES. SOCIETY PAYS FOR THEIR LOSSES BUT GETS NO BONUSES FROM THEM.
  14. 14. THE AGENCY PROBLEM A SYMMETRY OF FRAGILITY IS NEEDED, AS IN HAMMURABI’S CODE 3800 YEARS AGO: IF A BUILDER BUILDS A HOUSE AND IT COLLAPSES, CAUSING THE DEATH OF THE OWNER, THE BUILDER SHALL BE PUT TO DEATH. IF IT CAUSES THE DEATH OF THE SON OF THE OWNER, A SON OF THE BUILDER SHALL BE PUT TO DEATH ETC… ! THE ENTIRE IDEA IS THAT THE BUILDER KNOWS A LOT MORE THAN ANY SAFETY INSPECTOR, PARTICULARLY ABOUT WHAT LIES HIDDEN IN THE FOUNDATIONS—MAKING IT THE BEST RISK MANAGEMENT RULE EVER. THE OBJECTIVE IS NOT TO PUNISH RETROSPECTIVELY, BUT TO SAVE LIVES BY PROVIDING UP-FRONT DISINCENTIVE IN CASE OF HARM TO OTHERS DURING THE FULFILMENT OF ONE’S PROFESSION.
  15. 15. THE AGENCY PROBLEM EVERY OPINION MAKER NEEDS TO HAVE “SKIN IN THE GAME” IN THE EVENT OF HARM CAUSED BY RELIANCE ON HIS INFORMATION OF OPINION (NOT HAVING SUCH PERSONS COME OUT—OF OTHERS FOLLOWING THEIR ADVICE AND SUFFERING FROM IT—COMPLETELY UNSCATHED). ! ANYONE PRODUCING A FORECAST OR MAKING AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS NEEDS TO HAVE SOMETHING TO LOSE FROM IT, GIVEN THAT OTHERS RELY ON THESE FORECASTS.
  16. 16. THE AGENCY PROBLEM FORCING RESEARCHERS TO EAT THEIR OWN COOKING WHENEVER POSSIBLE WOULD SOLVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM IN SCIENCE: DOES THE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCHER WHOSE IDEAS ARE APPLICABLE TO THE REAL WORLD APPLY HIS IDEAS TO HIS DAILY LIFE? IF SO, TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY. OTHERWISE, IGNORE HIM.
  17. 17. THE AGENCY PROBLEM IT IS PROFOUNDLY UNETHICAL TO TALK WITHOUT DOING, WITHOUT EXPOSURE TO HARM, WITHOUT HAVING ONE’S SKIN IN THE GAME, WITHOUT HAVING SOMETHING AT RISK. YOU EXPRESS YOUR OPINION; IT CAN HURT OTHERS (WHO RELY ON IT), YET YOU INCUR NO LIABILITY. IS THIS FAIR? ! 1) NEVER GET ON A PLANE IF THE PILOT IS NOT ON BOARD (I.E. DO NOT FOLLOW THE ADVICE OF OTHERS UNLESS THEY FOLLOW IT FIRST) ! 2) MAKE SURE THERE IS ALSO A COPILOT (BUILD REDUNDANCIES)
  18. 18. IATROGENICS PREVENTABLE HARM RESULTING FROM BIAS TO (OVER)INTERVENE IN THE NATURAL ORDER OF SYSTEMS. ! SOMEONE WITH A PERSONAL DOCTOR ON STAFF SHOULD BE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO NAIVE INTERVENTIONISM, HENCE IATROGENICS; DOCTORS NEED TO JUSTIFY THEIR SALARIES AND PROVE TO THEMSELVES THAT THEY HAVE A MODICUM OF WORK ETHIC, SOMETHING THAT “DOING NOTHING” DOESN’T SATISFY. ! 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 FRAGILISE THEM BY NOT GIVING THEM A CHANCE TO DO SO.
