Trying hard to be antifragile

Emotional distancing

Thinking about risk and prediction recently, especially after listening to Talking Politics on Superforecasters. The takeaway from that was that the more you can distance yourself emotionally from the outcome, the better you are likely to be at both estimating probabilities and adjusting them in the light of new information.

On that basis, a friend and I decided yesterday to postpone an event we had both been looking forward to for months. We were to have done it in late May. We’re re-thinking maybe September. I’m really sorry to have made that decision. I also think it is the right decision, which mitigates the disappointment.

As a result, I was primed to read Alex Danco on Antifragility. Talking Politics had pointed out that resilience requires overcapacity, that if you are going to able to cope with unforeseen events, then normal events are going to leave resources “idle”. Danco explains clearly that antifragility is not the same as resilience or robustness. Antifragility actually requires disorder — unforeseen events — to flourish. Without the disorder, it stagnates.

For a fragile system, an unexpected event is uncertainty. It doesn’t know what to do.

An antifragile system treats uncertainty as information (in the sense of reducing uncertainty, because it tells the system what to do) and responds appropriately.

Danco uses the immune system as one example, and extends the idea to how countries are responding to the coronavirus. It’s unexpected, for sure. Countries like Singapore or Switzerland, according to Danco, treat the outbreak as information and respond properly, titrating their response against new information. They are antifragile. The US, by contrast, treats the outbreak as uncertainty, and is shown to be fragile.

Feeling less fragile here.

And even less so after reading Thomas PM Barnett’s latest post: The coronavirus reminds us just how connected our world is, how there’s no going back, and how this is the nature of crisis in the age of globalization

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