Peter Gluck has observed that I am frequently citing and referring to the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb at our Forums. Now I have decided to write a small essay about the possible applications of Taleb’s philosophy to Cold Fusion (LENR)
I don’t claim that I have achieved a complete, thorough or deep understanding of Taleb; this paper is merely just a start-point for discussions. I also have no doubts that the rather radical philosophy of Taleb has convinced everybody.
His recent book ‘”ANTIFRAGILE” similarly to the previous ones, is rich in content, however based on a few simple ideas.
Taleb has spent 20 years as trader of derivatives, he is originar from Levant (Liban, Syria), was educated in France and the US, writes in a very sharp style sometimes even brutal and aggressive against all those who, in his judgment, are responsible for putting our Society in danger of death.
His profile reminds me, more or less, personalities as Nouriel Roubini, Jean-Paul Biberian, Martin Fleischmann, Dan Schechtman, and it is in accordance so well with the “stranger” as shown by the French sociologist Norbert Alter. Being a stranger i.e. coming from an other culture- and this can be an other country, an other profession, an other technology, other type of organization facilitates the stranger to understand that the things don’t need to be in a unique, standard manner. This says Alter can be sometimes a great competitive advantage.
Here are some links to notes of the readers of “Antifragile”- see References: [antifragile-wsj], [antifragile-continuations], [antifragile-nytimes], [antifragile-dunbar]. However no one comprises the entire substance and spirit of this opus, therefore the best is to read the book, perhaps avoiding coffee because you can find it shocking.
The Black Swans
The ‘”Antifragile” book is a development of Taleb’s work regarding the concept of ‘black swans’ and the importance of radical hazard, the ‘unknown unknowns’ see the “not cognoscible”.
A “black swan” is an event supposed to be impossible and that has been never observed before... Historically, the black swans carry the essence of catastrophes, revolutions, of radical discoveries, of the financial gains and losses. They are ignored, are unpredictable by definition however they are dominating over the predictable and important events.
It is nothing magic in their existence; even if they are rare, they are also numerous; it is probable we cannot know the day when they appear. All the predictions based on the past are absurd because they ignore the most powerful impact of the black swans.
Taleb also tells us the story of the Thanksgivings turkey that can think that humans are so nice and feed it just for its comfort. Than one day, a surprise comes for the turkey- it will be served for dinner. Similarly, says Taleb, the analysis of the most recent past with too many details is dangerous because it instills false confidence.
Predictions of the Black Swans from the past?
Taleb reminds us that despite everything, we are many times trying to find out “a posteriori”- after the event the reasons why Black Swans have happened in the past. For example the tsunami from Sendai which Has killed 20000 people and has ravaged the nuclear central of Fukushima had been actually predictable
For some tens of years, given that the seismic fault line which was believed to be sliding (and thus limited to earthquakes of force 7) has been de facto eventually accumulating constrains, tensions (and thus permitting an earthquake of force 9). In that area, despite a collective amnesia, you can easily find the traces of tsunamis of comparable force that have happened centuries ago. But it has happened some rewriting of history and fact is that nobody has really integrated these scientific facts.
An other example is the prediction, in detail, of the ‘subprime’ crisis by Nouriel Roubini, who like Taleb, Fleischmann, Shechtman, Wegener, Wright was radicalized by the owners of consensus despite obvious retrospective proofs.
In this sense, cold fusion is a black swan hidden in plain sight as the Sendai earthquake. Cold Fusion will disintegrate, melt, annihilate all the planifications, all the predictions, will destroy thousands of billions of investments, by creating other ones, will take the power and give it to others making senseless myriads of pages of regulations and laws. Cold Fusion will redistribute the geopolitical maps, the sociological maps, the demographic, ecological, scientific, academic maps. However this risk, both exciting and terrifying is not taken seriously in consideration by those who could suffer or benefit from to it.
I am not speaking about putting yourself in the position to believe that Cold Fusion really exists (as I do) just simply about protection in the improbable case that cold fusion can be real... as you seek protection against the asteroids, an attack against France’s sovereign debt, or catastrophic climate change by heating/cooling. This simple fact as well as many similar ones seems me to be terrifying blindness. Unfortunately this is a general case that leads me to desperation.
