Anti-Fragile

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By Dr. Peter D’Adamo

At the Center of Excellence I teach a series of classes in “Generative Medicine,” a specialty that resulted from my work with computers and networks. In the class our focus is primarily biochemical and genetic networks, but in fact, networks surround us. From our friends on social media, to our family support systems, most relationships, however direct they may appear, are in fact webs of connections, interdependent upon one another.

Networks experience, gauge, and react. A cellular network might control how a microbe responds to a change in its environment, say a drop in its nutrient supply. The microbe might, for example, alter its gene expression to make a new protein that allows it to change its movement pattern and perhaps explore a different location. Our brain’s neural network processes inputs from our senses and converts the information into thought patterns that might put a grin on our face when a loved one comes into sight.

Networks can respond in ways that are robust or fragile. A robust network can handle disruption, whilst a fragile network might break down under the strain. For example, as I write this I am connected via my internet provider to the World Wide Web. If my connection to the web breaks down, perhaps due to some problem, I will simply be connected to another router somewhere else. It all happens so fast, chances are I would not even notice it. The web network is robust.

On the other hand, we have the electrical grid. Unfortunately, chances are that if a power station somewhere on the Saint Lawrence River goes out not only I, but probably a large chunk of the east coast, will go dark. The electrical grid is fragile.

These thoughts make me marvel at our little BTD community, because we are a network too. We network on the www.dadamo.com message boards, the blogs, and the myriad of Facebook groups, supporting each other, often in the face of apathy or hostility from friends, family and others. You don’t have to search the internet long to find an article that is dismissive of this theory. I used to take this very personally, but I’ve grown to realize that it comes with the turf. When something gets big enough, it become a logical target for those who need a forum or set of ears and unfortunately, it seems that in the field of nutrition an awful lot of of the time this is accomplished by criticizing different ways of doing things.

Perhaps it is because I rarely have a moment to spare, or maybe it’s just my nature, but I’ve never been drawn to this type of writing, and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out whats wrong with other nutrition theories. My feeling is ‘whatever works is great.’ If it turns out that it’s the BTD, that’s terrific. If it’s something else, I’m happy for you.

But I do marvel at the resilience of our little community. Perhaps it is just the disconnect that comes from personally having a positive result with diet, and being forced to read an article trying very hard to convince you that it’s useless and can’t possibly work, but I am routinely heartened by the rise that these types of articles engender. I’m not much for debating people on blogs and do not as a rule comment on negative articles, but I am so proud of how the members of our network who do engage and post somehow manage to comport themselves with such dignity and equanimity.

The economist Naseem Taleb has identified what he believes is a third type of network response. He terms it “anti-fragility.” Unlike robustness which characterizes a network when it can handle disruption, and fragility when it can’t, anti-fragile networks actuality get stronger from the disruption. For example, this occurs when we exercise. It also seems to me to be a characteristic of the BTD network.

I once was meeting with a patient, and as I usually do, I asked him how he had heard of me. He answered by citing a newspaper article which I knew in fact was extraordinarily negative about the BTD. When I asked him what he thought about the article, he answered that his sister had had such wonderful results with the program, but he had never gotten the name of the book from her! The article has simply served to give him a way to find me. He was grateful for that.

And so was I.