Esther Dyson in Project Syndicate:
According to Taleb, things that are anti-fragile – mostly living things – not only resist being broken; they actually grow stronger under stress. When coddled too much, they grow weaker. Evolution is an anti-fragile process…
What are the equivalent terms for health? Most dictionaries define health as the “absence of disease.” But, in those terms, it is not a compelling proposition for people to “invest in health.” How can you invest in a vacuum?
Of course, we do invest in health care. But that is like investing in auto repair – allocating resources to repairing damage, rather than to improving safety technology or brightening traffic lights. Health care is what we wield when inactive “health” has failed to keep us healthy: the immune system has been overcome by a pathogen, or too much (bad) food, alcohol, smoking, recreational drugs, or stress – perhaps compounded by too little sleep and exercise – have compromised the body’s normal operation. Even if we are unlucky and suffer from a genetic condition that cannot be prevented, it often will still be easier to address in an otherwise healthy person.
Health itself is the capacity to undergo stress and react positively to it – anti-fragility in a specific context. For example, without exposure to infectious agents, the human immune system will never learn how to ward off invaders and may even turn inward, as in auto-immune diseases. Muscles need to work (and be stressed) to grow strong. The discomfort of hunger impels us to eat.
At first, the notion of producing health sounds a bit pompous, like “ideating solutions” or listing “legal intervention” (by a policeman’s bullet) as a cause of death. But it is a concept worth exploring and promoting.
Read the rest here.