  19. 19. IATROGENICS SMALL COMPANIES AND ARTISANS TEND TO SELL US HEALTHY PRODUCTS, ONES THAT SEEM NATURALLY AND SPONTANEOUSLY NEEDED; LARGER ONES—INCLUDING PHARMACEUTICAL GIANTS—ARE LIKELY TO BE IN THE BUSINESS OF PRODUCING WHOLESALE IATROGENICS, TAKING OUR MONEY, AND THEN, TO ADD INSULT TO INJURY, HIJACKING THE STATE THANKS TO THEIR ARMY OF LOBBYISTS. FURTHER, ANYTHING THAT REQUIRES MARKETING APPEARS TO CARRY SUCH SIDE EFFECTS. ! ANYTHING ONE NEEDS TO MARKET HEAVILY IS NECESSARILY EITHER AN INFERIOR PRODUCT OR AN EVIL ONE. AND IT IS HIGHLY UNETHICAL TO PORTRAY SOMETHING IN A MORE FAVOURABLE LIGHT THAN IT ACTUALLY IS.
  20. 20. OPTIONALITY OPPORTUNISTIC APPROACH WITH SOME LARGE EDGE COMING FROM ASYMMETRY WITH LARGE BENEFITS AND BENIGN HARM. IT IS A RATIONAL WAY TO BEHAVE WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE FUTURE. ! IT IS SAFER TO DECIDE BASED ON FRAGILITY (RISK/REWARD), NOT PROBABILITY (CHANCE OF AN OUTCOME).
  21. 21. EXPERIMENTATION- DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT ERRORS ARE A SOURCE OF INFORMATION. IF EVERY EXPERIMENT PROVIDES YOU WITH INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT DOES NOT WORK, YOU START ZOOMING IN ON A SOLUTION—SO EVERY ATTEMPT BECOMES MORE VALUABLE, MORE LIKE AN EXPENSE THAN AN ERROR. AND OF COURSE YOU MAKE DISCOVERIES ALONG THE WAY. ! THE WORLD IS TOO RANDOM AND UNPREDICTABLE TO BASE A POLICY ON VISIBILITY OF THE FUTURE. ! THE MORE STUDIES, THE LESS OBVIOUS ELEMENTARY BUT FUNDAMENTAL THINGS BECOME; ACTIVITY, ON THE OTHER HAND, STRIPS THINGS TO THEIR SIMPLEST POSSIBLE MODEL.
  22. 22. EXPERIMENTATION- DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT THE CONCEPT OF SPECIALISATION THAT HAS OBSESSED ECONOMISTS 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.
  23. 23. ENTREPRENEURSHIP THE FRAGILITY OF EVERY STARTUP IS NECESSARY FOR THE ECONOMY TO BE ANTIFRAGILE, AND THAT’S WHAT MAKES, AMONG OTHER THINGS, ENTREPRENEURSHIP WORK: THE FRAGILITY OF INDIVIDUAL ENTREPRENEURS AND THEIR NECESSARILY HIGH FAILURE RATE. ! ENTREPRENEURSHIP CREATES RANDOMNESS AND VOLATILITY TO THE ECONOMY, WHICH IS A GOOD THING. ! EXAMPLE: RESTAURANTS ARE FRAGILE; THEY COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER, BUT THE COLLECTIVE OF LOCAL RESTAURANTS IS ANTIFRAGILE FOR THAT VERY REASON. HAD RESTAURANTS BEEN INDIVIDUALLY ROBUST, HENCE IMMORTAL, THE OVERALL BUSINESS WOULD BE EITHER STAGNANT OR WEAK.
  24. 24. ECONOMICS SUCCESS BRINGS AN ASYMMETRY: YOU NOW HAVE A LOT MORE TO LOSE THAN TO GAIN (FROM RANDOM EVENTS). YOU ARE HENCE FRAGILE. ! ECONOMIES OF SCALE IS NOT ENTIRELY BENEFICIAL. IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO BE LARGE DURING DIFFICULT TIMES.
