Friday, January 18, 2013

Poisoning the metaphorical well …

… Fragile Reasoning in Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: An Enlightenment Transhumanist Critique — Transhumanity.net. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


An antifragile system or entity, per Taleb’s definition, is one that benefits from volatility instead of succumbing to it. Beyond mere robustness, which withstands volatility intact, antifragility is the derivation of advantage from volatility. The concept itself is an intriguing one, but Taleb makes a crucial error in assuming that most antifragility is normatively preferable. He does make an exception for “antifragility at others’ expense” – but only in a limited context. For instance, he is outraged at career intellectuals who do not have “skin in the game” and do not suffer for making wrong predictions or recommendations (more on this later) – but he explicitly praises the antifragility of biological evolution, a process that has resulted in the brutal deaths of most organisms and the extinction of about 99.9% of all species in history. Even within his premise that modernity contains “fragilizing” elements, Taleb presupposes that fragility is necessarily undesirable. Yet a beautiful vase is fragile – as is, for that matter, an individual organism. Fragility is no justification for dismissing or opposing an area of existence that has other intrinsic merits. Perhaps the proper response to certain kinds of fragility is extra care in the preservation of the fragile – as shown, for example, in the raising of children and small animals. 

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