Wednesday, April 16, 2008

orange would have been even weirder

So right now I'm reading, among other things, The Black Swan. So far I have no argument with this idea and actually posited something similar in some dialogue I wrote in a play back in the spring of 2004, which was largely based on a Malthusian apocalypse. In it one of the characters flippantly uses the old adage, "Those who do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it," which troubles her manic-depressive older brother, who demands that she really thinks about what she's saying.

The problem with history is that, despite what experts would have you believe, is that it's case-specific. By reading about World War II, you can only learn to prevent World War II. You can't learn to prevent Sudanese genocide or conflict in the Balkans or anything else. And even now, we probably wouldn't be able to prevent World War II again, and if we did prevent it, how would we know? It would never come to pass. History for humans is, to a certain degree, catastrophic evolution. Unpredictable until after it happens, and then it can be rationalized as inevitable, or at least, "predictable," in hindsight. This is what Taleb talks about with the black swan, and this is why it is dangerous to think that history has all the answers. It is very important to factor in the unpredictable.

Of course, people predict the future semi-accurately all the time. But they base their predictions on the knowledge that is available to them. Our knowledge is essentially limited., as is our imaginations, and it is often a simple phenomenon that blindsides us because it did not occur to us to take it into consideration because the accepted wisdom remains the accepted wisdom unless observation of new information or a wildly inventive person forces us to see otherwise.

Anyway, this is fascinating to me, so I'm hoping the book continues to be interesting after page xxvi.

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In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen