For anyone interested in Rupert's approach to books, refer the old post on how he reads novels.





























White Crows

For some reason Trevor has become interested in Nassim Taleb's notion of the Black Swan. Trevor rarely reads books, of course, at least not in the usual way, so I had to explain it to him.

'It's not just a random event,' I said. 'According to Taleb, it has three characteristics. Firstly, it's totally unexpected because nothing in our experience has prepared us for it. Second, it has a huge impact. Thirdly, after it's happened we all sit around busily explaining it so that we convince ourselves that was predictable after all.'

'Hmm,' Trevor said. 'Examples?'

'Well, the Twin Towers, I guess. Or the success of Harry Potter. Or a war or the global credit crisis maybe.'

'Or falling in love,' Janice said.

'Hah.' Amanda looked up from her crossword. 'With you, falling in love is entirely predictable.'

'So?' Janice looked hurt.

'I think that Black Swans would generally be major public events,' I said. 'Not private experiences.'

'But to the person having the experiences, the private experience may be as important as a war. Or even more so,' Trevor answered.


'Religious conversion would be another one, eh? Or suddenly realising something, out of the blue. Like it suddenly dawns on you, for no reason at all, that your best friend has been robbing you blind all these years.'

'Which friend is this?' Rupert asked.

'Hypothetical,' Trevor told him.

'Hypothetical? You mean it hasn't happened? Why talk about it, then?'

'Trevor's got a point,' I said. 'These things are important. And they can seem to come out of nowhere. If I were a psychoanalyst, I might say they were Black Swans of the Unconscious.'

'White Crows,' Trevor said.

'White crows don't exist,' Rupert said. 'Black swans do.'

'All the better,' I said. 'White crows aren't things that happen in the material world. They're purely and simply changes in point of view.'

'Take a frog, for example,' Trevor went. 'One moment it's just a slimy green animal. Next minute it's a symbol of the Great Spirit of Nature, a White Crow.'

'Or a handsome prince,' Janice said.

'How can a frog be a crow,' Rupert said. 'I don't understand.'

26 November 2008


© Chris Else 2008