UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXLIII: November 22, 2010, 7:00 p.m.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb,
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
(New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2010). Originallypublished 2007.
Taleb is a self-proclaimed"skeptical empiricist" (2), but he believeshe knows that "our world is dominated bythe extreme, the unknown, and the veryimprobable" (xxxii)—in other words, thatwe live in what he dubs "Extremistan."No one really knows what is going on.People believe otherwise because we"fall for the confirmation error" (85).]
Note to the Second Edition.
Inaddition to a long "Postscript essay," onlya few footnotes have been updated "topreserve the integrity of the original text"(xix).
A Black Swan (capitalized) isan event that (1) is an
, (2) it"carries an extreme impact," and (3) isexplained retrospectively (xxi-xxiii)."Black Swan logic makes
what you don't know
far more relevant than what you doknow" (xxiii). History cannot bepredicted; what is surprising is ourblindness to this fact (xxiv-xv). Ourminds seem ill adapted to learning this(xxv-xxvii). Silent heroes areunrecognized and made to feel useless(xxvii-xxviii). Taleb is not interested inthe usual—this is "often irrelevant"(xxix).
is the tendency tomistake the map for the territory (xxix-xxx). To make his anti-narrativeargument, "this book is a story" (xxxi).
PART ONE: UMBERTO ECO'SANTILIBRARY, OR HOW WE SEEK VALIDATION.Ch. 1: The Apprenticeship of anEmpirical Skeptic.
Autobiographical (3-8). Witnessing the Lebanese civil warschooled Taleb in unpredictability (8-10).Interested in the philosophy of history,William Shirer's
(1941)taught him the most, because itportrayed events
as they happened,
providing "a training course in thedynamics of uncertainty" (14; 10-14).Information increases one's likelihood of mistakes: "avoid the newspapers" (17;14-17). Studying at the Wharton Schoolconvinced Taleb that no one "know[s]what is going on"; he experienced "BlackMonday" (Oct. 19, 1987) as a vindicationof his ideas (17; 17-22).
Ch. 2: Yevgenia's Black Swan.
A tale(invented) of a surprise bestseller; Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova, whoappears in the index is a transparent
for the author (23-25).
Ch. 3: The Speculator and theProstitute.
Just as in some categoriesthere are wide variations (Extremistan,e.g. personal wealth) and in others thereare not (Mediocristan, e.g. body weight),so some realms of paid activity are"scalable"—are not dependent on timeworked—e.g. trading, and others are(prostitution) (26-34). It is in Extremistanthat "we are subjected to the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen,and the unpredicted" (35; 25-37).
Ch. 4: One Thousand and One Days,or How Not to Be a Sucker.
Theproblem of induction; its history (Hume,Sextus Empiricus, Algazel) (38-50).
Ch. 5: Confirmation Shmonfirmation!
Though a Popperian search forfalsification is the best approach forlearning about the world, we have built-incognitive biases that deter us from usingit (51-61).
Ch. 6: The Narrative Fallacy.
Humansare inclined to a "narrative fallacy" that