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    texas.grok's Avatar
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    Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

    Primal Fuel
    I'm reading a book, "Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Excellent book so far and he argues that certain systems, including humans, are designed to be "antifragile". In other words, as these systems are stressed, they actually become stronger....to a point. Any of them will break eventually.

    One example that I thought of was a bow. When you pull back a recurve bow, it becomes stronger or more powerful. The further back you pull it, the faster the arrow will go. Now you can break the bow with enough force or the string will fail but to that point of failure, the bow becomes more powerful the further back you pull the string.

    Now something like a diamond is resilient but not "antifragile". It will resist force until the point that it shatters but it doesn't get stronger the more force that is applied to it.

    The human body is designed to be abused and stressed, up to a point. Muscles become stronger due to being abused or damaged and then healing back to be bigger and stronger. Same with our immunity systems. If we lived in an environment that was sterile, once we left that environment, our immunity systems would not have developed, or gotten stronger, by being exposed to various germs. Now the strongest immunity system will fail against something like rabies but until confronted by something like rabies, the human immunity system is designed to grow stronger the more it is stressed. The overuse of antibiotics and other medications, along with poor lifestyle, has damaged many people's immunity systems however.

    “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
    ~ Hunter S. Thompson.

    Mr. Thompson was dead-on. Our lives should not be lived protected in various levels of safety. We should not shy away from adversity because adversity is what makes us stronger. We are, by design, "antifragile" and we need to live like it.

    Personally, I'm going to be pissed if I have an open casket funeral. I want to be so used up when I die that the last thing viewers of my body will say is "he looks so nice" or "he looks so peaceful". I only have the one body and I bloody well intend on using it up before I'm through with it.

    The article below explains this better than I can but I would urge the reading of Mr. Nassim Nicholas Talebs book.

    Becoming Antifragile: Beyond “Sissy” Resilience | The Art of Manliness
    Randal
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    Um, it's immune system- but the book sounds really interesting!

    One of the reasons I quit my desk job was because if my job was going to take a toll on my body, then it was going to be because it wore it out, not that it babied it to death.
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    I read his books about 6-9 months ago, great insight. "the black swan" is a great prequel to under standing "anti fragile".

    I don't quite agree with a bow being anti fragile. Like a diamond (and very thing else), a bow resists stress up to a destruction point, a bow is robust as it has a high destruction threshold. But a bow cannot improve its destruction threshold like a human can (or any other living thing). The confusion point is that a bow's homeostasis has the ability to flex to RESIST stress, returning to its homeostasis with great speed. A diamonds homeostasis is immovable until it is destroyed.
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    Do you see the irony in his admonition to Never take advice from someone who doesn’t have “skin in the game.”?? After all, that's what these forums are all about, dispensing of advice from people who have no consequences from it. Don't get me wrong, I think there is some value in sharing here, that's why I participate. I just take whatever people say with a grain of salt.

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    I have not read the book, but I am quite familiar with the philosophy....I think that a lot of America would be a lot better off if they realized the truth of what he was saying.

    One of the biggest frustrations I have can be summed up in advice I got from a trainer I had once, a very smart guy. He would always say to us "We are not tulips." He even had some shirts printed that said that on them

    A lot of people make the simple mistake of confusing comfort for happiness. They surround themselves with objects and gizmos that attempt to remove all possible labor, discomfort, or danger. Every environment is perfectly temperature controlled, the beds always amazingly soft, everything sterilized.....more so, they have confusion and admonishment toward the few people that choose NOT to live this way.

    The result for a lot of people is that it seems they have a body, a total system, that is incapable of withstanding any changes to their environment or outside attack.....they have weak, painful backs. No cold or heat tolerance, no ability to do manual labor, constantly sickly, headaches, groggy, lethargic. It's like they are a cell with no cell membrane, no protection.

    In contrast, I know a lot of very tough, hard people. They live their lives a lot differently, and for as much as they can be written off by some as simple ascetics, the differences in them go far beyond the obvious....many of them are almost never sick, never have headaches or stomach problems, no insomnia, no manicness.

    My point is that I feel that this is not an accident, and the egg definitely came before the chicken. They were raised this way many times, and its results are what I am speaking of.

    Today, I went snowshoeing to hunt for hares with the dog. It was 5 degrees outside, and I was out there for about six hours. I probably walked several miles, but I don't count. When I got home, it was about 45 degrees in my cabin, so I had to lug in a bunch of wood, re-start the fire, then finally get everything off me. This is life pretty much all the time.

