What will remain for 100 years of the city or city where you were born: Which landmarks or buildings? What about 500 years? The controversial author Nassim Nicholas Taleb offers a counter-intuitive rule of thumb to answer questions like this. If you want to know how long something unfavorable will endure – that is, something that is not subject to the limits of a natural lifetime – then the first question you need to ask is how long it has already existed. The older it is, the more likely it is to survive.
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Take my hometown, London. If I want to bet on which of its buildings will still stand a few centuries from now, Taleb's rule of thumb suggests that I should begin with the very oldest. For 941 years, in the heart of the Tower of London, it is a great choice, closely followed by Merton Priory in southern London, which has also made it over 900. London's oldest cemetery, St. Bartholomew's Church, Great in Smithfield, has also proved quite tough: parts of it date back 896 years.
The logic of Taleb's argument is simple. Because the only judge that matters when it comes to the future is time, our only truly reliable technique to look forward is to ask what has already proven to be persistent: what has shown fitness and resilience over time Survival, survive its shocks and assaults for decades, centuries, or millennia. The Tower of London may seem modest to the Shard skyscraper – sitting across the Thames 11 times the height – but it has also proved to remain power over 94 times as many years. Shard can be iconic and impressive, but its place in history is far from guaranteed. When it comes to time, the older building wakes up.
Taleb's favorite name for this thinking is the Lindy effect, for impeccably eccentric historical reasons. In June 1964, the American writer, Albert Goldman, published an article titled "Lindy's Law" in The New Republic magazine, presenting "cautionary" of showbiz talks in Lindy's delicacies in New York. It was here that the in-the-know comedians gathered to discuss their peers' probable resident strength. If someone overloaded themselves by using their material in a brief outbreak of activity, the argumentation went, their career would soon be over. But if they played the long game and made fewer but more effective looks, this conservation of resources can see them endure for decades in the industry.
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Taleb has greatly expanded this anecdotal insight. "Things that have been around for a long time are not as aging as people, but aging in the opposite," he writes in his 2012 book Antifragile: Things, "Every year that goes without extinction doubles the extra lifetime."
A book that has been in print for half a century claims he can expect to be printed for half a century more. It has gained another 10 years, however, its expected life expectancy is much higher, every second year telling us something that the prognosis cannot do, thanks to an opaque array of mixed causes this volume has still found an audience – and its Ability to continue making it deserves more respect than the hundreds of thousands of copies of brand new book sold last year.
Consider London's buildings again, subject to the same wear resistance as anything else on Earth : They can be tough, but they can't stay in good stand without human support. And that is precisely why the Lindy effect is so useful when it comes to understanding them. The longer something has shown, the more significant and symbolic meaning it has the cause – and the more tests of function and fashion it has gone. The modern city of London, like most cities with hundreds of years of history, bends and wraps around its monuments. For centuries, fortune and fortune have attached them to the city's identity. Within days of the fire in the 800-year-old cathedral in Notre-Dame de Paris earlier this year, the surveillance world had promised over one billion euros to finance the reconstruction. It is unlikely that Shard would have commanded the same answer.
The strength of the Lindy effect – and the relationship between architecture and culture – can also be seen in the efforts of those who want to remove something old. Over the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has destroyed huge amounts of its ancient heritage in order to accommodate both the huge number of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca and the ultra conservative Wahhabi ideology of its ruler. Much of the country's culture and heritage is treated as a threat to this ideology, perhaps because the things that have lasted for centuries can create more complex and lasting loyalty than absolute domination is familiar with.
Lots of terrible methods have a terrible force for those rooted in the darkest parts of human nature
It is a situation in parallel with modern China's rage and purification of its cities in the name of modernity and ideological purity – a strategy that has been reversed in recent years with devastating eagerness to Muslim citizens. The Lindy effect marks a deep threat and fronts those who want to sweep the complexity and the unreservedness of our relationship with the past. And it indicates the importance of using as your destruction tool something else at least as old and atavistic.
At this point, fitness in the evolutionary sense – that which has proved worthwhile and adaptability of survival – may seem to conflict with one of the basic principles of reasoned reasoning. If you cannot give reasons for something, it is not reasonable to believe it and say "things have been like this for a long time", it is certainly not a good reason to continue doing something. Nevertheless, it is only a problem if we confuse "good" grounds in the form of strong grounds with "good" reasons in the form of commendable or ethically desirable. Lots of terrible practices have a terrible force for those rooted in the darkest parts of human nature: slavery, murder, rape, fanaticism. The darkest human crimes are also the oldest certificates – and it is for this reason that any effort to alleviate and move beyond them must also be anchored in a close reading of history.
Lindy is one half of Taleb's toolkit to think about the future. The other half is just as important: fragility. Something is fragile when, instead of adapting and surviving, it breaks into pieces at its first major shock. In the evolutionary system of things, individual beings are terribly fragile – but this fragility serves the greater robustness of their kind. The varied and competing existence of perishable individuals ensures adaptation and renewal from generation to generation, as much as the vast variety of life as a whole on this planet has ensured some survivors of even the most disastrous events.
When it comes to human creations – buildings, objects, ideas – there is a similar adaptive redundancy in play. Even the toughest buildings are fragile in things for larger reasons. But the emotions and ideas that lead us to admire, maintain and imitate a handful of them are robust. (Read more: How to build something that lasts 10,000 years.)
Similarly, while individual artifacts may be fragile, their lineage is likely to continue if they serve and extend deeply rooted needs. Therefore, the innovator's twin schemes are: "What major problem does it solve?" And "how does life easier?" If you can't answer one of these questions about something new – if you can't somehow connect the temporary to the timeless – it might make sense to wait instead of betting the yard.
The future is the pieces of the past that have evolved and endured, minus those parts of the present that are most likely to break and crumble
If you want to think about the future of fragility and robustness, you can outline a kind equation based on the above. The future is the pieces of the past that have evolved and endured, minus those parts of the present that are most likely to break and crumble. And this is where we should see if we hope to make predictions that matter: in the twins of the times of adaptivity and inadequacy. As the author Ursula Le Guin once said, if you want to understand what is persistent, you are better off exploring myths' capabilities than fine-tuning current rows. "True myth can serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The false is."
The hot new trend, the next great things? No matter how big it gets, it will almost certainly not last. Few things do. In the end, do nothing. But some phenomena show extraordinary resilience. And the old battlefield these have faded into us and our cultures – between distress and desire, love and hatred, freedom and seriousness – is where the real action will always lie.
When you see at present, almost everything you see is noise. In the long view, it only amounts to distraction. To bastardise a famous quote by the author William Gibson: The future is already here, but the most important parts of it have happened long ago.
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