Tag Archives: the black swan

Reading The Black Swan

Right now, frankly, I have no idea what is the theme of the book and what exactly the author wants to say (I just finished reading page 99). All I can make out is, there are events in your life that can be called "The Black Swans", and they just happen, randomly, and normally their occurrence or non-occurrence is not in your hand. The Black Swans have the ability to change your perception, your life and sometimes they change the world. He uses the discovery of the black swan in Australia as an analogy. Until the black swans were discovered, swans were always thought to be white. Hence, he says we shouldn’t base our knowledge upon the facts we know.

Of course then you start thinking whether the sun is going to come up in the morning or not. The previous history of the world says that it should, but then, who knows?

The author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, calls himself an empiricist who believes on focusing on how things cannot be done rather than how they can be done. It rather sounds like a negative attitude, but this is the perception perhaps that he wants to change. He says we live in a world defined by our experiences and the events that we remember, and this stifles our ability to see things as they are. I find myself agreeing to this philosophy, as I myself have experienced personal biases due to congealed memories of real and imagined events.

By the end of today’s reading, there’s a portion that explains how, throughout our lives sometimes, we deprive ourselves of multiple smaller happinesses in search of some bigger, elusive (The Black Swan) happiness that happens once in a lifetime. Is it worth it? It depends on how you perceive happiness. May be that bigger, once-in-a-lifetime happiness means more to you than the smaller, everyday happinesses. The problem is, that bigger happiness may or may not happen.

He explains this by terming successes of novels, books, movies, an artist or a scientific discovery as Black Swans. They may change the world, but you’re never sure of their occurrence. Their successes are unexplained. Thousands of better books never see the light of the day. Exceptionally brilliant scientists commit suicides because they are way ahead of their time. Movies that should have been super hits flop. Why? I’m still to read that portion.

This book makes you sleepy unless you’re hell bent upon stretching your reading abilities, or may be I have been simply too tired because I start reading it after I’ve already slogged for 6-7 hours. Lots of abstract philosophy and logic, lots of references to mathematicians and philosophers, their experiments and their observations. The humor sounds clichéd and hence off-putting sometimes, like repeatedly making fun of the French, the bankers and the financial forecasters. Nonetheless, I have found some worthy nuggets of wisdom and I plan to finish it in the coming days.