Nassim Taleb, on Facebook, posted this today:
Experience is not much of a teacher; it is, rather, a continuous exit exam. For we are not very good at “learning” from events.
- You are told that experience is accumulated knowledge when it is largely a survival filter, a fitness test. Those we call “experienced” are simply those who had the traits that allowed them to survive in a given function in order to be able do it for a long time: what we call on this forum absence of fragility.
- This confusion is similar to mistaking the Lamarckian for the Darwinian. There is some direct learning (Lamarckian) in experience, but it has to coexist with a stiff selection test.
- The consequence is that “experienced” people should limit their teaching to avoidance of fragility.
Teach a man to fish.
I favor this approach to teaching as well, though I’ve never put it into such terms. I’d say there’s a lot of merit in using Taleb’s framework, though. To see the best use of experience as a way of reducing fragility strikes me as very wise, and difficult. Very few of us like the process of becoming less fragile. Even fewer of us actively seek resilience, or — there’s a difference — antifragility.
Fragility, for Taleb, is characterized by a dependence on predictability:
When you are fragile, you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible – for deviations are more harmful than helpful. This is why the fragile needs to be very predictive in its approach, and, conversely, predictive systems cause fragility.
Antifragility thrives on the things fragility fears:
When you want deviations, and you don’t care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful, you are antifragile.
This simple opposition is one of the most helpful I’ve found in determining whether a course of action will help me or hurt me in the long run. Projects that make me feel fragile — weaker, at the mercy of someone else’s system — are simply not worth it anymore. I’ve actively sought out situations that give me a hard time. The biggest difference between the first half of my stay in Thailand and the second was: in the first, I learned to punch; in the second, I learned to take a punch. The second was much, much harder.