Looking for Opinions on "Antifragile" by N. Taleb

post by Torello · 2013-08-30T22:29:32.173Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 28 comments

I'm reading Antifragile, and I don't have much relevant background, so it's hard for me to evaluate what he's saying.  If anyone has relevant background/expertise, I'd like to hear it. 


I can certainly see how the author's tone could annoy a lot of readers, but so far I've found his style entertaining and quite obviously (to me at least) a part of his "shtick", so it comes across as clever and funny instead of arrogant. 


I guess this could also evolve into a meta-discussion of how to evaluate books when you have little frame of reference, but I would imagine that has been discussed in other posts on this site.  (Please link to a post of that topic if you can). 





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comment by knb · 2013-08-30T23:25:55.900Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Antifragile meanders too much, and like most books it's too long. I feel like Antifragile could have been handled really well (95% or more of the value of the book) in maybe 30-40 pages. I'm normally someone who gets impatient with self-indulgent writing but since most publishers demand at least a few hundred pages for a serious " Idea Book", I'm not sure how much of this is Taleb's fault.

This is why I prefer to work in media more suited to concision like blogging and youtube videos rather than full-length books.

Also no one has offered to publish me.

comment by palladias · 2013-08-30T23:31:21.918Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like Antifragile could have been handled really well (95% or more of the value of the book) in maybe 30-40 pages.

This. I liked it well enough, but would have preferred it at Kindle Single length. At it felt like the kind of book that was discussed so much that I didn't get that much more out of actually reading it.

comment by Torello · 2013-08-31T12:50:23.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I tend to agree with you both on this point. I haven't finished the book yet and he's defined antifragile as something that has a small, defined downside and a large, undefined upside probably six times.

But hey, at least I can provide his definition, so his strategy seems to be working for me as a reader?

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-12T22:43:11.119Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just want to post here to get the people who search and would be mistaken to believe the poster I am replying to.

The technical companion is here:

Taleb has fundamentally succeeded. When people like David Freedman of all people say so, he is correct. Do not trust the people in this thread. I have come to realize that a large portion of the random detractors of Taleb turn out to be complete wannabes and speak in bad faith.

Technical companion is here and here:

Silent Risk , The Technical Incerto: Lectures on Risk and Probability, Vol 1, (freely available  2015), 


A Mathematical Formulation of Fragility, The Technical Incerto: Lectures on Risk and Probability, Vol 2, (freely available  2015) , with Raphael Douady .

as a heuristic look at his co-authors. If you need a more substantial reply I can give it to you. I'm sick of inaccuracy regarding this. Gelman who is the main bayesian statistics textbook less wrong advocates likes him so I don't see what the big deal is. Probably because he doesn't give a shit about most of LWish values.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-13T00:02:08.856Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do not trust the people in this thread.

That's a rather remarkable statement.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-13T03:21:21.023Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People are misremembered all across time. Eliezier is misunderstood by many people as is Taleb.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-13T03:23:57.556Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure there's that much to misunderstand in Taleb. He basically had one good insight and has been milking it ever since.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-13T03:25:11.390Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lol. I can tell you don't know what you're talking about. Please read the linked textbook and get back to us. Luke respects him, pretty much every one legitimate respects him. Kahneman, Seth Roberts, Andrew Gelman, David Freedman.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-13T03:27:11.778Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I can tell you don't know what you're talking about.

Minds are like parachutes... :-)

I've read Taleb. As I've said he had one insight and then decided to become a Continental Philosopher. He doesn't fit that role well :-/

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-20T08:55:20.298Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Continental Philosopher. He doesn't fit that role well :-/

:-DD The good schools in Lebanon teach in French and have a chance of turning out typical Francophone intellectuals. Brilliant, awesome, bombastic, impressive, trying really hard to impress, but more meandering around showing off the sparkling wit rather than digging deep at one spot. Taleb has this typical French-like style in his bones and education, and the financial analyst stuff came later in his life. It is possible to glean good ideas from that book, but there are a lot of superficial wit-sparkles to ignore, to be sure.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-29T02:38:03.305Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This post was so pretentious, I love the foolish signaling.

