Black Swans

It’s presumptuous to write about a book I haven’t read – and probably won’t read because a smart friend of mine said he couldn’t get through it – but the idea of a Black Swan Event intrigues me.

All swans are white, they used to think, until they found some black swans in Australia in 1697. So Black Swan Events, as Nassim Taleb writes, are rare and unpredictable events, like September 11 and the financial meltdown. Step changes in the curve of history.

But September 11 and the financial meltdown were the outcome of a long chain of events. They caused a step change, but only because they were unforeseen. The discovery of black swans was different: suddenly what everyone believed was true, was not.

I like to think about possible Black Swan Events, like spaceships landing. My first crazy thought, when I saw that silver balloon floating over Colorado, was that it was a Black Swan. All of a sudden our belief, that we’re alone in the universe, would not be true.

That’s why, on a more prosaic level, I’d like to see a ghost or even bend a spoon. And I’d really like a black swan to come along and tell me why we’re here.

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