Sunday, March 20, 2011

Black Swan Events And Paradigm Shifts

The negative black swan events have come to roost and humans are not very happy about it.  They manifest as economic market crashes, human tragedy emanating from Sumatra and Japan earthquakes and tsunamis, climate change in an ever-shifting planetary swirl of the moisture-heat-cloud-rain engine.  Floods of great magnitude rearrange the land, ocean, and sky and carve new river beds and marshes.  We did not notice at first, until more people became involved and compassion swelled in our hearts for those trapped by events of great consequence.  
Black swan events are surprising, rare, and unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence, with dominant roles in history events that occur on the tail ends of evidence probability curves.  They can be positive or negative, depending on our interpretation of the consequences that result from them and they can change the course of civilization.  As such, black swan events cannot be predicted and will not be accounted for in the mechanistic conceptualization of rational scientific thinking.  Science depends on the repeatable and predictable patterns of sequential events that have frequent occurrence.  For rare events of great magnitude, we say they are black swan events, and then feel smug to have identified the unidentifiable, without seeing or understanding that we live in a world punctuated by rare major events with undefinable risk or benefit.   
Paradigms are conceptual frameworks that encapsulate the current assumptions about how systems work.  As we work out the details of a system to improve understanding and predictability, we maintain our initial assumptions until evidence shows that they are incorrect.  Then we replace these assumptions with ones that more correctly reflect our evidence.  With this assumption replacement, the paradigm shifts and we have a new conceptual view of the system.  Sometimes the shifts are so large that the system becomes unrecognized; Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics, magic to modern medicine, alchemy to chemistry. 
Black swan events can produce paradigm shifts when we are overwhelmed by our inability to explain the events and consequences of surprising, rare events.  If our world view (model and assumptions) is flexible and we are not attached to outcomes of events, then our thinking and perceptions can shift and we can adapt to the new arrangement of evidence, through systems of food, clothing, shelter, work, play, sleep, families, economies, and science.  
Expect the unexpected in the open space of free thinking.  When assumptions are dissolved and our experience becomes assumption-free, then we can begin to live in the actual world, rather than in a world of assumption and probability.  Black swan events can remind us that our world is risky and composed of changes, beyond the predictability of science and rational thought.  How to think without thought?  Experience, without interpretation.  It takes great patience and courage to be free.  Can we suspend our disbelief?  In wildness is the strength of life. 
Posted by michael 

1 comment:

Joseph's Blog said...

Thanks Michael. Never heard the term black swan before.