Book “Black Swan” good quotes

When I read a book, I like to highlight the lines that are either beautifully written (stylistically), convey new insights, or contain useful facts.

I’d like to share with you a few lines from the book “Black Swan” (by Nassim Taleb) I recently read!

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan makes you question your body of  knowledge. Quite often, you don't even know… | Black swan book, Black swan,  Nassim nicholas taleb
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One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single black bird. 

A Black Swan…rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective predictability. 

…the effect of these Black Swans has been increasing. It started accelerating during the industrial revolution, as the world started getting more complicated, while ordinary events, the ones we study and discuss and try to predict from reading the newspapers, have become increasingly inconsequential.

Black Swan logic makes what you don’t know far more relevant than what you do know. Consider that many Black Swans can be caused and exacerbated by their being unexpected. 

Whatever you come to know may become inconsequential if your enemy knows that you know it. 

The inability to predict outliers implies the inability to predict the course of history, given the share of these events in the dynamics of events. 

What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but our absence of awareness of it. 

The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. 

The reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or “incentives” for skill. 

We do not spontaneously learn that we don’t learn that we don’t learn. 

Metarules (such as the rule that we have a tendency to not learn rules) we don’t seem to be good at getting. 

Evidence shows that we do much less thinking than we believe we do- except, of course, when we think about it. 

Everybody knows that you need more prevention than treatment, but few reward acts of prevention. 

 We lack imagination and repress it in others. 

Our world is dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable- and all the while we spend our time engaged in small talk, focusing on the known, and the repeated….need to use the extreme event as a starting point and not treat it as an exception to be pushed under the rug. 

Because of such progress and growth, the future will be increasingly less predictable, while both human nature and social “science” seem to conspire to hide the idea from us. 

…a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. 

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. 

Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books….an antilibrary. 

Let us call an antischolar- someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device- a skeptical empiricist.

It was as if the historical rupture had a specific cause, and that the catastrophe could have been averted by removing that specific cause.

One would suppose that people living through the beginning of WWII had an inkling that something momentous was taking place. Not at all. 

…the third element of the triplet, the curse of learning….Nobody knew anything, but elite thinkers thought that they knew more than the rest because they were elite thinkers…

It is not just knowledge but information that can be of dubious value. 

Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories. 

Categorizing always produces reduction in true complexity. 

Any reduction of the world around us can have explosive consequences since it rules out some sources of uncertainty; it drives us to a misunderstanding of the fabric of the world. 

Studying historical data makes you conscious that history runs forward, not backward, and that it is messier than narrated accounts. 

The distinction between fiction and nonfiction is considered too archaic to withstand the challenges of modern society. It was so evident that we needed to remedy the fragmentation between art and science. After the fact, her talent was so obvious. 

Our statistical intuitions have not evolved for a habitat in which these subtleties can make a big difference. 

This inability to automatically transfer knowledge and sophistication from one situation to another, or from theory to practice, is a quite disturbing attribute of human nature. 

We react to a piece of information not on its logical merit, but on the basis of which framework surrounds it, and how it registers with our socio-emotional system. 

…simple confusion of absence of evidence of the benefits of mothers’ milk with evidence of absence of the benefits 

Fiber acts to slow down the absorption of sugars in the blood and scrapes out the intestinal tract of precancerous cells. 

I am not saying here doctors should not have beliefs, only that some kinds of definitive, closed beliefs need to be avoided. 

We can get closer to the truth by negative instances, not by verification. 

Contrary to conventional wisdom, our body of knowledge does not increase from a series of confirmatory observations. 

Sometimes a lot of data can be meaningless; at other times one single piece of information can be very meaningful. 

..understanding how to act under conditions of incomplete information is the highest and most urgent human pursuit. 

…disconfirming instances are far more powerful in establishing the truth. 

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them… 

…theorizing is the “default” option. It takes considerable effort to see facts (and remember them) while withholding judgment and resisting explanations. 

Split-brain patients have no connection between the left and the right sides of their brains, which prevents information from being shared between the two cerebral hemispheres. 

