The universe is a complex structure and a myriad source of information for us, and has only offered us a sliver of who we are in the cosmos. However, we have transcended a certain level of evolution till yet, which Nassim Nicholas Taleb likes to call “Anti-Fragile”. The term Anti-Fragile in itself is a bit of an oxymoron, and yet it is this oxymoronic expression that holds the key to the universe’s functioning and being. I know, it does sound weird. But the thing is, anti-fragility has always been the key to the human evolution and to the extents of our intellect and imagination.
The best way to explain the concept is through an anecdote. During WW2, the US Navy conducted a study on the areas of military airplane that were hit by bullets the most. After the study was completed, it was found that the wingtips, central body and the elevators suffered the biggest brunt of the damage. But, Abraham Wald, a statistician stated otherwise, and pointed out that these were the areas that had received the most amount of damage, and had yet continued to function. Any bullet that hit the other areas of the airplane statistically had a higher chance of downing the aircraft and the pilot with it.
This study was subsequently chronicled the “Survivorship Bias”, and it is this principle that can somewhat be used to sum up the core of what anti-fragility is.
If we take a look at the entirety of human history, we’ll notice a few key details. We have always dreaded those events that have caused the highest amounts of damage to the number of living people across the world, and are still striving to do our best to ward off pandemics (oops), wars, draughts and famines. And yet, it has always been events like these that have allowed us to come back stronger than ever, and face the same challenges with increasing degrees of complexity, since we already now know what all should not be done.
The human race throughout history has despised randomness and chaos; we have wanted our lives to be the smoothest and have complete control over whatever is happening around us in our environment. However, anti-fragility craves uncertainty and indecisiveness. It thrives on disfunction and chaos.
The funny thing is, this anti-fragility is an inherent characteristic of everything within the universe. It may change from our health, political systems, economic models, or to supernovas exploding in the heavens above. All of these things have one characteristic in common: Whatever that has begun, must someday end.
As a result, we have in place systems, models and formations to make our ideas and concepts stand the test of time, so that they can keep working for us as long as they can for our benefit, and for society’s benefit at large. This is an oxymoronic thing yet again; how can we aim to reduce antifragility if it an inherent part of the universe’s foundation? How can we, a mere species on a blue marble looking planet defy something that has exploded us into existence?
Furthermore, we have always prided ourselves with the ability of predicting probable events that might happen in the future, but there’s a catch to it. It is the same system that allows us to predict them, hinder our possibilities of the accurate prediction of these large-scale climatic events. Our world has been increasing in terms of technological complexity, but that has only mad it more difficult for us to predict events.
It is this shift from organic and natural models to inorganic and artificial models and subsystems that allow us to pride ourselves on our intelligence as a race, but it is also making us simultaneously dumber. It is this thrill of being intelligent that which has enveloped us, can be categorized as a disease, since it makes our own machinations work against us and ultimately threaten our collective survival as a species.
It is because of these that we have been able to predict events, but only in hindsight since it is these systems themselves that offer us illusions of control and progress.
However, the most dangerous weapon that has ever threatened our survival has been our own intellect. How so? Well, history has been kind enough to oblige us with the biggest example: It is itself the evidence.
As a species, we fear randomness, uncertainty and chaos. We try our best to reduce their amounts in our everyday lives so that it can allow us to have lesser amounts of stress. But imagine, if we have mapped out a day’s entire schedule from our work meetings and coffee breaks, only to find out that a relative of ours has died because they overdosed on coffee their entire life does certainly throw things into dismay.
Our abilities to reduce stress only increase the amount of stress we take whenever something happens, and this is where our intellect comes in. Since we inhibit a mind that tries to put pieces together instead of throwing them apart, our minds establish causalities for events that had literally no chance of being predicted, since we fear nothing more than something we do not understand.
In our approach to establish causalities, we try to establish a linear model of events leading up to the event that threw us into immense amounts of stress, regardless of how dumb those reasons might be. It is our ability to not accept non-linearity and our fumbled approaches of stopping it that we have essentially prepared for our own destruction.
To set the point straight, let me pose a question: What is the probability that a meteor strikes us in the next ten years and sends us on the same path as the Dinosaurs? It is physically and intellectually impossible to calculate the occurrence of such events, since statistics and conditional probability themselves do not have enough variables to figure out so that they can churn out a probable result.
It is Gina Linetti who has come the closest to summing up what I have wanted to say in this article, “Life is chaos, success is arbitrary, and confidence is everything.” We can only do our best to reduce chaos and randomness, but since they are inherent parts of the subsystems of the macros, we can only hope events like these don’t happen. But if they ultimately do, it will be our grit, determination and confidence that might pull out only a sliver of those who were able to survive, but it will leave behind a race of people substantially smarter that the ones who preceded them, since they now know how to handle random events with just a minuscule amount of confidence than before.