Greg's Reviews > The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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Aug 29, 08

Read in January, 2008

This book has diminishing returns on the time spent reading it. Taleb's jeremiad is directed against - well - everyone who is not as enlightened as he is. I trudged through this book because - well - everyone is reading it and enlightened people should know how to comment on it. There, I did it. Now I can look down on all those people out there who aren't enlightened like Taleb. And now, me.

Taleb is actually on to something important if you can tolerate his self-importance enough to filter his verbage to get his good ideas. A central idea is that we assume everything in the world is Gaussian and then we base all our decisions about life on our Gaussian models. But the significant, life-changing, society-changing, events are outside the Gaussian. Things like 9-11. They belong to Extremestan, not Mediocristan.

The ideas are interesting. Many are quite compelling. But it really seems Taleb's main point is "everyone else is an idiot." It seems the details why are secondary to that point.

I did find quite useful a good line of thought regarding the importance of narrative in grasping truth. We are so drawn to narrative, that all retained "true" facts must fit into our constructed narrative. Other data are ignored or made to fit. We need to be on the watch for data that disproves rather than confirms our story. And perhaps we ought to learn better how to understand and speak in story. Mmm - God himself, in the person of Jesus, communicated truth in parables - narratives! No one else seems to have caught on. Except Taleb, of course.
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message 1: by Nils (new)

Nils Jonsson Your last point I find most interesting of all. You said something about this to me some months ago and I found it very illuminating. Too often our concept of truth is very modernistic — a set of propositions that are objectively true *per se* instead of as a consequence of their origin. As flawed as some postmodern thought can be, there is something to the idea that truth is relational. Truth is true because God, who is Truth, has revealed it. There is no impersonal standard to which we can turn. The standard is a Person, indeed a human person: Jesus.


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