Except of Taleb’s message, this cognitive blindness is also reported closely in the work of two other authors whom I have discovered and this has allowed me to describe formally more exactly what I have observed.
At one side, it was Thomas Kuhn (see a summary in English: [kuhn-sj] ,
and in French: [kuhn-cnam]) who in the “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” explains the incapacity to convince a supporter of an old paradigm. They are unable to see the anomalies in their own paradigm; they cannot take in consideration proofs not supporting their “world”. They are daltonists in a sea of red flags. For Kuhn, that blindness can be brought closer by the cognitive transition observed when viewing the duck-rabbit/ rabbit-duck optical illusion. A proof of accepting a point of view that was Finvisible before.
On the other side, Roland Benabou has presented a numerical model that explains rationally the collective illusions and group-think observed in financial bubbles, in some industrial or financial catastrophes. His model (see: [benabou-delusion] and its appendix “patterns of denial” is based on the observation that humans can ignore the facts for protecting their estimation of richness, rather than their richness. This is produced when the individuals cannot get rid of the negative consequences of a collective delusion by individual lucidity. A mechanism of Mutual Assured Delusion is stabilizing the system by ignorance of the perturbing facts, by a violent brutality against the dissidents and this is increased when the moment of truth is nearing. The delusion trickles down the hierarchical chain.
Despite not being actually cited by Taleb, these two concepts of cognitive blindness i.e. the paradigmatic blindness for Kun and the mutually assured blindness for Benabou, explain how black swans can exist even if the information is public and the probabilities can be easily evaluated.
In a way, this is what we call “an elephant in the room’ i.e. an obvious
fact that everybody refuses to see and it will be a surprise when its existence cannot be more ignored.
Cold Fusion will thus be a black swan, despite the fact that it is known for over 20 years and there are strong signs that it will be industrialized within 3 years. It is an elephant in the room as was the subprime crisis in 2005, the explosion of the Internet bubble in 2000 and others. I will not cite but these all start to make noise in the room of consensual science but it is not understood from where the noise comes. This would seem hilarious but it is tragic.
Concavity, convexity, fragility, robustness and antifragility
Taleb is a trader of derivatives and his profession allows him to understand that some enterprises suffer, while others take profit of surprises. This is the subject of this book that introduces the concept and the word “antifragile” that has not existed till now, describing the systems that take profit of surprises. Among other things, it is very instructive to observe that this word was not used despite the fact that we all know the people, the enterprises, the communities, the animals taking profit of changes, catastrophes, revolutions for developing. Taleb explains that the world is not constrained/ruled by the dictionaries.
He introduces the mathematical concept of convexity/concavity see [taleb-medconvexity] for explaining how the changes can have so different effects on the systems. A convex system will suffer a bit due to some changes but will profit much due to other changes. It will be antifragile and will develop as faster as the world changes and will furnish surprises to it. In contrast, a concave system will take a small profit from some changes and will suffer much due to other changes. It will be fragile. Between the two, there will be the robust systems which are quite linear and of lower interest for us here and now, despite the fact that the theories and planifications of our modern world are based on linear hypotheses.
Taleb explains that the organizations that are based on the predictions for the future are becoming more and more fragile and their gains are diminishing. Thus, the financial institutes using complicated models of risk management, or the industrial installations that are modeling all the possible risks, will perish. At the first surprise, everything collapses. This also happens to all the systems we are trying to keep very stable- humans, economies, machines. All are tending to become instable due to time and the impredictables and the transitions are sudden, unmanageable and the players have no experience for managing them. He also debunks the American central bank; -"I can compare it to our French system that I like but that makes us so fragile.
In opposition, Taleb speaks about the antifragile systems. The living systems are naturally antifragile in reasonable limits. He also explains that the antifragile systems are made of fragile components individually as this allows them to reconfiguration. He also speaks about restaurants, the taxis, the traditional markets, the species, and the civilizations.
I see that here belong also the non-formal economies of the developing countries that cope well with the financial crises.
And now about what concerns cold fusion.
