Cool stories in Taleb’s Antifragile

This is not a review. Just very interesting stories from Taleb’s Antifragile.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca argued that possessions simply make us worry about the downside (losing them). These negative emotions act as a punishment as we depend on the possessions. He went further; that it induces a form of slavery to care for these possessions.

Much of medieval Europe was built without the architects knowing how to divide. According to historian Guy Beaujouan, there weren’t more than 5 people in Europe before the 13th century that knew long division. There were no structural engineers. There were only heuristics and rules of thumb that builders had amassed by trial and error over the decades. Their buildings largely still stand today.

French astronomer Le Verrier postulated the existence of Nepture simply based on his observations of other planet’s movements and Neptune’s effect on their ellipses. When someone finally visually spotted Neptune, he reportedly wouldn’t even look, so sure of his calculations.

Taleb once tried to make a list of all the drugs that have been discovered by serendipity rather than researchers specifically trying to develop a drug for a particular ailment.  He stopped because the list got too long. Instead it’s easier just to talk about the very few that have been created through research with a specific goal. They are mainly AZT and AIDS drugs.


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