How Knowledge Reduces Antifragile Tinkering


We made huge gains in cancer research when 1) we had no understanding of the biological process, 2) research was undirected (nonteleological), as we were looking for cures for something other than cancer, or stumbled on results we weren’t looking for. Chemo was born from mustard gas, etc.

Now since we’ve started targeting cancer in 1973, the results are … Could be that we had gotten the low hanging fruits; could be that modern life is cancer-causing… an alternative explanation that is even more scary.

My point is that knowledge, direction, aiming, strategic planning reduce convex tinkering.
(Graph: source Kas Thomas)

Via Nassim Taleb Facebook Page

Disclaimer: This website is not affiliated with Nassim Taleb. Click here and here for his official website(s).


  1. This a a relatively naive, superficial analysis that ignores the complexity of the phenomena being described, in particular, i, the dependence of the data on factors not captured (e.g., the development of diagnostic methodologies allowing for increased early detection of “malignant neoplasms,” which confounds the red curve data, contributing to it in a non-quantifiable way, but clearly providing upward pressure on the trend), and ii, by the interdependence of the data appearing on all curves (e.g., given that the the cardio/cerebrovascular data are downward trending, and that these surviving individuals had to succumb eventually to their mortalities).

    It is agreed, however: there is no gainsaying a general critique, that the “strategic planning” approach to cancer has not netted the gains anticipated (the reasons for which are far more varied and complicated than implied here), and that some individual research efforts perhaps characterized by the convex tinkering moniker have contributed inordinately. But this skipping-the-stone approach gives what a skipping stone always does to one looking on: an interesting, even beautiful aesthetic experience unrelated to either instruction or mechanism (of how to skip stones, and why they skip… or why progress in oncology therapies has been slow in so many areas, and how to cure the manifold forms, mechanisms, and anatomical/physiologic problems posed by cancers). Cheers. MED

  2. Health is whole, illness is a hole in your health. Health and illness can be compared to light and dark. When you spend your entire life studying darkness, you find a lot of darkness – but you know nothing about light, nothing about colors, or temperature, or brightness, or energy.

    Today, we spend all of our time studying illness (symptoms of illness), and designing medicines to treat ‘symptoms’. No-one studies health, to the point that we have renamed ‘health’ as ‘absence of illness’ (eg. we can’t find any dark, so it must be light). Health clinics are actually clinics that fight illness, health insurance insures against illness, the World Health Organization studies illness – or the absence of illness, but does not study health.

    Many of today’s so called ‘illness’ are actually lack of ‘healthiness’ and cannot be cured by medicines, can only be cured with health. They have symptoms that can be treated by medicines, but that will only allow them to grow worse. These illnesses can only be treated, only cured, with health. The more we study ‘illness’ and find medicines to treat (but not cure) illness, the more illness will result.

    We are suffering from too much information about illness, because we have no information about health. What are the leading causes of health? I’m not looking for vague generalizations like ‘eat a healthy diet and exercise’. I’m looking for a science of healthiness. But instead we have the leading causes of death. I’ll let you in on a secret: once you are dead, the causes of health, and the causes of death are no longer relevant. When you are alive – the leading causes of health are more relevant than the leading causes of death. But there is no list. There is no science.

    If, when we study health, we will learn that health comes from freedom. And freedom is antifragile.

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