Walking in the Grass

Recently, I’ve started walking in the grass as often as I can.

When I randomly checked out Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile from my library last September, I had no expectations for it. I certainly didn’t imagine it would eventually impact where–and how–I walk!

In Antifragile, Taleb points out that “robust” is hardly the opposite of fragile. While something fragile exposed to stress might break, that which is robust merely endures it. It’s neither hurt nor improved by exposure to stress. That which is antifragile, on the other hand, grows and thrives from exposure to some stressors.

One example he cites is muscle growth from deadlifting. By introducing muscles to the stress of increasingly heavy weights, muscles prepare to handle even heavier loads. Stress inspires growth. By depriving ourselves of stressors, then, we’re potentially depriving ourselves of growth.

Taleb offers plenty of other examples of this phenomenon, including reflections on the benefits of fasting, but many have faded from my memory in the months since I read Antifragile. It was only at random that I recently recalled a note on how always walking on even surfaces is another way we deprive our bodies of challenges that help them grow. Continue reading “Walking in the Grass”

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Reading my way back to giggles

As my kids wrapped up their screen time yesterday evening, I read further in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. While I already listened to the book a few weeks back, I was so delighted by it that I bought the four-book Incerto series that it concludes.

With minutes left to read it last night, I burst out laughing. My husband, Anthony, called from the kitchen, “Laughing? You don’t usually laugh reading such [non-fiction] books!”

I replied, “I laugh a lot when I’m reading Taleb! I’ll have to read this passage to you in a few minutes.”

After I finished reading the chapter, I found  Anthony and read him the excerpt that inspired my laughter. Before you read it, you should know that (1) a “fragilista” is one who “defaults to thinking that what he doesn’t see is not there, or what he does not understand does not exist” and (2) Taleb loathes this quality in so-called experts, who harm the world by confidently fragilizing it.

I was in Milan trying to explain antifragility to Luca Formenton, my Italian publisher (with great aid from body language and hand gestures). I was there partly for the Moscato dessert wines, partly for a convention in which the other main speaker was a famous fragilista economist. So, suddenly remembering that I was an author, I presented Luca with the following thought experiment: if I beat up the economist publicly, what could happen to me (other than a publicized trial causing great interest in the new notions of fragilita and antifragilita)? You know, this economist has what is called a tête à baffe, a face that invites you to slap it, just like a cannoli invites you to bite into it. Luca thought for a second … well, it’s not like he would like me to do it, but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt book sales. Nothing I can do as an author that makes it to the front page of Corriere Della Sera would be detrimental for my book. Almost no scandal would hurt an artist or writer.

By way of contrast, I read the beginning of the next paragraph to Anthony, too:

Now let’s say I were a midlevel executive employee of some corporation listed on the London Stock Exchange, the sort who never take chances by dressing down, always wearing a suit and tie (even on the beach). What would happen to me if I attack the fragilista? My firing and arrest record would plague me forever. I would be the total victim of informational antifragility.

So, yes, I laughed. The pages of my Taleb books are filled with scrawled “LOL”s, so that I can find them and read my way back to giggles whenever grumpiness is upon me.