Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lotsa luck, Kevin

From Thursday, Kevin Drum, talking about the media reaction to the swine flu:

So will we ever know if SF 2.0 was The Big One? If it kills a billion people, yes. If it doesn't, no. We'll just have to keep wondering. Which, to my surprise (and to change the subject completely), turns out to be a big chunk of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about in The Black Swan. After I was (properly) smacked down over my airy dismissal of Taleb a few days ago, I finally decided that maybe I ought to actually read his book instead of relying on the odd blog post about it, and I have to say that it's not at all what I expected. So far, anyway. It's a real mishmash of odd potted historical anecdotes that go nowhere, interesting insights about human nature, opinions about historical contingency that are strangely unmoored from even an acknowledgment that lots of other people have thought about this subject before, and conventional observations about things like confirmation bias and the limits of induction. However, Taleb swears that he's a doer, not an idle idea spinner, and by the time I'm finished I'll get some genuinely concrete advice about how to deal with uncertainty and the limits of knowledge in real life.

We'll see. I'm a little skeptical based on the first few chapters, but I suppose Taleb himself would warn me that even a long string of mediocre chapters doesn't mean there won't be a phenomenal one that will rock my world when I least expect it. If I finish it this weekend, I'll report back.

Had Kevin asked me, I could have told him that there is no black swan in The Black Swan, but I guess he'll just have to figure that out on his own.

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