Roger von Oech

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Stephen Denny

Roger: I think you and the Black Swan just debunked global warming.

Roger von Oech

Stephen: That is a subject on which I'm a professed agnostic. But I will say this: while I was reading "The Black Swan," the Global Warming Cassandras were among the first people I thought of whose ideas and predictions about the future were no more valuable than cabdrivers' predictions. As Taleb puts it: "The future is unpredictable, but we humans try to concoct stories to convince ourselves that the world is more predictable than it actually is."


Brilliant! I can't wait to pick up a copy. The idea of history and societies moving from fracture to fracture is the same as the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution. Kurt Vonnegut once quoted a former teacher of his, who pointed out that during the Decline and Fall of the Roman empire, the Romans were not running around saying, "We're delining! We're falling!"

Tom Haskins

Thanks for this tantalizing synopsis, Roger. Before I get started reading "The Black Swan", I've been finishing some books in applied neuroscience. They suggest that our propensity for categorical reasoning and imaginary control of the unpredictable comprise a viable cognitive strategy. We experience our unconscious mind as wildly untamed with unpredictable mood changes, urges, fantasies and re-enactments of trauma. We develop our denial of "the inner black swan" to control our own outbursts and disappearances.

The change Taleb is proposing seems very similar to the change in cognitive strategies when we begin to work with our unconscious mind: finding talents within or getting creative with unforeseen inspirations, intuitions and insights that "came out of the blue". We learn from experience to stop predicting which design scheme will be the one used, which small change will play out as a major turning point in the design process, and which big problem will turn out to be no problem at all.

Valeria Maltoni


A very enjoyable review. I agree with your statement that the book needs to be taken in small doses. That's why I made my post about one chapter only vs. trying to get to everything. You have done well doing that, though. Complimenti! And one bit of trivia on Taleb, he speaks some Italian.

Roger von Oech

Joel: If like studying history, you'll enjoy Taleb's take on history and what we can learn and not learn from it.

Tom: Always a treat when you stop by! What neuroscience and cognitive studies books and/or links can you recommend?

Valeria: Your review several months ago was one of several to persuade me to pick up the Black Swan. As I said on your site, I had enjoyed Taleb's previous book, "Fooled By Randomness." I liked the current work more.

Tom Haskins

"Hare Brain Tortoise Mind" by Guy Claxton relates the most to creativity (Twyla Tharpe recommends it in her "The Creative Habit")

"Strangers to Ourselves" By Timothy D. Wilson is the best one so far about how well we function unconsciously and ought to work with this unknowable dimension to our minds.


Roger - thanks for announcing this book to me... it is highly synchronistic with what I've been thinking in the last few days. Namely: that models (such as last year's and probably this year's hurricane forecasts) won't work predictively IF one or more main formative ingredients has changed. Humanly constructed models are always based on the historical record. Thus if something quite different enters the equation, then the model will be inaccurate.

However, the author of Black Swan is incorrect, it seems to me, in a couple regards:

1) The future CAN be predicted fairly well, if the nature of elements interacting is as before. Only when a major shift of input elements occurs (a quantum leap or whatever) does the future appear as unpredictable.

2) The author apparently speaks of this as randomness... but that would not necessarily be so. The new input MIGHT not be random... it could be intentional. Depending upon one's world view, one may say that "God's hand reached in" or "enough humans believed differently" or...?

3)Relevant to 2) above, is an insight I had just a couple days ago:
from the viewpoint of a particular human state of understanding, something of "a higher order" might not appear as an order, but rather as a chaos. In other words, from the lower ordered state, the higher order might not appear meaningful or ordered at all... in fact, this higher order might be entirely imperceptible from the lower order.

The dangling question: "If personal, or world history, were to actually come to an end... that is: the historical record was no longer a driving force, what would be there, what would happen?"

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