Showing all posts tagged story:

Black Swans - Nassim Nicholas Talab

Jason's Notes

December 26 02015

The Future Has Always Been Crazier Than We Thought

Talab is tearing through the faculty of logic and theory to get at a simple truth: our minds can manufacturer endless fantasies. This is a benefit for creating and a endless pit for theorizing.

Black Swan: Event that wasn't seen coming
  1. Hard to predict based on information before it occured, (computers, Harry Potter, neck ties, World War).
  2. Low predictability and high consequence.
  3. They have retrospective predictably, but unfathomable beforehand.

Silent evidence is highlighted by historians, who don't deal imperial evidence so they can't make predictions. They need to work with real data. Neal Ferguson is such a historian. He showed the UK war bond market didn't see WWI coming. Over-causation

This personal bias is fundamental to our mental construct. Hume's Problem: domain dependent philosophers are out of touch beyond the venue of their expertise. Not recognizing their own subject in the texture of real life.

Framing is a condition where once you see something on paper you start believing in it. All statistics work like this. Once you establish a perceived pattern it is very hard to un-see. In general, the use of statistics leads to mediocrity as it smooths out all anomalies against the background. In historic research we instead see the exceptional, items not supported by statisticians because of their framing.

"Never take advice from someone wearing a suit and tie."

The notion is that a "professional" is going to profess, as that is his or her job. "Never ask a barber if you need a haircut". They will have an opinion because they want to validate their position in society. There is a critical lack of the ability to say "I don't know."

(Trungpa Rimpoche identified this as the "realm of the professional". Their key phrase: "Trust me.")

The real risk are theorist leaving their home of infinite number of possibilities and applying such mindsets to practice. Better is to practice - then theorize. Then you are working with givens and constraints.

A discipline for the professional: don't tell people what they should do, tell them what they shouldn't. Your theories are nebulous and unproven. Your mistakes are concrete lessons learned from experience. There is a survival reason to keep elders around: they remember things that actually happened and therefore draw conclusions from givens.

Conversly, don't ask what should you do, ask what you should not do.

Lebanon-born, polyglot, Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a scholar of randomness and knowledge, a mathematical finance practitioner, and author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and the Markets.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Homepage

Skeptical empiricist Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, has bracing things to say about the future. It is inevitable that we will be massively blindsided by events, because our understanding is misled by an array of beguiling illusions about reality. Some lessons: Events are not predictable, but consequences are, so focus on preparedness. Pay attention to elders, because they've experienced more Black Swans. Check Wikipedia's bio of Taleb for more on the vividness of his ideas and exposition.

From the Long Now:

Dispatches from Extremistan

A “black swan,” Taleb explained, is an event which is 1) Hard to predict; 2) Highly consequential; 3) Wrongly retro-predicted. We pretend we know why the big event happened, and so entrench our inability to deal with the next world-changing improbable event.

Examples: Viagra, 9/11, Harry Potter, First World War, Beatles, the PC, Google, and the rise of any successful religion. History is dominated by sudden, lasting changes wrought by deeply unexpected events.

Part of the problem is that we ignore the “silent evidence” of the nonobserved and nonobservable. We compute probability from the success of survivors. No one writes or reads a book titled “How I Lost a Million Dollars.” Another problem is that we revise our own predictions and intentions unconsciously to match what actually happens. We disguise having been wrong by pretending we were right. This is “confirmation bias.”

There are TWO kinds of randomness, two realms in which events happen…

Mediocristan is dominated by the average— one new observation won’t change much. If you are measuring the weight of a large sample of humans, adding the heaviest person in the world won’t change the result, whereas measuring the average wealth of a large sample of humans would be transformed by adding the wealthiest person. Mediocristan is the realm of the Law of Large Numbers and of the Gaussian Bell Curve.

Extremistan is dominated by extremes. Every year 16,000 novels are published in English. A handful of best-sellers absolutely dominate. This is the realm of the power-law curve and the Long Tail. Extremistant defies prediction. You can say there will be a few monsters and lots of midgets and the world will be changed by the monsters, and that’s all you can say.

Benoit Mandelbrot convinced Taleb that the main dynamic of Mediocristan is energy, and the main dynamic of Extremistan is information. Anything social is Extremistan.

Thus there are two kinds of experts. A soufflé chef really is an expert and can be trusted. An economist is a pseudo-expert. “Never take advice from someone wearing a tie.” All you get from a Council of Economic Advisors is an illusion of control. Stock market analysts have proved to be worse than nothing.

Don’t focus on probability. Focus on consequences. Black Swans will come. Prepare against the negative ones; be ready to soar with the positive ones.

Pay attentive heed to tradition and old people— they have experienced more Black Swans.

