Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in the non-fictional resource, entitled The Black Swan The Impact of the HIGHLY IMPROBABLE, renders a philosophical account of his thoughts on the fine art of probability. In his introduction he explains his use of the metaphorical Black Swan and not the White Swan; while outlining the concepts of Mediocristan and Extremistan. In the first part he continues to explore how we seek validation in what we say and do by bringing forth the concepts of the narrative fallacy, the ludic fallacy and concludes that in general focusing can …”make you a sucker; it translates into prediction problems…. Prediction, not narration, is the real test of our understanding of the world.”

In Part two, Taleb illustrates how we just can’t predict by documenting the scandals of prediction and proposes what can be done if we cannot predict. He summarizes this section on prediction by stating: “..we can easily narrow down the reasons we can’t figure out what’s going on….a) epistemic arrogance and our corresponding future blindness; b) the Platonic notion of categories, or how people are fooled by reductions, particularly if they have an academic degree in an expert-free discipline; and, finally c) flawed tools of inference, particularly the Black Swan-free tools from Mediocristan.”

Part Three uncovers those Grey Swans of Extremistan. He challenges the use of the Bell Curve by proving it as an intellectual fraud. Here Taleb delves into the deep mathematical models with explanations of the aesthetics of randomness and the uncertainty of the phony. In the conclusion of Part Three, Taleb states: “by reiterating that my antidote to Black Swans is precisely to be noncommoditized in my thinking. But beyond avoiding being a sucker, this attitude lends itself to a protocol of how to act—not how to think, but how to convert knowledge into action and figure out what knowledge is worth.”

Taleb ends with the following thought: “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 of your being born; the huge planet would be the odds against it. So stop sweating he 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 that you are a Black Swan.”

Taleb has a conversational writing style; throughout my reading, I felt Taleb was next to me having a discussion on the various concepts that he put forth in this philosophical resource. He would bring in both sides of the argument and illustrate with many, many examples the probability and the highly improbability of certain actions and situations that we live through.

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