Friday, September 2, 2016

Slaughtered Turkey is The Black Swan..!

You feed your turkey daily three times for 1000 days. In its point of view, humans are a species destined to feed turkeys for eternity. When it look back in life all it can see are perfectly peaceful, idle and comfortable days and no reason for any worry or uncertainty in future. But on the one thousand first day you decide to have turkey for dinner. So much for learning from past.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, call this catastrophic event (from your turkey's POV) Black Swan. Black swans are events that are unexpected and highly improbable, but once occurred offers perfectly plausible explanations. The incident of September 11, 2001 is a perfect example of the black swan. No one expected it, none predicted it, but after its occurance everyone came up with perfectly sensible explanations for it.

According to Taleb, mankind is wired genetically to downplay the effect of randomness in life. We have a natural tendency to behave like the turkey in our example. So we are never prepared for an encounter with a Black Swan and are totally surprised when one stares on the face.

For thousands of years civilised world had only seen swans that were white. So the general knowledge was that all swans were white. It took the sighting of only one black swan in an Australian island to dispel this knowledge for ever. According to Taleb, this is one deficiency of human knowledge. All it takes is the sighting of one black swan and what we thought as everlasting, eternal truth becomes obsolete. So he proposes being careful when we try to learn our lessons from history and being cautious while implementing them in life.

According to Taleb most of the important events in the universe are black swans and not able to foresee one is a serious issue with scientific and statistical predictions. He is especially critical of Gaussian statistical analysis using bell curves of normal distribution. Gaussian model is adequate for non-scalable subjects like height, weight or score of students were extremes don't make a huge difference to the average. But for scalable topics like the collection of a movie or turnover of a company, where extremes or outliers effect the average severely, depending on Gaussian model can result in catastrophe in long run.

The Black Swan is an extremely interesting book that I read in recent times.

Buy the book:

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