Life would not exist if it were not able to adapt or improve. Most people consider resilience and strength to be valuable features. But these traits do not benefit from experience any more than something fragile which dies or fails completely. So strength, resilience and rigidity are not the opposite of fragility. For this, Nicholas Nassim Taleb originated the term Antifragile, and he uses a mythology analogy to explain it. Resilience is the ability to withstand damage. Think of the Phoenix, who dies in flames and is then reborn from the ashes. In contrast, when one of a hydra’s multiple heads are cut off, two more grow back in its place. A hydra doesn’t just survive damage; it actually thrives on it. Exposure to unpredictability results in greater strength because you have to overcompensate in response.
Bitcoin and other technologies built on Blockchain are highly antifragile since there is plenty of opportunity to learn from attacks or failures. There is a lot of scope for and actual experimentation on these networks. For example, solutions can be implemented for the platform to help solve some of the issues that Bitcoin users face. While it’s likely that many of these solutions will fail, the failures won’t negatively affect Bitcoin. But, successes would boost the cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrencies are also antifragile in the economic sense, meaning external economically disordering events also result in them becoming stronger. These types of events include governments banning the use of Bitcoin and the crumble of companies in the Bitcoin ecosystem. Consider the hacking of Mt. Gox. Mt. Gox was the first Cryptocurrency exchange platform and, at one point, handled the most trades around the world. However, the site never established proper security measures, and hackers stole 744,408 bitcoins from wallets on the site. In 2014, the site filed for bankruptcy, which made the market value of bitcoin crash by 34 percent. This caused panic to break out in the bitcoin community, but in the end built a stronger ecosystem.
Antifragility is relevant to many aspects of life, even Brexit and the European Union. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Many in the UK feel that the EU has become an intrusive bureaucracy and the benefit-risk balance of leaving outweighs that of staying. A bigger and more all-encompassing system such as the EU is prone to instability, with concentration of power increasing the potential for corruption. Efficiencies gains from increasing scale are most relevant at very small scales, not entire countries. A group of separately run countries is more flexible and antifragile, able to learn from mistakes with less impact from failures. This goes to the heart of my position as a Brexiteer. I wish our European neighbours the best and see no reason why we can’t continue to mutually benefit from trading with each other, without becoming an ever more rigid and centralised mass of power that only benefits those in power.
Natural selection is Life’s antifragile process for ensuring longer term survival. Occasional random genetic mutations occur within the pool of a species, mostly to no useful benefit and at the expense of unfortunate individuals, but this does not affect the pool, and occasionally the individual does benefit to pass it onto its offspring. Being able to not only survive failures but harness them to guide us is an important lesson from nature.