What is a Black Swan?
Before they discovered Australia, our ancestors were convinced that all swans were white. Then they discovered the New World, and the existence of black swans. A single discovery can disprove a general assertion based on millennia of observation. The “Black Swan” is an event that has three characteristics:
- It is an isolated event which does not fall into the field of normal expectations.
- It has an enormous impact.
- Despite its unpredictability and the fact that it is an isolated event, human nature pushes us to look back into the past to justify its appearance to be able to explain it, and therefore make it predictable.
That is, we tend to look at things in retrospect when making predictions, rather than take a prospective view.
Also a highly probable event that does not end up happening, in spite of all predictions, is a Black Swan. Indeed, the occurrence of an extremely unlikely event is the equivalent to the non-occurrence of an extremely likely event.
The book examines our blindness to fate, to great deviations, and to the bigger picture of events.
What is surprising is not the relevance of the errors of forecasting, as much as our complete ignorance to the fact that we are making these predictions. And the paradox is, that experts and specialists are usually the worst at predicting Black Swans. Something that has always worked in the past will stop working unexpectedly, and what we have learned from the past can become, in the best case, irrelevant and wrong, and in the worst case, dangerously misleading.