Monday, March 25, 2013

Anti-Fragile: Broadening Perspectives in Health and Rehabilitation

I have recently been turned onto the "cross-pollenation" of philosophies and perspectives from adiverse range of sources.  The recent exposure to the sociological concept of Salutogenesis is the likely culprit of this cross-pollenation. 

The most recent discovery on this journey is the concept derived by Nassem Nicolas Taleb called Antifragility. His recent book is accurately titled: Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.  In the introduction to his book, he described it as follows:

"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

He makes reference and uses examples in both the business AND bilogical world and, although I have yet to read his book, the concept already opens new perspectives with respect to achieving optimal health as well as setting working frameworks for rehabilitive strategy.  

The definition of antifragile is based upon our intrinsic understanding of fragility...things that are fragile are highly susceptible to damage or failure when stressors are applied.  By definition, ANTI-fragility is the opposite.  In his formulations, Taleb makes reference to the term "robustness" as a common representation of the opposite of fragility...however, this term does not go far enough.  Robustness simple means that it "resists" damage and remains the same.  The concept of antifragility is more complex and suggests that systems are stressed and not only resist damage or failure, but actually develop and improve from such chaos. In essense, the system becomes more sensitive to volativity and adapts accordingly.  In addition, it is characterized by an inverse relationship between vulnerability and readiness...high vulnerability is a reflection of poor readiness and effective readiness reduces vulnerability. 

In the business model, fragility is manifest more often in the "top-down" management style where strategies are formulated and implemented from the top and driven downwards through the chain.  This results in a fragile system that manifests poor readiness and therefore is exposed to high levels of vulnerability.  The business model that manifests high information access from the bottom-up yield much higher adaptability ratings, react more positively to volatility and uncertainty, and demonstrate a higher level of variability.  In essense, they are able to react and respond to stressors that would typically collapse a fragile system. 

In the biological framework, this concept have some significant level of applicability as well.  Although there may be diverse representations of the "top-down" approach (high neurological focus), there is essentially a clearer antifragile perspective that can be identified. 

In effect, those systems that are resposible for irritability / adaptability, sensory feedback, autonomic response, and systemic "oscillation" (cardiac rhythm, respiration, digestion) are those elements that transform fragile systems into antifragile ones.  What does this mean for the health-seeker / therapist / rehabilitation plan?  Hearty focus and attention to the development and maintenance of these systems. 

In practical terms, the contribution to the movement of interstitial fluid (through manual massage techniques) would be the paramount platform in which to achieve this.  This results in the movement of stagnant fluid, removal of metabolic waste, and delivery of nutrient rich fluid.  The product would be increases in lymphatic motility, reduction in tissue "toxicity", and therefore an improvement in systemic homeostatic management and improved immune function (improved irritability / adaptability).  Further, attention to the nourishement and strengthening of the connective tissue / fascia will serve to improve sensory competence, equalize and recalibrate muscular imbalances, as well as promote healthy force transmission and distribution thorughout the body.  This is more of a architectural consideration, but relates to the adaptability to daily interaction with the environment that are potentially volatile.  Finally, interventions that address the development of respiratory and digestive mechanics.  These last two considerations are of particular importance due to their direct links to the more primitive functions related to sustaining life itself. 

In summary, it isn't a simple case of building systems that are invulnerable to damage...rather a careful and purposeful strategy to develop the systems that contribute the most to an anti-fragile environment.

More to come as I jump into more specifics identified in his book! 


  1. Hi Gavin -- you've found a gem...wait until you read the book, you will be thrilled by both Nassim's approach and application. I know you will be thinking of the families you work with when you read about the Barbell. Best wishes and happy reading...Tiffany

    1. Hi Tiffany! I actually wrote this post last year...and it is indeed a gem. It is a fundamental pillar in the Fascia Therapy philosophy because it is a natural extension of the "organic versus mechanistic" philosophy of organization. I have been slowly getting through snippets of the book...a little difficult because he trails off on tangents sometimes, but a wonderful construct!