When I have read about the status of the papers around 1993, I was amazed by the fact that cold fusion appears in situations far from equilibrium. And is favorised by changing of its environment. I also have seen that the scientific method is fighting against the changes instead of trying to control them. Cold Fusion will be antifragile in some extent. And the behavior of the academic science was quite fragile. The vision of Kozima is sensitive in a chaotic manner to the parameters has been confirmed...
However, the scientific community of cold fusion seemed to behave quite as an antifragile system due to its variety and the mania of each researcher to add his small personal contribution.
The community disregards the scientific method by not reproducing identical experiments and because the reproductions are not done exactly. This gives to the community of scientists non-planed and non-orthodox a plethora of antifragile behaviors, despite the fact that the individual players are trying desperately to follow their pet theory and to enforce the LENR reaction in a stable environment not convenient to it however helping the building of theory.
An other point, if we follow the model of Thomas Kuhn, is that the science
when it is ‘
“normalised” (as Kuhn defines it) by establishing a convenient paradigm becomes more and more fragile being unable to take profit of its predictions.
A path for creating an antifragile version of cold fusion is called up in the literature. The lack of reproducibility of cold fusion via electrolysis can be controlled by the use of a powder or foam or an other structure as the surface of the Celani wires all these having a variable efficiency depending on the parameters in variable manner.
You even can imagine that the reactive particles might activate in the
aleatory mode the inactive ones or deactivating others. In this frame,
the changes can reactivate a reaction in an ‘antifragile’ logic of control.
The essential will to maintain a variety in the population of particles
Optionality : trial and error is the secret of innovation
Taleb explains that the secret of antifragility is “optionality”. Being a financist, Taleb knows well the concept of financial option, a contract that for a modest price allows you to buy or sell one asset at a given price and that you can use this only when this is advantageous for you...
He explains how this concept can be applied for the choices in life and that we have to search for the kind of situations in which you can gain a lot but you refuse to loss if this does not work.
He also proposes a style of exposition to risks. The goal is to catch the small risks in the form of non-limited improbable gains and modest losses. He recommends avoiding controlled risks because these are never really truly, controlled, just under-estimated. Eventually he advises a mode of life in the form of very solid options (sure savings, a comfortable profession) and those risks without limits to gains but with acceptable losses.
He says that the inventors, the innovators are doing this being given that they are searching using the trial-and-error method, see: [thesis-innov]). For them, the best is to try what is improbable, however not costly for experimenting. He will have many failures, but not so expensive, but also more successes than predicted and these are producing the gains, sometimes quite gigantic ones. He remarks that most of the great scientists are combining a good, quiet profession with speculative researches (Einstein, Lavoisier)
If the research is done by the planed science, this tends to make innovations that are of higher probability even if more expensive. I cannot avoid to think about Hot Fusion (Tokamak, Laser) He is opposed more generally to everything that is too big to fail. And I see a general rejection of big physics in the favor of heterogeneous researches.
He also debunks the centralized public financing that is made to the detriment of the private financing
In opposition, I favor the less expensive research for cold fusion, supporting the Chinese team that is testing the EmDrive of Shaywer, also supporting the tests of fusion by cavitation- but taking care to not lead these on paths with no outlets. The edisonian approach of Rossi should appeal to him also much. He would not be surprised that a major breakthrough was made by an enterprising group of engineers trying to save a bankrupt country, and helping to regain its ancient pride.
His position is joining those of other specialists in innovation as Norbert Alter ([alter-innov-fr])
Lecturing birds how to fly.
Taleb is quite harsh towards the academic world, which according to his point of view tends to believe that the theory is essential for the practice of technologies
For cold fusion, this problem is visible in the contempt of the holders of the great physics toward the practicians of electrochemistry, radiochemistry or more recently toward the inventors or the garage engineers.
I see for cold fusion that the focus on theory in the detriment of acceptance of the experimental facts has done endless harm to the field It has created a pathological inability for the dominant physicists to accept the facts. This has determined the dominant journals to require theoretical positions that can be well supported; therefore the cold fusion physicists are proposing theories that are more or less revolutionary but never flawless and this leads to radicalization of the field. Those who perform experiments with light hydrogen and nickel are still not very popular yet...
