Embracing Black Swans

I’ve been reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Mediocre as a book, great as a philosophical/statistical principle. The general idea behind black swans is that they are outlier events. Things that are atypical, unpredictable, and generally large and impactful. The three criteria for something to be a black swan are that it must be 1, “as an outlier it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.  2, it carries an extreme impact, and 3, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concot explainations for its occurence after the fact, making it explainable.”

I spent a lot of time my senior year of college looking at black swans and doing the third part of this criteria. We analyzed and analyzed and analyzed, looking for hidden networks, hidden webs of information, interaction, and impact that led up to major events. And the amazing thing about almost any major groundbreaking event, whether good or bad, that has occured has been almost entirely unpredicted. I would even challenge the fact that black swans are outliers, at least outliers if the standard is “major events.” Perhaps they are outliers in terms of daily life, but that would be what makes them major events in the first place.  From the invention of the telephone to 9/11, large changes in our life are incredibly hard to predict, no matter what experts like to make us believe.

But I’m not really interested in major events. I’m much more interested in the embracing of black swans. I feel like when you become a parent (and I suspect, even a married person) people tend to be interested in  your reproduction. We get asked a lot if/when we’re having more children, and while that’s all good and dandy, sometimes it spreads into people sharing what they think we should do. Even that isn’t bad until The State of the World is brought up. These outliers, these black swans, have become such a hyperbolic representation of the condition of our world I feel like they have literally crippled many people’s belief in everything, even life. I’ve talked to people who say they don’t feel it’s right to bring more children into a world like this. That its too harsh, unpredictable, that it’s on its way out.

At this point I could go on and follow the point of Taleb’s book and talk about how the world isn’t that bad, how outliers are not representative of the entire picture, how they don’t even really register on the statistical curve that is our world. That things like 9/11 or economic recessions have always happened, and they will always happen no matter how vigilent we are. That things like the iPhone or Facebook are shaping a new kind of life for us, not worse not better, just different. But all of that is really irrelevant to me.

There was something on a radiolab episode (23 weeks 5 days. I shared it on one of my five favorites) that the father of a premature daughter said:

“To have a child is to have faith in a future you can’t see.”

Because as much as people write books like Black Swan about how the world is freaking out about nothing, and how the news goes on and on about every little thing like the world’s ending, and listening to people say it’s cruel to have to live on our planet, the majority of people…people who live in this world…are actively pushing back against that mantra. With every child born we are pushing against this end of days thinking and chanting in a voice as old as the earth
                    “we have faith, we have faith.”

We have faith that the lives of our children will be better, we have faith they will carry on where we left, we have faith in the ingenuity of humans, we have faith that things aren’t as dark and bleak as you say because where there’s life there is hope, and that hope is all around us, inside of us.

I can’t say how many children I will have or how many children anyone should have or eventhat people should have children at all. Rather, that being a part of our society means that you need to put your faith in the goodness of others, whether it’s your own child or your elderly neighbor. That the world can’t be so terribly bleak when everyday new life, NEW LIFE is being blown into it.

The biggest Black Swans in our world are our children. They are completely unpredicted since they don’t even really yet have the hint of potential, but they carry such a huge impactand every one sits around afterwards and says “I knew they could figure something out. I knew they could do it.” With this many amazing Black Swans around us, what do we have to worry about from those other outliers, the ones that bring us down? Because it is only temporary, it is only temporary before our children and our children’s children come together and overcome, like we always have and always will.

I have great faith in the endless circle that I feel life is, because it always continues and the sun always rises and the spring always comes, and when the world slows and seems terrible and we feel too old and weak to go any further, our children, our future, comes and pushes us through.

Be happy, be hopeful, and know life isn’t as bad as it seems.

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