  25. 25. ECONOMICS ALL (COMPUTATIONAL) SMALL PROBABILITIES TEND TO BE VERY FRAGILE TO ERRORS, AS A SMALL CHANGE IN THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS CAN MAKE PROBABILITY RISE DRAMATICALLY, FROM ONE PER MILLION TO ONE PER HUNDRED. INDEED, A TEN-THOUSAND-FOLD UNDERESTIMATION. ! THIS SHOWS US WHERE THE MATH IN ECONOMIC MODELS IS BOGUS, AND WHICH MODELS ARE FRAGILE AND WHICH ONES ARE NOT. SIMPLY DO A SMALL CHANGE IN THE ASSUMPTIONS, AND LOOK AT HOW LARGE THE EFFECT, AND IF THERE IS ACCELERATION OF SUCH EFFECT. ACCELERATION IMPLIES—AS WITH FANNIE MAE—THAT SOMEONE RELYING ON THE MODEL BLOWS UP FROM BLACK SWAN EFFECTS.
  26. 26. PROJECT MANAGEMENT WHEN YOU ADD UNCERTAINTY TO PROJECTS THEY TEND TO COST MORE AND TAKE LONGER TO COMPLETE. THIS HAS BEEN TRIED TO EXPLAIN BY “PLANNING FALLACY” BY PSYCHOLOGISTS. HOWEVER, A CENTURY AND HALF AGO PEOPLE HAD THE SAME BIASES, YET GRAND PROJECTS GOT COMPLETED IN TIME (E.G. EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, LONDON CRYSTAL PALACE). ! A CENTURY AGO THERE WERE NO COMPUTERS, PARTS WERE BUILT NOT FAR FROM THE SOURCE, WITH A SMALL NUMBER OF BUSINESSES INVOLVED IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE WAS LESS COMPLEXITY (AND THEREFORE NON-LINEAR EFFECTS) IN THE SYSTEM.
  27. 27. OPTIMISATION SMOOTH FUNCTIONING AT REGULAR TIMES IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ROUGH FUNCTIONING AT TIMES OF STRESS. OPTIMISATION REDUCES THE CAPABILITY OF THE SYSTEM TO WITHSTAND VOLATILITY. ! THE NOTION OF AVERAGE IS OF NO SIGNIFICANCE WHEN ONE IS FRAGILE TO VARIATIONS (CONVEXITY EFFECT). E.G. 90 000 CARS FOR AN HOUR IN A CITY, FOLLOWED BY 110 000 CARS FOR THE NEXT ONE WILL LEAD TO TRAFFIC JAMS, WHEREAS 100 000 CARS FOR TWO HOURS AND TRAFFIC WILL BE SMOOTH.
  28. 28. BIG DATA THE MORE FREQUENTLY YOU LOOK AT DATA, THE MORE NOISE YOU ARE DISPROPORTIONALLY LIKELY TO GET (RATHER THAN THE VALUABLE PART, CALLED THE SIGNAL); HENCE THE HIGHER THE NOISE-TO-SIGNAL RATIO. ! EXAMPLE: YOU FOLLOW A STOCK PRICE AT A YEARLY FREQUENCY, AND HAVE ONE TO ONE SIGNAL-TO-NOISE RATIO (HALF NOISE, HALF SIGNAL) —THIS MEANS THAT ABOUT HALF THE CHANGES ARE REAL IMPROVEMENTS OR DEGRADATIONS, THE OTHER HALF COME FROM RANDOMNESS. BUT IF YOU LOOK AT THE VERY SAME DATA ON A DAILY BASIS, THE COMPOSITION WOULD CHANGE TO 95 PERCENT NOISE, 5 PERCENT SIGNAL.
  29. 29. SCIENCE PHENOMENOLOGY (THE OBSERVATION OF AN EMPIRICAL REGULARITY WITHOUT A VISIBLE THEORY FOR IT) IS ROBUST AND THEORIES ARE FRAGILE—THEY COME AND GO WHILE PHENOMENOLOGIES STAY. THIS MAKES THEORIES UNRELIABLE FOR DECISION MAKING (OUTSIDE PHYSICS). ! WE KNOW A LOT MORE WHAT IS WRONG THAN WHAT IS RIGHT: NEGATIVE KNOWLEDGE (WHAT IS WRONG, WHAT DOES NOT WORK) IS MORE ROBUST TO ERROR THAN POSITIVE KNOWLEDGE (WHAT IS RIGHT, WHAT WORKS). SO KNOWLEDGE GROWS BY SUBTRACTION MUCH MORE THAN BY ADDITION—GIVEN THAT WHAT WE KNOW TODAY MIGHT TURN OUT TO BE WRONG BUT WHAT WE KNOW TO BE WRONG CANNOT TURN OUT TO BE RIGHT, AT LEAST NOT EASILY.
