The Black Swan

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I talked about this book in class today. It is by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and deals with the idea of improbable events having the greatest impact. To be specific, Taleb defines a Black Swan as a large-impact, hard-to-predict and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. For a long time in the West, the belief was held that all swans are white. Thus when someone wanted to refer to something that he felt could not exist, or would never happen, he would use the term ‘black swan’. But when real black swans were discovered in the 17th century in Australia, the whole concept of the ‘black swan’ was turned on its head. Now, a ‘black swan’ refers to an event or an object that was previously thought to be impossible, but has now been proven to actually exist.

Look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Swan_%28book%29 for more details, if this is something that interests you. What makes the book interesting to me is not only the actual idea, but the conviction and confidence with which Taleb writes about it.

I first heard of the book when some of my classmates on the Master’s course that I am doing brought it up. We were discussing the idea that when you conduct a sociological observation, sometimes you are tempted to build an explanation based only on what you see. However there is the possibility that the real picture is something completely different, because there are so many factors that do not immediately present themselves. And these may be the factors that actually have the greatest impact.  

taleb.jpg  A picture of the author

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