The Black Swan is a theory by Nassim Taleb which concentrates on the randomness, probability, and uncertainty in life. It has three main attributes:
First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
Essentially what Nassim Taleb says that the events which actually shape and transform our lives are random, unpredictable and it’s only after the event has happened do we come up with an explanation for it. For Taleb, this explanation falls under the retrospective distortion fallacy where our history seems clearer and more orderly when we look back. Even though when it happened it was unexpected.
Taleb attempts to showcase how these Black Swans have shaped our society but I’m more interested in the personal Black Swans. The random moments in each of our lives which has brought us to the present moment.
Black Swan logic makes what you don’t know far more relevant than what you do know.
The teenage me had his life almost set in stone, that me would have never imagined himself years from now spending his time writing stories and poetry. Hell, back then I barely even read a book, let alone had the desire to write one. The desire to be a writer was a random thought I had on a random day which wouldn’t leave my head. Upon acting on this thought, my life took a whole new direction. Just like that the plans of old tossed out the window. And with each action down this path, it confirmed the initial action to be the right one. Now if I think back I can see hints of wanting to be a writer here and there but as Taleb would suggest, that is just my attempt to find some stability and order.
The inability to predict outliers implies the inability to predict the course of history.
This notion can be scary to comprehend because you have to accept that you lack control. It also means that you never know what will attract you until you do it. The last thing I imagined myself doing when I was younger was dissecting literature and trying to unpack a novel. Now, I look forward to when I sit down with a book and pen and paper and slowly work through a book. You only find your likes and dislikes after you try something. The more attempts you make in life, the more certain you can be with what you want to spend your time on.
The best we can do according to Taleb is to focus on antiknowledge which are the things we don’t know. Don’t get molded into just one way of thinking. Rather, be flexible and try to open yourself up to new experiences because you never know what random thing you do that will bring about a breakthrough in your life. Which is why Taleb advocates you to focus on maximizing the opportunities that are presented to you. Especially nowadays, through the use of the internet, you can rapidly improve your understanding and attempt new things without it costing you much.
History and societies do not crawl. They make jumps. They go from fracture to fracture, with a few vibrations in between. Yet we (and historians) like to believe in the predictable, small incremental progression.
Life is happening and we don’t know what will be important and what will impact our lives. Whatever your current life is it may be completely different a year from now. One decision could lead to a chain reaction of decisions which results in you moving to a new country or starting a new relationship or working in a different company.
The randomness and uncertainty can be off-putting but at the same time, there is excitement in this understanding.
There is excitement because not every failure is permanent because life is constantly changing and moving. Failure just needs to be assessed and studied. Then you move on to the next attempt and see if that’s the one that will hit. Mario Puzo, the author of the Godfather had only hoped that this book would be the one to make him money. He even said he believed his two novels prior to the Godfather were better. But it just so happened that the Godfather hit and the rest was history.
This also gives you the push to be aggressive in life. Highly aggressive. The idea urges action because life is random and because there is rarely predictable progress. It’s only through action do we find different paths and directions. Who knows what random conversation you strike up with a stranger can lead you. Who knows who you’ll meet when you go volunteer or when you join a club or when you start putting yourself out there. This constant aggression can lead to new jobs, relationships, friendships, failures, successes, and growth. For you never know exactly what life has in store for you. And when that opportunity presents itself, as Taleb said before, you can’t let it go to waste. You can’t hang around waiting for the perfect opportunity because such a thing doesn’t exist.
Snub your destiny. I have taught myself to resist running to keep on schedule. This may seem a very small piece of advice, but it registered.
Youtube: Learned Living
Article: The Black Swan and Seeking Randomness
Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out
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