Quotes from “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”

a very nice read

I heard about it from 2 different trainers, one of them was giving us a quick course on mind mapping and the other about scenario building. So for a long time it was on my list and I finally finished it.

It can fool you as an easy read, and it is to some extent, but it has a problem of going in circles around the same idea for a long time. Nevertheless, I was rewarded every now and then with a brilliant idea, so it was ok at the end of the day.

Here are some of the words I liked:

“You need a story to displace a story. Metaphors and stories are far more potent (alas) than ideas; they are also easier to remember and more fun to read. If I have to go after what I call the narrative disciplines, my best tool is a narrative.
Ideas come and go, stories stay.”


“I noticed that very intelligent and informed persons were at no advantage over cabdrivers in their predictions, but there was a crucial difference. Cabdrivers did not believe that they understood as much as learned people—really, they were not the experts and they knew it.”


“awareness of a problem does not mean much—particularly when you have special interests and self-serving institutions in play.”


“Now, there are other themes arising from our blindness to the Black Swan:

a. We focus on preselected segments of the seen and generalize from it to the unseen: the error of confirmation.
b. We fool ourselves with stories that cater to our Platonic thirst for distinct patterns: the narrative fallacy.
c. We behave as if the Black Swan does not exist: human nature is not programmed for Black Swans.
d. What we see is not necessarily all that is there. History hides Black Swans from us and gives us a mistaken idea about the odds of these events: this is the distortion of silent evidence.
e. We “tunnel”: that is, we focus on a few well-defined sources of uncertainty, on too specific a list of Black Swans (at the expense of the others that do not easily come to mind).”



“The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.”



“Our propensity to impose meaning and concepts blocks our awareness of the details making up the concept. H”



“The first problem is that information is costly to obtain.
The second problem is that information is also costly to store—like real estate in New York. The more orderly, less random, patterned, and narratized a series of words or symbols, the easier it is to store that series in one’s mind or jot it down in a book so your grandchildren can read it someday.”



“A novel, a story, a myth, or a tale, all have the same function: they spare us from the complexity of the world and shield us from its randomness”



“For me, one such antilogic came with the discovery—thanks to the literature on cognition—that, counter to what everyone believes, not theorizing is an act—that theorizing can correspond to the absence of willed activity, the “default” option. It takes considerable effort to see facts (and remember them) while withholding judgment and resisting explanations.”

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