Antifragile plates

. 2 min read

What do you think happens to a china plate if you drop it on the floor? Does it split into two? Does it shatter into a million pieces? Does it get damaged in any way at all?

One of the more interesting things I learned in one spesific class during my studies in the university was that if you drop a china plate onto the floor, and it doesn't break, it has actually become stronger in the drop. If you're not a microphysicist, this might sound counter-intuitive. Let me explain.

The plate is made of atoms, organized in chains and sheets, packed tightly together in an orderly fashion. If the plate hits something, so that the something exerts a force onto the plate, the organized, packed sheets slide a little bit, so they're less in order than before - creating a grain boundary. If the force is large enough, the plate slides so much that the atoms lose their bond and the plate splits into pieces. But if the plate does not break, and the sheets have slided only a little bit, future cracks have a harder time growing bigger when there's constantly either no way to go (a slided sheet), or too many ways to go (multiple sheets meeting at a point). (That's why you can stop a crack in the windshield by making a round hole at the end of the crack - a circle has, by definition, an infinite points on its circumference, and thus an infinite number of ways for the crack to go to, none easier to exploit than another, making the developing crack come to a halt.)

So, in a way, the unbroken plates are antifragile: what did't kill them made them stronger.

Since every event in nature always has a double meaning with respect to psychology and philosophy and personal development, it's quite obvious that people can behave like china plates as well. (Or china cups, of china vases). Some people grow stronger when facing adversity. Some people break into pieces immediately. Some people are plastic plates - they don't break, but they don't grow stronger, either. Some people are champagne glasses - fancy, yet easily shattered.

What piece of tableware are you?