You literally have two different persons, and you can communicate with each one of them separately… This splitting is usually the result of surgery to remedy some serious conditions like severe epilepsy… 

…if you don’t know that you are making the inference, how can you stop yourself unless you stay in a continuous state of alert?

A higher concentration of dopamine appears to lower skepticism and results in greater vulnerability to pattern detection; an injection of L-dopa, a substance used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, seems to increase such activity and lowers one’s suspension of belief.

…our minds are largely victims of our physical embodiment. Our minds are like inmates, captive to our biology, unless we manage a cunning escape. 

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. 

With so many brain cells- the difficulties probably do not arise from storage capacity limitations, but may be just indexing problems. 

Compression is vital to the performance of conscious work. 

Myths impart order to the disorder of human perception and the perceived “chaos” of human experience. 

We tend to neglect others that do not appear to play a causal role in that narrative. 

Memory is more of a self-serving dynamic revision machine: you remember the last time you remembered the event, and, without realizing it, change the story at every subsequent remembrance. 

We continuously re narrate past events in the light of what appears to make what we think of as logical sense after these events occur. 

What makes sense according to information obtained subsequently will be remembered more vividly. 

Someone hit with such a disorder can muster the most insignificant of details and construct an elaborate and coherent theory of why there is a conspiracy against him. 

…two people can hold incompatible beliefs based on the exact same data. 

One may have a million ways to explain things, but the true explanation is unique, whether or not it is within our reach. 

…there exist families of logically consistent interpretations and theories that can match a given series of facts. Such insights should warn us that mere absence of nonsense may not be sufficient to make something true. 

It happens all the time: a cause is proposed to make you swallow the news and make matters more concrete. 

Empirically, sex, social class, and profession seem to be better predictors of someone’s behavior htan nationality 

The problem of over causation does not lie with the journalist, but with the public. 

Could it be that fiction reveals truth while nonfiction is a harbor for the liar?

Just consider that the newspapers try to get impeccable facts, but weave them into a narrative in such a way as to convey the impression of casuality. There are fact-checkers, not intellect-checkers. 

We feel the sting of man-made damage far more than that caused by nature. 

…the death of a relative in a motorcycle accident is far more likely to influence your attitude toward motorcycles than volumes of statistical analyses. 

We do worry about Black Swans, just the wrong ones. 

…your happiness depends far more on the number of instances of positive feelings, what psychologists call “positive effect”, rather than on their intensity when they hit. 

Montaigne was asked “why” he and the writer Etieene de la Boetie were friends-…. “Parce que c’etait lui, parce…” (because it was him and because it was me) 

The members of the group can be ostracized together- which is better than being ostracized alone. If you engage in a Black Swan-dependent activity, it is better to be part of a group. 

He made sure, after a long string of losses, that they did not think he was apologetic- paradoxically, they became more supportive that way. Humans will believe anything you say provided you do not exhibit the smallest shadow of diffidence; like animals, they can detect the smallest crack in your confidence before you express it. 

The problem with business people is that if you act like a loser they will treat you as a loser- you set the yardstick yourself. 

It is not what you are telling people, it is how you are saying it. 

The lucky ones, with the feeling of having been selected by destiny, will continue gambling; the others, discouraged, will stop and will not show up in the sample. 

Money (public or private) taken away from research might be responsible for killing them- in a crime that may remain silent. 

This is exactly like someone playing Russian roulette and finding it a good idea because he survived and pocketed the money. 

I am only critical of the encouragement of uninformed risk taking. 

The reference point argument…do not compute odds from the advantage point of the winning gambler, but from all those who started in the cohort. 

We are explanation-seeking animals who tend to think that everything has an identifiable cause and grab the most apparent one as the explanation. Yet there may not be a visible because; to the contrary, frequently there is nothing… 

…we are too brainwashed by notions of causality and we think that it is smarter to say because than to accept randomness. 

My biggest problem with the educational system lies precisely in that it forces students to squeeze explanations out of subject matters and shames them for withholding judgment, for uttering the “I don’t know”

I am not saying causes do not exist; do not use this argument to avoid trying to learn from history. 

Our perceptual system may not react to what does not lie in front of our eyes, or what does not arouse our emotional system. 

