Seven Rules of Anti-Fragility

Nassim Taleb writing in an edge.org piece.

Something central, very central, is missing in historical accounts of scientific and technological discovery. The discourse and controversies focus on the role of luck as opposed to teleological programs (from telos, “aim”), that is, ones that rely on pre-set direction from formal science.

He continues:

The luck versus knowledge story is as follows. Ironically, we have vastly more evidence for results linked to luck than to those coming from the teleological, outside physics—even after discounting for the sensationalism. In some opaque and nonlinear fields, like medicine or engineering, the teleological exceptions are in the minority, such as a small number of designer drugs. This makes us live in the contradiction that we largely got here to where we are thanks to undirected chance, but we build research programs going forward based on direction and narratives. And, what is worse, we are fully conscious of the inconsistency.

The point we will be making here is that logically, neither trial and error nor “chance” and serendipity can be behind the gains in technology and empirical science attributed to them. By definition chance cannot lead to long term gains (it would no longer be chance); trial and error cannot be unconditionally effective: errors cause planes to crash, buildings to collapse, and knowledge to regress.

As for the seven rules of anti-fragility:

  1. Convexity is easier to attain than knowledge.
  2. A “1/N” strategy is almost always best with convex strategies.
  3. Serial optionality
  4. Nonnarrative Research
  5. Theory is born from (convex) practice more often than the reverse (the nonteleological property)
  6. Premium for simplicity
  7. Better cataloguing of negative results

Taleb is the author of Antifragile.