Antifragility – Guest Post by Shalom Drimer
My husband Shalom recently wrote a guest blog post on Antifragility for Phoenix Rising Books.
He will be talking on this topic at Light Chiropractic and Wellness soon. I will keep you posted about the details.
One of my main goals as a Chiropractor is to encourage others to trust the strength and resilience of the body and spirit. We have a body that is driven by an innate intelligence. A body where hundreds of thousands of biochemical reactions are taking place per second – in every cell, and with perfect timing. These constant changes allow us, on a physical level, to heal and to get stronger physically, and the same principle can easily be applied to our growth mentally and spiritually.
My understanding of the body as an integrated network of constant change sparked my long-term fascination in the work of best-selling author and Professor, Nicolas Nassim Taleb. In his most recent book, ‘Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder’, Taleb delves into the behaviours of complex systems, discussing how randomness and uncertainty can build resilience, and in doing so, create stronger and more sustainable systems.
What I admire most about Taleb goes beyond his title as a best-selling author, and that he has been a Professor at several universities, including Oxford University (and currently at Polytechnic Institute of New York University). It is his background in finance, one where he spent many years studying the benefit of change in the world of mathematics. Working as a Hedge Fund Manager and Derivatives Trader, Taleb has been fully immersed in a world that thrives from the constant rise and fall of chaos and order. From this, he has used years of observing patterns of change and volatility to develop a concept he refers to as ‘Antifragility’.
It might be hard at first glance to fully understand the depth of this concept of ‘Antifragility’. It is a principle that applies to biology, sociology, economics, politics and a multitude of complex systems. In summarising Taleb’s definition of ‘Antifragility’, it can be understood as the antithesis of ‘fragility’. For example, most would assume a glass statue to be fragile. When an object is fragile, it is understood to be very sensitive to change or volatility in its environment (i.e. banging or dropping the statue is likely to break it). When an object is ‘Antifragile’, although its state might be affected by change, when exposed to stress or volatility in its environment the object will benefit and thrive.
If you are like me, before reading Taleb’s work you’d naturally assume the opposite to ‘fragile’ would be ‘robust’ (something that resists change). However, as Taleb points out in ‘Antifragility: Things that gain from disorder’ a robust object is unaffected by change or chaos – meaning that it is not the true opposite of a fragile object. Taleb suggests that by definition, the word ‘robust’ would sit halfway between Fragility and Antifragility. To better explain this, Taleb guides his readers to an image of a fragile object being shipped. He points out that generally, we would ship a fragile object in a box marked “Handle with Care”. By contrast, an ‘Antifragile’ object would be shipped in a box marked “Please Mishandle”. Clever imagery to explain this ‘out of the box’ concept.
There are many reasons I found Taleb’s concept of ‘Antifragility’ so profound. It is a concept that weaves new threads of understanding into my long-held passion for science, numbers and observing patterns of behaviour in complex systems. Perhaps most significant, and I what I will further detail below, is that it expanded my understanding of ‘evolution’ at both a macro and micro level. Taleb’s concept of ‘Antifragility’ can be applied to all forms of evolution (organisms, organs, species and human evolution).
Evolution in living organisms means that the organism is constantly changing and getting stronger as a result of changes in its environment. On a physical level, if we relate it to the human body, these changes may cause death of cell or tissue (like cells of the immune system that die in the war with invading pathogens such as bacteria or a virus). However, this change to the immune system allows it to learn and it gathers useful information to build resilience for similar encounters in the future. In biology, this phenomena is called Hormesis. Hormesis is the ability for an organism to become stronger when exposed to low-dose stressors. For example, putting our body under physical stress like exercise, benefits the body by increasing muscle strength and helping to improve the nervous system, immune system and cardiovascular system.
If we look at evolution on an emotional level, generally humans tend to resist change and/ or seek a positive change only. We tend to associate change with instability. For example, we don’t like to lose a job, relationship, get sick or to be in pain. However, if we consider humans as ‘Antifragile’ creatures, we go some way in understanding the greater need for chaos and change as it can help build strength and greatly aid our growth (our evolution).
For some reason, people tend to expect life to be the same day-in and day-out. I am no exception to this rule – just ask my wife! We tend to put measures in place in an effort to control things to always be the same. When there is a change in weather, we go to great lengths with heaters and air conditioners to keep our homes and offices at a ‘comfortable’ temperature. We take steps to shield ourselves from the minor stresses of changing weather and in doing so we prevent the opportunity for our body to self regulate through sweat or shivering. This is a simple example to demonstrate how we, as a society, behave in ways which encourage greater ‘fragility’ and yet, as Taleb points out, we are ‘Antifragile’ creatures which need these minor stresses in order to build resilience and strength. Think for just one minute of the measures you may have put in place around the home, or in the office, in your relationships, or even on a physical, mental or emotional level to ‘protect’ yourself from change. It’s astonishing.
Taleb’s consideration of humans to be ‘Antifragile’ provides an invaluable opportunity to assess our social, economic, political and biological systems with a new understanding. It invites us to challenge our long-held beliefs about change. It prompts us to see chaos and order as a harmonious marriage that brings great benefit and, in doing so, it encourages us to embrace change. When we ease the expectation for consistency in our lives, it can be incredibly liberating.
Personally, I have found that when I have experienced a challenging situation, while it was difficult at the time, it prompted me to gain new insights into my world that ultimately helped me on my journey of evolution. Some people believe that after they have worked on creating change and overcoming a challenge they have all the answers and that life is going to be stable and unchanged going forward. From my perspective, I have found that after we master one lesson, the game of life sends us more challenges to overcome. It seems that the obstacles are so carefully placed upon our path, to encourage us to grow and to build resilience.
Taleb’s concept of ‘Antifragility’ is empowering. It explores how people thrive in changing conditions, highlighting that we are, by nature, ‘Antifragile’. Yet, despite the practical definitions, and extensive observations Taleb provides in his book on ‘Antifragility’, whether we control and resist change, or whether we ‘go with the flow’ and welcome change with open arms – still remains our choice. We have enormous power within us. We continuously make choices that allow us to be the masters of our lives and we choose our response to changing situations. Choose to trust the strength and resilience of the body and spirit, for as the saying goes, change really is the only constant. Embrace it.
Shalom completed his Bachelor of Science and Masters of Chiropractic Science at Macquarie University Sydney. He is passionate about chiropractic and regularly attends seminars to increase his knowledge and skills. He has been attending Bio Geometric Integration (BGI) and Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) seminars since 2005. He also reads widely about science, healing and spirituality. He loves public speaking and enjoys presenting at chiropractic conferences and other events. His clinic is in Glebe –Light Chiropractic and Wellness
And if you are interested in Anti Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb follow this link