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-

32 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!

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  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.

    Liked by 1 person

    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! 🙂

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      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).

    Liked by 1 person

    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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      1. In other words we live from statistics and consistent with statistics …

        “Without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live” – Friedrich Nietzsche

        No doubt you’ve already read Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, but you might also be interested in this.

        Curtis’ attempts to blame RD Laing for the DSM are laughable and his claim that game theory is built on the paranoid delusions of John Nash is risible but overall his documentary makes some strong points about the metrification of society.

        Liked by 1 person

  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. ..:)

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      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.

        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “Now, how do we reconcile the idea of providence with that of personal free will?”
        Well, I do not think I’m the only human on the Earth who has often wondered if, without the divine ban, Eve would have bitten the forbidden “apple”?
        Probably not, definitely not! This fact it proves brilliantly that an imposed happiness is less than a chosen misfortune! :)…Interesting comment, thank you! 🙂

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      3. Yeah, but that, the traditionalists will say, is only half the story. I’m thinking of “felix culpa” the happy sin. 😊

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_culpa

        I must admit, however, that I often wonder why God created a world where people behave so badly and animals eat one another. Jung, whom I see you are interested in, had a similar thought.

        But Jung IMO falls short with his “Answer to Job.” (You might want to check that out if by chance you haven’t yet). 💜💙💛🙂

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  5. Taleb’s book was quite thought-provoking.
    Bell-curve? It does have its benefits. Particularly when you want to make decisions on majorities. But outliers are precious too. I used to have a market research firm. Worked for all the big accounts, Coke, L’Oréal, P&G, etc. And I tried to focus on extremes. Not averages or means (P&G does that and they’re wrong) Top 2 or bottom 2 on a five point-scale. That’s where the interesting answers come from.
    I also “developed” the concept of a “sample of 1”. If one person says something, we don’t know whether s/he represents a majority or a minority, what we know, statistically is that this person “represents” many others, hundreds? Thousands? Millions?
    So let’s listen to the individual voice.
    Thanks for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bell curves or Gauss’s bell really has a great application, but ultimately, it is a calculation of probabilities. Theoretically, any event is more or less likely to happen … 🙂 Psychology, (and the other social sciences) in particular, are fully used by the Gaussian distribution, doing research and research (on samples of individuals more or less compact, or even students of psychology .. :)))) using all kinds of variables: dependent and independent, continuous and discrete, quantitative and qualitative, physical and non-physical, etc ….often highlighting bizarre statistics. Or, we both know that in order to get an ideal shape curve you need to have a large sample, the larger the better. I think Taleb has managed to emphasize in his books what he calls the “very unlikely impact” … focusing on the extreme impact of very rare, unpredictable events and the human tendency to find explanations of the most simplistic for these events. … A small group of “Black Swans – unpredictable events” or “Rara Avis” as the Romans have called them, explains everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions to the dynamics of historical events to elements of our personal life. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank YOU. Agree with you wholeheartedly. One may also look at it as the “two standard-deviations (away from the mean) effect”.
        It seems to me we are in dire need of black swans right now. 🙂
        I might pull Taleb’s book of the shelf again. (Go to the executive summary if there is one, can’t remember)
        Merci à toi chère amie. Have a great week-end.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, and on the subject of bell curves, I don’t know what your experience has been, but in Social sciences (Of which I consider consumer research to be a part of) I’ve practically never found a true bell curve. More skewed curves to the left or to the right. Or two-peak curves. Those happen too.

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      3. I’ve practically never found a true bell curve. More skewed curves to the left or to the right. Or two-peak curves. Those happen too.

        They’re often the most interesting. For example, collect a bunch of trial results for meta-analysis, plot your outcome effect size on X and sample size on Y. As the results should be randomly distributed around the ‘true effect’, but with the larger samples generally getting more accurate results, you should end up with a symmetrical scattergram in the shape of that ol’ bell. If you get one noticeably skewed towards ‘positive’ effects it suggests the data has been gamed, perhaps by discarding trials with unfavourable results. But hey, market researchers probably know that as well as anyone, right? Gamed data must be an occupational hazard.

        Maths is a toolbox that we now use extensively to shape our society for better or worse, but only poor artisans blame their tools for poor results.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Thanks for your comment. Now, skewed do not necessarily gamed. (At least not in my agency!) 😉 What often happens in Market research is that a majority of respondents agree. (Top two box on a 5 point scale). Hence the skew. Or take “Importance” of a brand attribute. Most attributes are important. DIfficult to… identify the most important. What you do is use an unbalanced 7 point scale of importance with more important points than not important. Which allows you to identify the most-most important. And produces a skewed curve.
        Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I wasn’t suggesting a skewed curve always means gamed data. It obviously depends on what you’re plotting. But you could use similar techniques to spot granular bias in polling methods that would highlight data that’s deliberately or unintentionally skewed, so I assumed you’d be using something like it.

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      6. Depends on the fieldwork quality. And a good questionnaire. There are many easy ways to sk(r)ew the data from the questionnaire. No medium point in the scale for instance. It all starts there. Questionnaire and field. Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Depends on the fieldwork quality. And a good questionnaire. There are many easy ways to sk(r)ew the data from the questionnaire.

        I’m sure. I especially like the ones designed to change the data they’re ostensibly collecting (push polls or promos masquerading as surveys).

        Have you ever seen the Peter Cook movie The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer? A must see for demographic researchers if you ask me (and fans of Tony Blair). Shows you how to prove the majority of Britons are Zen Buddhists (with a little help from John Cleese and Ronnie Corbett).

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