Book Review : The Black Swan

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Some books are hollow and superfluous that even a rough skimming feels like a waste of time (like ‘How to win friends and influence people’). Some books are super complicated in their content that it bogs down the author’s voice. It’s the balance between those two, that makes up to a very appreciable and enjoyable non – fiction reading. The ideas have to be complex, but the explanation simple.

The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb maintains that insanely beautifully. Even though the ideas like Robustness or Convexity are not very familiar to the general public. The explanation was simple enough. As I look through the book again, I find that I’ve got more than 30 highlights in them. I’ll try to elucidate a few of my favorite ideas.

“The problem of silent evidence.”

Taleb describes this concept with one of Cicero’s stories. Diagoras was a non believer in the Gods, he was shown a painted tablet of worshippers who prayed and escaped a shipwreck. Diagoras asked them, “Where are the paintings of the people who worshipped, then drowned?”

It’s such an amusing concept for me, because I had something of a similar Idea before. Not quite abstract though. Also he goes on a hypothetical idea on the avoidance of 9/11. and how it might not have been gone silent.

“Why does reading the newspaper seem to reduce the knowledge of the world.”

This was a completely iconoclastic idea. The idea is that, The amount of news produced in  a day is just so vast that, no matter how much newspapers you read, you probably didn’t even scratch the surface of the total news produced. And what you’re reading is, effectively the opinion of the reporter who himself is biased, and full of judgements. If anything, newspapers tend to make you tunnel visioned and make you very un-knowledged.

This made sense in a lot of ways.

“Focus on antiknowledge.”

The idea here is that, The books that you haven’t  read are more valuable than the ones you haven’t. This is a general theme that runs all through the book. What you know can’t really hurt you, But what you don’t know might. So being robust to randomness is something that anyone should be ready for.

“A thousand days cannot prove you right, But one day can prove you to be wrong.”

Taleb explains here in a different narration, the Hempel’s Raven Paradox, using a Turkey and Thanksgiving. The principle is the same though. How could you prove that, All raven are black. If every occurence of a black raven concretes the idea of “All raven are red” then by applying the principles of logic. Every occurence of a non-white non-raven should solidify it too. He explains the absurdity by saying, ” look, my shirt is blue. all ravens are black.”

“Evolution does not work by teaching. But, by destroying.”

If you’d talked to me about evolution before. I’d probably have said, tough scenarios make animals to be more strong, thereby thriving. But, it doesn’t. The idea is that, natural selection means, the weak ones will be destroyed. No time for “getting stronger”. There’s probably more destruction than creation in the apparent evolution. only a handful will survive, while most of them perish.

This part of the book has changed my perception on evolution very much. That, I had to revisit my David Attenborough collection.

There are loads more awesome content in the book. As a whole, This is one of the best books I’ve read in awhile. Something that is so Diaphragm shifting. That, I’ve scheduled to read this book again, a year from now.

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