Robustness and second order effects

One smart thing to do is to get prepared for big deviations.


Photo by Jackson Hendry on Unsplash

Something to be mindful about in life is that A leads to B, but B leads to C, which leads to D. In other words, A has second, third, fourth, etc. order effects. The deeper the effects chain you're able to predict, the better decisions you'll make on the surface level (A). In theory.

You'll soon realize, though, that the deeper the level (C, D, E...), the more uncertain about the effect you get. Meaning, if you have ~80% certainty that A will lead to B, you'll have ~50% certainty that B will lead to C, and so on. Simply because there's an inherent uncertainty passed down the chain, coming from the ever-increasing complexity of the world we live in.

Usually, going deeper than C gets pretty unreliable. And quite frankly, dangerous. You'll eventually get your predictions wrong. Often A leads to B, and B leads to K or C^10 (nonlinear side-effect).

In practice, considering effects deeper than level C is rarely needed nor advised.

In its essence, it's all guesswork. You could be quite certain that lowering your caloric intake will make you leaner (A → B is the easy part), but what getting leaner will lead to (B → C) is not that obvious. Could it be more chicks in your life? Or could it make you more prone to diseases? What those will lead to? We could only guess.

And because we could only guess, we need a better toolset to cope with uncertainty.

One smart thing to do is to get prepared for big deviations. What that means is a) you don't make yourself more fragile than you are now, and b) you try to make yourself more robust than usual.

You don't need to know what exactly will happen to you when you get old, say 70. But you know that building muscles now will help you stand up from the toilet by yourself, without the need for your grandchildren to assist you. In a way, you'll be more robust to the effect of getting old.

So, you do everything you can now to make your life easier then. You build muscle. You do cardio work. You keep your brain busy and not allow it to atrophy. Things like that.

Also, you roughly know that you won't be as productive at 70 as you're now, in your thirties. So, another smart move would be to set some money aside for when you're unable to work. Or even better - try to invest a percentage of your income and leverage the compounding features of ETFs, for example, and afford a vacation or two to some exotic destination every year.

Generally speaking, you don't care about the concrete effect, you mostly care about the ways to prevent yourself from its negative consequences and gain from its positive ones. And you invest in these properties of your existence. You constantly ask yourself: "What can I do now to make myself more robust?"

In a sense, your only job now is to find a way to make the second, third, and so on order effects irrelevant (when those are negative) or catalytic (when those are positive) to your flourishing.

Focus on that and cut the guesswork.