    I have been asked by many people why, with the options I have, I choose to live this way. Why not buy a cushy apartment that is walking distance from my business, get a maid to cook and clean everything, live like I am expected to? My answer, although I rarely put it this bluntly, is just like my trainer. "I am not a tulip"....in other words, I know that doing things this way makes me stronger, more healthy, more balanced, happier. I believe that most all people need some of it in their lives.

    I have not had a cold, even a little sniffle, in almost 4 years, despite the fact that I touch often very sick people daily. I sleep like a brick, always. Anti-fragile is a real phenomenon. We are meant to absorb hardship of all kinds. If we don't, the system begins to break down. Great post Texas, as usual. I will find this book this weekend.
    "They now look to a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry." - Thomas Jefferson, 1826

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheyCallMeLazarus View Post
    He would always say to us "We are not tulips." He even had some shirts printed that said that on them

    A lot of people make the simple mistake of confusing comfort for happiness. They surround themselves with objects and gizmos that attempt to remove all possible labor, discomfort, or danger. Every environment is perfectly temperature controlled, the beds always amazingly soft, everything sterilized.....more so, they have confusion and admonishment toward the few people that choose NOT to live this way.
    Yes. I guess what I am struggling with is the semantics of resiliency vs anti-fragile. Human beings are by their very nature anti-fragile. We need an optimal amount of stress to thrive.

    We can become more resilient by doing more of what you are doing, consciously choosing adversity over comfort. But this is not a new idea, in fact a popular book from 15 years ago was all about measuring and building resiliency: The Adversity Quotient.

    I listened to Taleb several years ago through the Long Now podcast. Unfortunately, this lecture is no longer available w/o a Long Now membership. He made a big deal in the lecture about how modern Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory management systems are inherently fragile - all it takes is a little burp in the supply chain and the whole thing falls apart.

    What I have wrestled with during my career is building resilient organizations/teams. We design organizations, nature does not. They can be fragile, resilient, and maybe even anti-fragile. Since you work in the healthcare system, that IMHO is an example of a system that is decidedly fragile. Providers are reimbursed for procedures (tests, consults, operations), not for outcomes. As a result the system inherently lacks agility, as providers are not rewarded for outcomes, rather they have an incentive to perform as many reimbursable activities as they possibly can and cover their butts concerning liability. Don't get me wrong, I am not accusing you of anything, I'm saying *the system* is inherently fragile, despite many principled and well-intentioned people who work within the system.

    I just finished re-reading Lieberman's The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, and he says exactly the same as you. He calls them "mismatch diseases", that too many people live in a manner that does not match our DNA.

    FWIW, most of us cannot/will not live in the outback as you do. I choose to spend my weekends hiking and sleeping in the backcountry. When I crawled out of my hammock on Sunday morning it was 24 degrees. I find weekend backpacking to be a strategy that works for me to build/maintain my resiliency, and provide my anti-fragile body and mind with sufficient adversity, while still maintaining an ordinary life.

    Best regards and Happy New Year!

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    texas.grok's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheyCallMeLazarus View Post
    I have not had a cold, even a little sniffle, in almost 4 years, despite the fact that I touch often very sick people daily. I sleep like a brick, always. Anti-fragile is a real phenomenon. We are meant to absorb hardship of all kinds. If we don't, the system begins to break down. Great post Texas, as usual. I will find this book this weekend.
    Same here Lazarus. I spent almost 20 years in EMS starting working on ambulances in 1975. Back then we didn't have the fancy powered stretchers that they have now, we had to manually raise/lower/load them all. If your patient weighed 200 lbs, you were lifting and moving 275 lbs. including the weight of the stretcher and of course, that included stairs. And we didn't know what lifting correctly meant but yet, we seldom got back injuries. My thought is that we built up our back muscles to the point that they could withstand almost anything.

    Also, and in line with your not getting sick, same for me. I have been exposed to everything from active TB to HIV to all the flavors of hepatitis and never get sick. The joke is that "you might be a paramedic if your immunity system could kill small animals by itself".

    And we seemed to get stronger, or perform better, the tougher the call we were on. I got to the point that I would rather work the worse trauma call under the worse possible weather conditions than anything else. It tested our mettle and we usually were stronger because of it.

    It has been almost 20 years since the last time that I worked EMS and I'm not sure it is still the same, for good or bad.

    I do believe that our society has gotten weaker overall not just physically but mentally/spiritually. A kid dies in an auto accident that schools call in "grief counselors" to help the other students "deal with the trauma" of death. We are raising generations of weak, and growing weaker, humans.
    Randal
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    Quote Originally Posted by texas.grok View Post
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