“The Black Swan”, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The book is very good for the most part (I am just over a third of my way through it as I write) but it’s too over flamboyant in making a case for a simple but not so obvious idea. The idea is that there are random unforeseeable events that have massive impacts on our lives, these same events in hind sight seem so obvious that we dismiss them as ever being random. I.e. we explain them away.
The book basically argues that through our inherited and common genetic make up, we humans, have a terrifically large blind spot in our assessment of the world. This blind spot derives from the fact that in order to simplify the world (and retain a memory of it) our brains seek explanations to facts and furthermore to fill in the gaps. A simple example will suffice (similar to the one in the book):
1) Gina was happily married. She killed her husband.
2) Gina was happily married. She killed her husband because he cheated on her.
Doubtless to say the second sentence probably feels that little bit more comfortable to you. Right?
because it offers an explanation to a set of events (or facts).
In a similar fashion our brains go on our whole lives lending explanations to events to fit facts as we see them. As long as the explanation fits the facts it doesn’t seem to matter that there may be another infinite number of variant explanations (or that there may be various other facts that we haven’t even concerned). the first ‘explanation’ will suffice to satiate the need.
Logically you may see that this can lead to exceedingly large blind spots. In a world where very little is linear, where a single event can change everything important, this makes a big difference. Example continued:
Gina was the wife of legendary footballer Zain Mathews. She loved him, and he loved her. Life was perfect, they would grow old together. The only problem is that Zain ‘loved’ all the cheerleaders too!
Gina thought she would be happy, Zain thought he would make ‘Player of the Season’. Neither happened because no one foresaw what would happen.
So ‘The Black Swan’ goes on to explain in a far better and detailed manner that our instincts can lull is into a state of blissful gullible-ness. Where everything is going on in linear fashion, when in reality, reality is cooking up many surprises for you!
What’s the solution? I haven’t got there yet. But I think it’s somewhere in the line of experimentation, testing hypothesis with results, and perhaps trying to find raw data not narrated stories etc… but the truth of the matter is ‘I don’t know’ let’s hope Taleb has a surprise for me!
and that leads me to my fixation on choice.
We have choice but I claim that we often divorce from it, creating stories of why must must do something that we don’t necessarily want to. This is the fallacy, we narrate stories to fit the data.
If I am fat, and I have memory of being fat and especially have the memory of eating to much and drinking too much to get that way. I will create stories in my head to fit the statements of fact. I will ‘love’ food. And why not, what kind of idiot would over eat, if he didn’t ‘love’ food. Then that love becomes the basis for compulsion. or even I could create alternative truth, I eat when I am ‘depressed’, another reason.
We divorce choice, often not because of weakness but because our biological, mental machinery needs the ‘explanation’ that leads to ‘the fact’. The real truth, if there is such a thing is that ‘you have the choice’ at any moment to do whatever you like and further more to think about whatever you like. there is absolutely no compulsion and you may often find no further connection between your invented stories and the truth.
‘That love for food’ , ‘That depression’ are just inventions to fit another truth, ‘That you are fat’!
And the real fact is that ‘you just think too much about food, you probably are as you read this…’ or ‘your body is efficient at fat storage’ or ‘anything else’ Simple. The rest is melodrama.
So we have choice. Choice in practically everything. Choice in the way we see the past, choice in the way we let the past affect the future or the present. Choice in the present, choice in making the choice Squared. But the choice has to be made.
Why go into all of this? Why am I now affixiated by this concept. Why because it is information that is practically a ‘black swan’, ‘what, everything is made up? You can do what you want?’
What if you really realised and embraced this ‘truth’ how would your life change beyond anything you ever imagined? A single thought a single action can change everything, why?
Because our brains, our mind is an information processing machine. a single thought can and has (historically proven) changed the entire data set.
Perhaps things are not so dull after all!