Friday, March 7, 2008

The Black Swan

I'm reading a book I was sent a couple of weeks ago: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Random House, 2007). What is a black swan? It's an event with three attributes: (i) it is unpredictable, because nothing in the past points to its occurence, (ii) it carries an extreme impact, and (iii) after its occurence, we offer explanations of it which give us the misleading impression that it was predictable after all. An example is the terrorist attack of September 11. Though Taleb it is not a 'professional' philosopher, he does deal with important philosophical matters, such as the problem of induction. The style is straightforward and witty, and the ideas are provocative and insightful. He defines himself as an Empirical skeptic in the tradition of the ancient medical Empiricists and the ancient Pyrrhonists. His is a moderate skepticism with practical goals. For information about the author and the book, click here and here, respectively.

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