Citations listed here: http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=64BtMdsAAAAJ&hl=en

4586 for Black Swan

875 for Fooled by Randomness

355 for Dynamic Hedging

read the rest

Kluppelberg talks about his work in her recent book who is also a coauthor of "Modeling Extremal Events", I have seen Thorpe in a interview say that he was interested in betting on rare events since Taleb talked about it, co-editor of this journal http://www.iospress.nl/journal/risk-and-decision-analysis/ and the "Extreme Risk Initiative" with him & Tapiero is well... his.

Just scroll through his CV if anything.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-30T07:19:51.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good ideas and annoying style are orthogonal issues, these are arguments to the first, not the other. The both can be seen side by side: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/12/05/nassim-taleb-is-annoying-but-antifragile-is-still-worth-reading/

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-30T21:21:28.352Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

He seems to have successfully completed the job and the people who call it annoying are a minority, it's always some inflammatory side-attack and it gets old. Correctly predicted the crisis and calls out people who are harmful, seems like a great guy to me.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-31T07:19:01.466Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It would be useful to not evaluate a person as one whole person, or not as one whole set of works. Otherwise you are susceptible to halo or horn effects. It is more useful to see multiple different aspects. I can hate Ayn Rand and yet find her solution for the problem of the universals quite respectable. I can say Taleb's math is excellent, was very predictive and just what the world needs while his way of writing books that attempt to talk about everything superficially not so good and wish he would focus more narrowly on his expertise instead of talking about everything.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-31T07:21:09.492Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You're pushing it -_- give me a break.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-31T13:52:55.149Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW


comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-13T03:31:37.847Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That post should be sufficient to demonstrate you don't know what you're saying to any third party.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-13T03:34:36.759Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're not saying anything except ad hominem and your mind seems to be nailed shut, so there doesn't seem to be much point in continuing...

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-13T03:37:46.393Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It must be so humiliating to be fake. Read Silent Risk or the Vol 2

random paper:


Some times I get together with a few buddies from Less Wrong and laugh at all the contrarian-hipsters(you) who instead of posting so much should just study. It's important for people to be perceived accurately. Eliezer is misunderstood as is Taleb.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-19T12:54:39.612Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Taleb has fundamentally succeeded. When people like David Freedman of all people say so, he is correct. Do not trust the people in this thread

Taleb makes so many hardly-related statements in the book that it is fairly impossible that Friedman checked all of them. Perhaps, the finance / economics aspects. But he wanders all over the map from whether writers-with-sinecures having a barbell-shaped income strategy is a good idea to varying a paleo and vegan diet instead of sticking to one, or the highly suspicious idea that he eats no fruit or veg that has no Greek name because his Mediterrean genes may not be adapted to them: this one made all my bullshit detectors tingle.

But sure, in finance/economics the basic idea looks sound. The problem is, that book is not about that finance/economics idea, it is about everything.

Apparently, the linked writings are about mathemathical finance. This gives plausibility to the basic idea being OK for finance, the issue is largely with the huge number of unrelated topics mentioned in the book.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-03-19T22:55:07.037Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Plenty of people have checked through his work. I have this argument with people all the time and every one ends up agreeing in the end. That's the point of a book nobody has any problems with any other author probably because Taleb does not fit the standard personality type of passive nerds and the personality structure they seek to impose on every one else.

His book is well read and has succeeded that is the point of a personal literary work. I've seen him say on twitter say he eats to go pizza so your comment regarding that is relatively suspicious in that it seems you are looking for anything negative to say.

comment by Liron · 2013-08-30T22:45:40.307Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I buy the thesis and I enjoy Taleb's schtick.

comment by Salemicus · 2013-08-31T10:34:12.865Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eric Falkenstein wrote a good review here.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-31T15:26:55.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. There's certainly a problem with Taleb's lack of specificity. He says the world is heading for trouble because high status people don't get negative reinforcement, but his advice is "have courage".

