I started re-reading The Black Swan yesterday, a 2007 book by Nassim Taleb (updated in 2012 after the events of 9/11). The book is brilliant; it’s an exposition on the problems, beauty, and impact of the highly improbable. Taleb is not exploring improbability in the absurd but brilliant way that Douglas Adams did with the improbability drive that powered the more eccentric moments of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, rather he’s demonstrating that virtually everything of significance in our world, on all levels, from the evolution of the human organism to the jobs we take to results in the stock markets (especially, in fact and as it turns out, results in the markets) is not at all predictable. The momentous moments in the universe – Black Swans – uniformly turn out to be as predictable as winning the lottery. An important corollary to this observation is its implications for the usefulness of the bell curve, which Taleb terms the Great Intellectual Fraud – he ably goes on to show us why that’s the case.
The implications of Taleb’s unique line of thinking for social sciences and governments and economics and ontology are vast. But I think I was drawn to pluck it off my bookshelf again for a reason that might not be so improbable – the past couple of weeks I’ve marked two anniversaries of improbable events that have me waxing nostalgic. I wrote about the one year anniversary of Musical Me last week, and also last week I celebrated 15 years since my breakup with alcohol, a great love of my young adult life. Further, the cat we had for fifteen years died about a year ago last week; while an 18 year old cat dying is hardly improbable, the impact of her death likely had something to do with my starting my musical project, and I certainly couldn’t have predicted that.
Embracing the unknown is such a lovely way to move through life. It’s also a good way to remain open to positive Black Swans – it’s absolutely true that it’s always going to be something we are not preparing for that’s going to change our lives. Taking an instrument back up when you’re pushing 40 is a prime example of a Black Swan – when we can harness these creatures we can really make out like bandits.
Thanks for reading.