On Fragility

What is the opposite of fragile? The common answer is: robust.

If I ship a fragile package, for example one containing glass, I believe it will not be able to withstand even a single strong hit without breaking down. I would expect a more robust package, one containing a teddy bear, to withstand many strong repeated hits. (Of course, to a certain extent, it is possible to destroy a teddy bear too).

But I would not expect even a teddy bear to become stronger from these hits. However, we can, at least intellectually, posit a category of things that are not only robust but antifragile — things that actually profit from hits — or more generally, shocks. (Likewise, always only to a certain extent.)

It seems strange and unpractical idea, but with some effort, we can think of examples. For example, the scientific consensus seems to be that the human immune system actually needs certain amount of shocks to become strong and healthy. Too clean environment when growing up, does not expose the child to bacteria, and tends to create adults with a weak immune system. If we look at living organisms from this perspective, it suddenly seems many living things actually need such shocks for their growth.

Taleb defines antifragility in his book as the positive attitude towards volatility. The whole discussion is too lengthy to be described here, but I can heartily recommend the book, it may change your life. While antifragility is common in living organisms, we can extend it to practically anything.

How is antifragility related to tango?

We may for example see that “mistakes” during our dance are shocks. If we borrow the attitude from improvisation theatre that “mistakes” are actually helpful (as I explained before), because they are opportunities for creativity, we have taken a positive attitude towards volatility, and our dance becomes antifragile towards “mistakes”.

Or we may see, that when learning, “technical problems” with our dancing are shocks. If we value learning about “problems” in our dancing, and accept their existence easily, we have a helpful attitude that allows us to continuously improve. We have become antifragile towards “problems” in our dancing. It seems tango challenges one so much that most people cannot withstand it without growing at least to some extent an antifragile attitude towards growth in our dancing.


About Mikko

A man hopelessly bitten by the argentine tango bug.
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One Response to On Fragility

  1. Pingback: World of Possibilities | Cerebrar

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