Friday, December 21, 2012

Book these days: Black Swan

Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Although the primary subject of the book - distillation of a life-long personal, academic and professional inquiry - may sound technical being related to finance and econometrics, the book interests all. Its not just that the application of the subject is universal, it's also that the cross-disciplinary approach and wealth of examples makes it a much more interesting book. Too enjoyable for escapists and hedonists. Psychology and philosophy have this aspect being accessible and relate-able to many, if not all, as their interests revolve around humans and their various problems, theoretical and practical.

It's 1970s. Lebanon (or the old Levant) enjoyed centuires of societal harmony despite as a hub of diverse cultures, ethnicity, religions, and sects of all sorts; as a meeting place of East and West, although more European than Eastern. (Fact that Europe exlcuded it from itself just gives a clue about their "openness" and the yearning to be in there by those relegated to East points to their "authenticity" and "independence".) Any prediction of a sudden, unnoticable, rare and catastrophic breakdown and dissolution of this harmony was beyond "imagination." It was not to be.

It was to be. Sudden. Unpredictable by conventional thinking, which was based on empirical data of centuries that only predicted more cohesion and unity in diversity than a bloody, long civil war between Muslims and Christians. The prime minister, relative of Taleb, had as reliable a clue about the situation as PM's car driver.

This is what Taleb calls a Black Swan. "All swans are white," was a belief paraded as a scientific truth by many who did not get dose of humility in school. It only took sighting of 1 black swan in Australia (perhaps) to demolish this "fact." Hence the idiom: as rare as a Black Swan.

The book is a decent dose for those who're too cocky about their expert-ness, especially of financial and mathematical models. At another level, it is also a critique of those obsessed with trying to fit things into neat and clean forms, types and categories, ignoring nuances and not-so-apparent distinguishing elements. At another level, it also questions our temptations to "explain things away" and find causes and motives to every fact or happening as immature babbling of an untrained mind.

Author belongs to the large pool of profane minded thinkers, intellectuals and writers, i must add. They are skeptic about everything else, but not about their value-judgments and exclusivist  mechanistic view of the world and creation, and their rejection of transcendence and fate. They believe in accidents as if accident is god or gods? They don't explain that. They're not skeptic about dogmas of modernity, and very unequivocal about their rejection of any "chance" of transcendence.

Overall, interesting book to read before sleeping.

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