It is clear that the most enthusiastic supporters of cold fusion (me too at the start) are falling in the trap to believe that cold fusion would not fly if it is not taught about aerodynamics.
As usual, history has demonstrated that there are the inventors, the men of practice, and the researchers of the field who make the breakthroughs. First, fantastic international class experimenters as Fleischmann, McKubre or Bockris, then came even crazier breakthroughs, the most unimaginable as a stubborn Italian wounded by a legal injustice or Greeks desperate due to the collapse of their country.
History being written by the losers.
During his diatribe against the academic world, Taleb explains how this world manages to re-write the history of innovations for justifying its dominance, as well as the ruling of theory opposing to the true practicians. He gives diverse examples as the calculus of the financial options, but also the aircraft reactors. The list can be completed with the semiconductors, the airplanes and the nuclear reactors.
Each time the official history tries to convince us that inventions are due to some theoretical breakthroughs. It also tries to hide the importance of filthy harassments, of the insults, the ridiculous debates and retro-actively tries to disseminate doubts regarding the competence and the rigurosity of the true inventors, as well as regarding the importance of their discoveries.
I have met such re-writings of the history in France at the sites of scientific information regarding Dan Schechtman. For cold fusion, it seems that the movie “The Believers” was prepared for accusing Fleischmann and other researchers of their lack of scientific rigor thus promoting the unjustified skepticism. The manner in which the history of the Wright brothers is re-written is also edifying.
I am waiting now to see how, after a period of ridiculous denying and desperate terror against the last hour dissidents, the academic scientific media (SciAm, La Recherche, Nature, Futura-Science) are inventing a hilarious story for us, explaining how an academic laboratory has discovered a means to prove cold fusion and to commercialize it, despite the lamentable work of the laughable pioneers and some incompetent people from the industry.
Less is more
A key concept of the vision of Taleb is that information is not beneficial, because it hides the facts. Information gives a fallacious confidence in the modelisation of the future; the future will be so more surprising as the model is more precise. I recall the subject of finance and a controversial scientific subject for which I heard the expression of “a precisely false model”. This concept is telling me so much more because I have optimized the calculus for such models (this explains why Taleb is not surprising me)
The conclusion of this that we must not try to understand and modelise but we have to conceive a system which adapts, re-organizes, despite or due to the impredictibles. The simple phenomenological models with good security margins are preferable to models based on full physics. These aesthetical models unfortunately calculable too, are responsible for many great errors very difficult to accept considering the huge investments made.
This is a vision that could inspire the innovators in cold fusion, and make them less shy due to the absence of a theory. Probably it has to be predicted how to adapt to the uncertainty of the reaction and to take profit from changes by using dynamic methods of control- ruling.
Taleb also describes an other useful method for predicting the future. He affirms that the predictions of the future announcing new things are never realized. Contradicting him, what can be predicted is the disappearance of the unpleasant characteristics. It also can be predicted the disappearance of the telephone wire, of the fuels and the toxic gases from the car, of the annoying work, of commuting, of unpleasant shopping, of airports, railway stations and railways, of the roads for cars, of noise. How ? It is not known but I am sure it can be done, it will be done. The rest is a black swan and this tells us that within 20 years an EmDrive fed by an LENR reactor with direct thermodynamic conversion in a light backpack will allow us to walk or fly peacefully with our friends. Or to Tibet being protected against rain by a field of forces not imaginably yet today.
For predicting the future what will be changed by cold fusion, it has to be understood that cold fusion can REMOVE : the smoke of automobiles, the stoves, the high tension electric lines, the pumps, the railway stations, the cars that are dangerous for the children in the town for the bikes in the country, the connections to the electrical grid, to the pipes of natural gas, to drinking water, to the wires of heaters, to the credit cards, the TV, the chargers of the phones, the PCs.
The Lindy Effect
Add to this a complementary heuristics the Lindy Effect that says that the antifragile species, the inventions have a life expectation equal with their age. If these have survived, this is because they have good reasons and are resistant to the changes. If it is ancient as the shoe probably it will last still very long time. If it is younger that the piano it will not live so long. It can be estimated that the car, the airplane, the telephone will persist. The outlet to electrical current even if it seems it will disappear, actually can survive for longer time than we imagine.
