The Black Swan….

Europeans once thought all swans were white. “White” was part of how they defined “swan.” Then black swans were discovered, and the definition changed forever.

Almost everything in social life is produced by rare but consequential shocks and jumps. All the while, almost everything studied about social life focuses on the “normal,” particularly with “bell curve” methods of inference that tell you close to nothing.
Why? Because the bell curve ignores large deviations, cannot handle them, and yet makes us confident that we have tamed uncertainty.
(The Great Intellectual Fraud)
Living on our planet, today, requiers a lot more imagination that we are made to have. We lack imagination and repress it in others. We like stories, we like to summarize, and we like to simplify, to reduce the dimension of matters. The fallacy is associated with our vulnerability to over-interpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. We, members of the human variety of primates, have a hunger for rules because we need to reduce the dimension of matters so they can get into our heads. Or, rather sadly, so we can squeeze them into our heads. Unlike art, the purpose of science is to get to the truth, and not to give you a feeling of organisation, or make you feel better. Unfortunately, we tend to use knowledge as therapy. We live in the antechamber of hope, having the illusion of control over the world and reality. We focus on preselected segments of the seen and generalize it to be the unseen, having the error of confirmation. As much as it is ingrained in our habits and conventional wisdom, confirmation can be a dangerous error.
All this philosophy of induction, all these problems about knowledge, all these wild opportunites and scary possible losses, falls in front of the following metaphysical consideration. We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, and a chance occurrence of monstrous proportions. Imagine a speck of dust next to a planet a billion times the size of the earth. The speck of dust represents the odds in favor your being born. The huge planet would be the odds against it. So, stop sweating the small stuff! Don’t be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present, and worried about the mildew in the bathroom, stop looking the gift horse in the mouth!
Remember: you are not a horse you are a black swan, a very rare and remarkable event!
Nobody knows anything!

(A small analysis of Nassim Nicholas Taleb -The Black Swan)

Author: mydoina

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakes. -Carl Gustav Jung-

16 thoughts on “The Black Swan….”

  1. Hmmmm… your contradictions are so very interesting! You wrote, “We lack imagination and repress it in others.” But, you, my dear Black Swan, are indeed imaginative! And I doubt you seek to repress it in others! Yes, use your imagination – and keep sharing with an encouraging tone. You have a lot to give!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The bell curve is a representation of equilibrium. I do try to appreciate that equilibrium provides me the resources to launch my exploration of possibilities not encompassed by the parameters used to maintain the equilibrium. After all, if I had shown up in the Jurassic, I would have been eaten before lunch.

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    1. Haha, that is very good! Though, I’d rather try to avoid being the breakfast…
      I think true balance is something we experience deep inside. It can be achieved only when we are confident with our choices. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Confident with our choices” – Ah, there’s the rub, and I think the essential point of the “black swan” metaphor. Social convention (that maintains equilibrium) also conditions us to ignore possibilities – even those that are natural to us. When we pursue behaviors that are unnatural, a “this doesn’t feel right” reaction arises that undermines our confidence.

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  3. The Black Swan is one of the many books that have been on my reading list for over a decade without finding its way onto my bedside table, so I can’t really comment on your analysis of Taleb’s work, but I’ve gotta disagree with this:

    Almost everything in social life is produced by rare but consequential shocks and jumps. All the while, almost everything studied about social life focuses on the “normal,” particularly with “bell curve” methods of inference that tell you close to nothing.
    Why? Because the bell curve ignores large deviations, cannot handle them, and yet makes us confident that we have tamed uncertainty.

    Yeah, bell curves are routinely abused by psychologists, sociologists, politicians, educators and others (and not all the abusers are named ‘Murray’ or ‘Herrnstein’) but that doesn’t invalidate them as tools for analysis or insight.

    Take a look at a bell curve and two salient things immediately leap out at you. The big hump in the middle you can use for generalisations and the two ends trailing off into infinity to tell you you’re not getting the full picture. It’s a powerful tool if you’re mindful of its epistemological limitations, especially in regards to complex systems (e.g. people).

    I agree that the problem is our need for certainty and (especially) uniformity. I disagree that it’s built into our statistical methods and their graphical representations (though they are often used that way).

    (From a ‘black swan’ – i.e. an Australian Aborigine).

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    1. I liked Nassim Taleb’s book, what I wrote about it is absolutely minimal, I recommend you read it …. 🙂 I agree with you, the “bell curve” is a method overabused and used especially in the social sciences but perhaps also in the economy, which certainly shows our unanimous tendency towards linear thinking in favor of the non-linear one, in my opinion … In other words we live from statistics and consistent with statistics …In an age intoxicated by methods in 10 steps to achieving success, from workshops held by all sorts of parrots that deliriously recite texts taken from books that teach you how to maximize your potential, it has become a shame for one not to have reached the peaks of glory … :))Thanks for your analysis, I liked it! 🙂

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  4. Thought-provoking but I don’t believe in chance… just another human concept, I would say. 🙂

    re:

    We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, and a chance occurrence of monstrous proportions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The fact that life has developed here on this planet depends on the necessary conditions and maybe even a bit of luck, I would say … Of course, if we take into account our daily decisions, then the “chance” factor is declining … And yet, talent and work are conditions of success, but not the only ones, and not enough and not even indispensable.There is also the “luck” factor, a category that includes the genetic lottery (aesthetic aspect and IQ), the education received, the city / country in which you were born, even the phonetic resonance of the name you carry … but all of this , maybe in another article … Thanks for stopping by. ..:)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for replying with a thought-provoking comment! I guess I was hinting at the idea of providence instead of luck–i.e. God’s will.

        Now, how do we reconcile the idea of providence with that of personal free will?

        Some theologians say we are free to choose but God knows in advance how we will choose. This seems a bit weak to me because it is framed in the idea of linear time, which arguably is a human perception.

        Your comment reminds me of the infinite, eternal mystery we are dealing with. But again, I would rather admit to not fully understanding an infinite, eternal mystery instead of pegging it with the term “luck,” which to me does have connotations requiring deconstruction/examination–e.g. randomness, chance.

        🙂

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