The unconscious part of our inferential mechanism will ignore the cemetery, even if we are intellectually aware of the need to take it into account. Out of sight, out of mind: we harbor a natural, even physical, scorn of the abstract. 

Those who spend too much time with their noses glued to maps will tend to mistake the map for the territory. 

Fuzziness is the very nature of uncertainty. 

…you no longer need to be amputated to fit into the Procrustean bed of the disciplines. 

The world is far, far more complicated than we think, which is not a problem, except when most of us don’t know it. 

I find it scandalous that in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we are good at it, using tools and methods that exclude rare events. Prediction is firmly institutionalized in our world. 

Our knowledge does grow, but it is threatened by greater increases in confidence, which makes our increase in knowledge at the same time an increase in confusion, ignorance, and conceit. 

We are simply not wise enough to be trusted with knowledge. 

The appearance of busyness reinforces the perception of causality, of the link between results and one’s role in them. 

….the more detailed knowledge one gets of empirical reality, the more one will see the noise and mistake it for actual information. 

Lack of knowledge and delusion about the quality of your knowledge come together- the same process that makes you know less also makes you satisfied with your knowledge. 

What matters is not how often you are right, but how large your cumulative errors are. 

Perhaps economists’ forecasts create feedback that cancels their effect (called the Lucas critique, after the economist Robert Lucas)…So you cannot judge the forecast accuracy in economics as you would with other events. 

Plans fail because of what we have called tunneling, the neglect of sources of uncertainty outside the plan itself. 

Corporate and government projections have an additional easy-to-spot flaw: they attach a possible error to their scenarios. Even in the absence of Black Swans this omission would be a mistake. 

The policies we need to make decisions on should depend far more on the range of possible outcomes than on the expected final number. 

Our forecast errors have traditionally been enormous, and there may be no reasons for us to believe that we are suddenly in a more privileged position to see into the future compared to our blind predecessors. Forecasting by bureaucrats tends to be used for anxiety relief rather than for adequate policy making. 

…you find something you are not looking for and it changes the world, while wondering after its discovery why it “took so long” to arrive at something so obvious.

…the most important advances are the least predictable ones, those “lying out of the path of the imagination”

It describes discoverers as sleepwalkers stumbling upon results and not realizing what they have in their hands. 

We build toys. Some of those toys change the world. 

While many worry about unintended consequences, technology adventurers thrive on them. 

Louis Pasteur’s adage about creating luck by sheer exposure. “Luck favors the prepared.” …best way to get maximal exposure is to keep researching. 

Popper’s central argument is that in order to predict historical events you need to predict technological innovation, itself fundamentally unpredictable. 

…the information that the solution exists is itself a big piece of the solution. 

Prediction requires knowing about technologies that will be discovered in the future. But that very knowledge would almost automatically allow us to start developing these technologies right away. Ergo, we do not know what we will know. 

Poincare…introduced nonlinearities, small effects that can lead to severe consequences…chaos theory. 

…as you project into the future you may need an increasing amount of precision about the dynamics of the process that you are modeling, since your error rate grows very rapidly. 

…you would eventually need to figure out the past with infinite precision. 

To see how our intuitions about these nonlinear multiplicative effects are rather weak, consider the story about the chessboard maker. 

…owing to the growth of scientific knowledge, we overestimate our ability to understand the subtle changes that constitute the world, and what weight needs to be imparted to each such change. “Scientism” 

As individuals we should love free markets because operators in them can be as incompetent as they wish. 

Plato believed that we should both hands with equal dexterity. It would not “make sense” otherwise..a deformation caused by the “folly of mothers and nurses”. Asymmetry bothered him, and he projected his ideas of elegance onto reality. 

In orthodox economics, rationality became a straitjacket….ignored the fact that people might prefer to do something other than maximize their economic interests. 

…did not know much math…only knew enough math to be blinded by it. 

That’s it for the lines I loved from “Black Swan”! If you want to know more about this book before reading it, check out this video by “The Swedish Investor”- it’s an excellent summary of the main points in the book!

Cheers, Han Seol :))

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