He's middling wrong with his theory that there should be more aggressive treatments used on sicker people. This is reasonable within some range, but it also leads to torturing the dying.

On the other hand, I believe he's right that higher populations lead to less predictable behavior.

comment by Torello · 2013-08-31T12:48:04.412Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for pointing this out.

Admittedly, it contained more jargon than the book itself and was a bit tough for me to follow, but I think I can take something away from it. Once I finish Antifragile I'll read that post again.

I guess what's happening is that I'm rather convinced by each author as I'm reading him. I don't know how to step back and look at evidence for their claims, as I'm unfamiliar with finance, and the evidence that that do present I don't really understand.

I am quite confident, afterr reading the book and the blog post, that both Taleb and Falkenstein are very confident about their positions and their intellect.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-03-19T14:28:13.737Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am a great admirer of Taleb, I've read most of his books, and I consider him one of the most important intellectuals of our time. That said, AF is very uneven: it feels more like a rant than a detached, objective meditation on statistical philosophy.

I'll mention two ideas that I think are relevant to LW. The first is the concept of robustness in the face of theory failure. Taleb believes that history is dominated by Black Swans: events that shatter our best theories of the world. Therefore the naively plausible rationalist strategy of "Figure out the best theory, and act to optimize utility based on this theory" is a recipe for disaster. Systems, people, and organizations achieve a superficial form of efficiency: they seem to do well in the short run, but go bust (=die/collapse/fail) when a Black Swan hits.

Taleb proposes a different strategy: "Compose an ensemble of theories, and pick an action that will do well under every theory in the ensemble." This action will probably seem to underperform in the short run, but it is much more likely to survive in the long run.

This concept actually has implications for XRisk prevention. Instead of using argumentation and theorizing to pick the most serious XRisk, and then acting to reduce the likelihood of that risk, you should devise a strategy that simultaneously protects against multiple forms of XRisk (the most obvious candidate in my mind is the construction of lunar or Mars colonies).

The second idea is about the ethics of iconoclasm. Taleb believes that in order to thrive, collectives (e.g. societies) must encourage their members to take risks. If many individuals take on risks, many will fail, but those that succeed will contribute to the health and vitality of the collective, thereby enabling it to become anti-Fragile. The ethical tension comes from the fact that risk-taking often seems quite unappealing from the perspective of the individual, compared to the option of staying safe, thinking the same way everyone else thinks, and so on (risk-taking has lower expected utility). So the Talebian hero is the entrepreneur, the artist, the real philosopher; the person who takes a risk by stepping outside the normal ways of thinking and living, and if successful, shares his success with the collective.

Furthermore, in some cases individuals can do the opposite of risk-taking: they can actually secure themselves against risk at the expense of adding risk to the collective - they robustify themselves by fragilizing the collective. Taleb believes that people who do this have a special place in Hell, and he indicts a wide-ranging group of professional archetypes for this crime: academics, journalists, bankers, policy wonks, pundits, and so on. These are people who have no "skin in the game" - they sell their ideas with slick marketing and prestigious credentials, but at the end of the day they have nothing to lose if it turns out the ideas were wrong.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-19T16:24:08.159Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Compose an ensemble of theories, and pick an action that will do well under every theory in the ensemble." This action will probably seem to underperform in the short run, but it is much more likely to survive in the long run.

The problem with this strategy is that it may not only underperform in the short term, it may not survive in the short term. If you have competing strategies, the optimized-for-short-term ones might destroy you before you get to demonstrate your robustness.

Taleb believes that in order to thrive, collectives (e.g. societies) must encourage their members to take risks.

I am not sure there is much historical support for this idea.

Obviously we are talking about degrees of risk -- both a completely stagnant and a wildly risky societies will fail. I don't see a pronounced historic trend of iconoclast-friendly societies triumphing over conformist ones. Certainly, some risk-taking is needed, but "more" is not always the right answer.

comment by Morendil · 2013-09-05T19:18:49.877Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I found The Black Swan well worth the time, but I started AF, got a couple chapters in, lost interest and still can't work up much enthusiasm to pick it up again.