  30. 30. SCIENCE THE PROBLEM IN DECIDING WHETHER A SCIENTIFIC RESULT OR A NEW “INNOVATION” IS A BREAKTHROUGH, THAT IS, THE OPPOSITE OF NOISE, IS THAT ONE NEEDS TO SEE ALL ASPECTS OF THE IDEA—AND THERE IS ALWAYS SOME OPACITY THAT TIME, AND ONLY TIME, CAN DISSIPATE. ! TIME CAN ACT AS A CLEANSER OF NOISE BY CONFINING TO ITS DUSTBINS ALL THESE OVERHYPED WORKS.
  31. 31. SCIENCE SCIENCE IS NOISY. OPEN AN ELEMENTARY TEXTBOOK TO A RANDOM CHAPTER, AND SEE IF THE IDEA IS STILL RELEVANT. NOW COMPARE THAT TO PROCEEDINGS OF A RANDOM CONFERENCE THAT TOOK PLACE FIVE YEARS AGO. ! ATTENDING BREAKTHROUGH CONFERENCES MIGHT BE, STATISTICALLY SPEAKING, AS MUCH A WASTE OF TIME AS BUYING A MEDIOCRE LOTTERY TICKET, ONE WITH A SMALL PAYOFF. THE ODDS OF A PAPER’S BEING RELEVANT—AND INTERESTING—IN FIVE YEARS IS NO BETTER THAN ONE IN TEN THOUSAND.
  32. 32. SCIENCE THE NON-NATURAL NEEDS TO PROVE ITS BENEFITS, NOT THE NATURAL: NATURE IS TO BE CONSIDERED MUCH LESS OF A SUCKER THAN HUMANS. IN A COMPLEX DOMAIN, ONLY TIME—A LONG TIME—IS EVIDENCE. ! NO EVIDENCE OF HARM MISTAKEN FOR EVIDENCE OF NO HARM. NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE MISTAKEN FOR EVIDENCE OF NO DISEASE. ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE MISTAKEN FOR EVIDENCE OF ABSENCE. ! WHAT MOTHER NATURE DOES IS RIGOROUS UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE; WHAT HUMANS AND SCIENCE DO IS FLAWED UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE.
  33. 33. SCIENCE POPPER WAS UNDER THE ILLUSION THAT IDEAS COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER, WITH THE LEAST WRONG SURVIVING AT ANY POINT IN TIME. HE MISSED THE POINT THAT IT IS NOT IDEAS THAT SURVIVE, BUT PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE RIGHT ONES, OR SOCIETIES THAT HAVE CORRECT HEURISTICS, OR THE ONES, RIGHT OR WRONG, THAT LEAD THEM TO DO THE GOOD THING. HE MISSED THE THALESIAN EFFECT, THE FACT THAT A WRONG IDEA THAT IS HARMLESS CAN SURVIVE. THOSE WHO HAVE WRONG HEURISTICS—BUT WITH A SMALL HARM IN THE EVENT OF ERROR —WILL SURVIVE. ! WHICH IS MORE DANGEROUS, TO MISTAKE A BEAR FOR A STONE, OR MISTAKE A STONE FOR A BEAR? THOSE WHO OVERREACT UPON SEEING WHAT MAY LOOK LIKE A BEAR HAVE HAD A SURVIVAL ADVANTAGE. THOSE WHO MADE THE OPPOSITE MISTAKE LEFT THE GENE POOL.
