Much, much more than the author of The Black Swan
This Post for Learning from Dogs was inspired by a simple email. An email sent out automatically by Facebook inviting me to join a group committed to holding the Nobel prize in Economics accountably for the crisis.
That intrigued me. Like thousands of others I had previously read The Black Swan, a book The Times newspaper describes as ” as one of the 12 most influential books since World War II”.
Wikipedia has a thorough description of Taleb much recommended if you have 10 minutes to read it.
He spilt the tea – bear with me; this is important – while grabbing at his BlackBerry. He was agitated, reading every incoming e-mail, because the Indian consulate in New York had held on to his passport and he needed it to fly to Bermuda. People were being mobilised in New York and, for some reason, France, to get the passport.
The important thing is this: the lost passport and the spilt tea were black swans, bad birds that are always lurking, just out of sight, to catch you unawares and wreck your plans. Sometimes, however, they are good birds. The recorders cost $20 less than the marked price owing to a labelling screw-up at Circuit City. Stuff happens. The world is random, intrinsically unknowable. “You will never,” he says, “be able to control randomness.”
To explain: black swans were discovered in Australia. Before that, any reasonable person could assume the all-swans-are-white theory was unassailable. But the sight of just one black swan detonated that theory. Every theory we have about the human world and about the future is vulnerable to the black swan, the unexpected event. We sail in fragile vessels across a raging sea of uncertainty. “The world we live in is vastly different from the world we think we live in.”
Despite the article being over two years old, it is still an important piece for anyone trying to understand the causes of the financial mess we are all still in.
Finally, Taleb’s own website is a rich resource of much that will allow us all to better understand where we got to, where we are and what has to change if we are to have real hope for a better future.
Here’s a YouTube video of a TV interview taken in May, 2010.
Here’s an earlier video of Taleb explaining what his theory of black swans is about.
By Paul Handover