PS… All of the SALT speakers perform for free. Taleb added the further generosity of insisting on paying for his travel and lodging. Extra thanks to him for that.

       --Stewart Brand

Homes, Friends, Possessions

Homelessness, the disassociation from your known territory. This isn't a manner of being lost, it is exile. When I lost my childhood home I had no say in the matter. I was uprooted at the whim of my adults. I was powerless and forced to migrate to a new land. A land without good pizza, without my childhood friends, without my mountains.
A refugee shares many qualities to a childhood dislocation.
  1. The loss of a home is involuntary
  2. Food is different
  3. Landscape is different
  4. The story that precipitated the relocation was sad
Home is:
  1. Orientation in  your day, week, season, life-stage
  2. An explored territory that holds few unpleasant suprises
  3. A place of refuge, a castle, a personal kingdom
Homes, Friends, Possessions
Find we no solace in the dusty corners of our memory?
My trail of bread-crumbs failed
They led me not to my territory.

Loss of the story's physical and temporal origen is a typical suffering. The heart of every refugee is open and bare to the rest of us who have endeavored to cover our scars. It is the psychic umbilical that we establish with our home territory, and once inevitably cut leaves the refugee's wound.
When I was a young refugee living in Canada, I retreated into the imaginary world of games and consensual imagined worlds that are very popular in Nova Scotia. My new friends and I established a new territory that no one could take away from us. This story was unattached to space, and was secure from invaders. A pocket universe that folded up into a book and go with me.
Where then is The Moment? The obvious tactic for managing distasteful space is to imagine green grass, likely just over your perceived boundaries. Our relationship with space suffers as we attempt to disassociate ourselves from The Moment, from a story in our heads that does not match our immediate environs.
The refugee is displaced from their trade, school, friends, family, as well as landmarks and many favorite forms of entertainment. They cannot provide for themselves, nor their progeny. The vector of life is not pointed anywhere hopeful. Thence rises dispair.
Tent, Caravan, Campfire
Road is my territory
Each step brings opertunities
Sanctuary is erected nightly

The Snow Bird, Tourist, Gypsy, Pilgrim, Camper, each is for the moment in motion. The tribal human territory was vast, and survival more tenuious. When we established a narrow home range and farmed we found our livelyhood subject to theft. When our bounty justified the division of labor and technical crafts led to a proliferation of things to be owned we found theft.
What the Gypsy may understand better than the Urbanite is that we can't own the land or our possessions. We will shuffle off this mortal coil and loose all we have worked so hard to cultivate. Death will one day catch you, but like a migratory flock, you can stay ahead of the local unpleasantness if your territory is inherently mobile.
Likely most of the squabbles that bedevil the sedentary are translated to a mobile form. There are likely to be fewer such squabbles.
Expatriates, Pioneers, Colonists

Those who are willing to trust in the sales brochure, uproot with essentials, and commit to writing a new story are the colonists. Immigration and mutation are measures of success. The story is what becomes critical. If there is no vector to the epic, then it is refuge. EPiC are builders as well as founders. They work the tem and establish the meets and bounds, reserving the last for the temple.
Story and Land
For the architect and planner, we are largely in the business of establishing territory. Thence it must be defended, taxed, utilized, and willed. The artifact of architecture and planning have greater life-spans and immobility than the rest of the arts, but they are no less impermanent. The tyranny of things outside us and stories within us are the root of suffering because of their ephemeral nature.
The refugee is unique in all these examples, being deprived of both external belongings and of a sound story from which to guide decisions. Gypsies have the story, urbanists have the artifacts (both have small amounts of the other). Pioneers have identified territory and laid in tools and necessaries to inhabit the new territory.
The vast urban centers of the future will be populated by those with territory, those with story, but of limited means. They will likely muddle through as humanity has for 500 generations. Their anticipated quality of life is low compared to the high GDP to low population cities. A lack of biophilia, nutrition, sanitation, and critical infrastructure is projected for the future city composed in large part of improvised neighborhoods.
What will architects and planners offer this vast majority?
The cultivated space is communicable. Examination of a communities' propensities can lead to cross-pollination with compatible urban stories. Improving the story is the mode of choice, as improving the quantities of artifacts is both unachievable and unadvisable.
Moving on this track, there needs to be an overt caveat to highlight the inevitability of loss. While its impact cannot be eliminated, the story can be crafted in such a way to allow for loss.
Story provides framework for the day, the week, the season, and a life-span. If we decamp from our comforts of the Consumerist Age we may find hope on new shores. Story: one of our oldest and most portable tool is the solution. We cannot change our world to nullify suffering, but we can change our mind about what makes us suffer.
Refugees and prisoners are the at-risk populations whom require a great deal of story-craft.
Common Vision