Taleb thus gives here a methodology for predicting the future complementing other approaches.
Skin in the game.
Taleb also presents an other interesting concept, the necessity that the risk takers should suffer for their errors. The Hammurabi code says that if a house collapses and kills its owner, the builder of the house should be sentenced to death. We need to enforce skin in the game for “evil antifragile” executives who are able to rebound fallen enterprises to fragilize new enterprises. "
For connecting the risk taking to reality it is necessary, but not sufficient that those who are fragilizing the system should be severely punished if their confidence is destroying the system. Read [skin-proj]).
For connecting the risk taking to reality it is necessary, but not sufficient that those who are fragilizing the system should be severely punished if their confidence is destroying the system. Read [skin-proj]).
In cold fusion, the players are many times heavily investing and are paying a high price for their dissent. The problem is- I cannot see how most of them will benefit from the development of cold fusion. What’s even worse knowing the behavior of the academic world, I suspect that they will be buried in order to hide the tragedy to the public for the benefit to some good mannerd and conveniently conformist academician.
Some of the players as Huizenga and Shanahan who have spoken in public perhaps are risking some penalty. But in the same style as the bankers they will be saved from failure by the academic world and buried -really- with discretion and comfort-as if they have been lived a life of glory. We can thus state the antifragility of the academic world that profits both from the true and the false, as long it is consensus. The committees of lecture and those of financing, of giving prizes are feeding themselves well despite the reality. Contrary to this, there is nothing real that pushes/motivates indeed the researchers to risk their careers confronting an academic world with a closed ranking that blocks the reality as long as it is possible, that is- till an application can be developed and sold. Only irrationality can save the system as some imperfect calculations similar to the error of Christopher Columb. I can imagine that the heros of cold fusion have imagined that the way will be much shorter and they will be crowned with glory
Eventually we have the people from industry and the inventors who put their skin to risk by losses but who also can have big gains.
. It is therefore logical that that progress can happen and reality will prevail. They have no income to support a consensual myth as the academic world, and no interest in hiding a fruitful reality.They have no incentive to support a consensual myth as the academic world"
Taleb’s book is 10 times more richer in content than the few pointa shown
here, however it can be already seen that the history of cold fusion gets its
obvious and natural sense in this frame:
It can be already predicted for the near future:
- a re-writing of the history for blaming the pioneers and recompensating some conventional academician - using cold fusion for making some useless or harmful elements as the fuels and pollution to disappear;
- unimaginable innovations, not the usual myths.
Please do not hesitate to use Google Translate and/or Bing translation for the French and the English texts
· [antifragile-wsj] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323353204578128872051100906.html
· [antifragile-continuations] http://continuations.com/post/51065634453/antifragile-by-nassim-taleb-book-review
· [antifragile-nytimes] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/books/antifragile-by-nassim-nicholas-taleb.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
· [antifragile-dunbar] http://www.nickdunbar.net/articles-and-reviews/book-review-antifragile/
· [kuhn-sj] http://fr.slideshare.net/sandhyajohnson/the-structure-of-scientific-revolutions-thomas-kuhn-book-summary
· [kuhn-cnam] (fr) http://www.cnam.fr/servlet/com.univ.collaboratif.utils.LectureFichiergw?ID_FICHIER=1295877018064
· [canard-lapin] (fr) http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canard-lapin (en) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit%E2%80%93duck_illusion
· [benabou-delusion] http://www.princeton.edu/~rbenabou/papers/Groupthink%20IOM%202012_07_02%20BW.pdf
· [taleb-medconvexity] http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/medconvex
· [thesis-innov] http://fr.slideshare.net/hervelegenvre/thesis-history-of-inventors
· [alter-innov-fr] (fr) http://www.cnam.fr/servlet/com.univ.collaboratif.utils.LectureFichiergw?ID_FICHIER=1295877017789
· [skin-proj] (fr)http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/improving-managers--incentives-by-nassim-nicholas-taleb/french (en) http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/improving-managers--incentives-by-nassim-nicholas-taleb