  34. 34. STATISTICS NOTHING ON THE PLANET CAN BE AS CLOSE TO “STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT” AS NATURE. OVERRIDING HER REQUIRES SOME VERY CONVINCING JUSTIFICATION ON OUR PART, RATHER THAN THE REVERSE, AS IS COMMONLY DONE, AND IT IS VERY HARD TO BEAT HER ON STATISTICAL GROUNDS. ! IN THE PAST, MANY FACED THE QUESTION “DO YOU HAVE EVIDENCE THAT TRANS FAT IS HARMFUL?” AND NEEDED TO PRODUCE PROOFS— WHICH THEY WERE OBVIOUSLY UNABLE TO DO BECAUSE IT TOOK DECADES BEFORE THE HARM BECAME APPARENT. SO WHEN THE PRESENT INHABITANTS OF MOTHER EARTH WANT TO DO SOMETHING COUNTER TO NATURE, THEY ARE THE ONES THAT NEED TO PRODUCE THE EVIDENCE, IF THEY CAN.
  35. 35. STATISTICS A CERTAIN DISEASE MIGHT MARGINALLY LOWER YOUR LIFE EXPECTANCY, BUT CAN BE DEEMED TO DO SO WITH “HIGH STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE,” PROMPTING PANICS WHEN IN FACT ALL THESE STUDIES MIGHT BE SAYING IS THEY ESTABLISHED WITH A STATISTICAL MARGIN THAT IN SOME CASES, SAY 1 %, PATIENTS ARE LIKELY TO BE HARMED BY IT. THE MAGNITUDE OF THE RESULT, THE IMPORTANCE OF THE EFFECT, IS NOT CAPTURED BY WHAT IS CALLED “STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE”.
  36. 36. THE LINDY EFFECT THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG TIME ARE NOT “AGING” LIKE PERSONS, BUT “AGING” IN REVERSE. EVERY YEAR THAT PASSES WITHOUT EXTINCTION DOUBLES THE ADDITIONAL LIFE EXPECTANCY. THE NONPERISHABLE HAS A LIFE EXPECTANCY THAT INCREASES WITH EVERY DAY IT SURVIVES. ! THE OLDER THE TECHNOLOGY, NOT ONLY THE LONGER IT IS EXPECTED TO LAST, BUT THE MORE CERTAINTY CAN BE ATTACHED TO SUCH A STATEMENT.
  37. 37. EDUCATION DEPARTMENTS NEED TO TEACH SOMETHING SO STUDENTS GET JOBS, EVEN IF THEY ARE TEACHING SNAKE OIL—THIS GOT US TRAPPED IN A CIRCULAR SYSTEM IN WHICH EVERYONE KNOWS THAT THE MATERIAL IS WRONG BUT NOBODY IS FREE ENOUGH OR HAS ENOUGH COURAGE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.* ! ! ! ! ! ! *SEE ‘THE MANAGEMENT MYTH’ BY MATTHEW STEWART
  38. 38. SOCIETY FORMER REGULATORS AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS WHO WERE EMPLOYED BY THE CITIZENS TO REPRESENT THEIR BEST INTERESTS CAN USE THE EXPERTISE AND CONTACTS ACQUIRED ON THE JOB TO BENEFIT FROM GLITCHES IN THE SYSTEM UPON JOINING PRIVATE EMPLOYMENT—LAW FIRMS, ETC. ! 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). THIS WOULD GET PRIESTLY PEOPLE INTO OFFICE.
  39. 39. IMMORTALITY TO SURVIVE, AN IMMORTAL ORGANISM WOULD NEED TO BE COMPLETELY FIT FOR ALL POSSIBLE RANDOM EVENTS THAT CAN TAKE PLACE IN THE ENVIRONMENT. A RANDOM EVENT DOES NOT ALLOW FOR TIME TO PREPARE AND MAKE ADJUSTMENTS TO SUSTAIN SHOCKS. FOR AN IMMORTAL ORGANISM, PRE-ADAPTATION FOR ALL SUCH EVENTS WOULD BE A NECESSITY. IT IS TOO LATE TO REACT WHEN THE EVENT HAPPENS. ! BY LETTING ORGANISMS GO ONE LIFESPAN AT A TIME, WITH EVOLUTIONARY MODIFICATIONS BETWEEN SUCCESSIVE GENERATIONS, NATURE DOES NOT NEED TO PREDICT FUTURE CONDITIONS.

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