Probability and Statistics
December 19, 2009 01:19 PM
The Black Swan
The Impact of the Highly Improbable
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
When in high school I first learned about the Gaussian distribution and its discrete relatives, the binomial and the Poisson distributions, I wanted to solve all the exercises at the back of the book that week. The one question that remained unanswered at the back of my head was why so many natural phenomena follow the Gaussian distribution. Later in life I learned that they don’t really. It is an approximation for most phenomena but it is mathematically very convenient.
This book discusses the fact that the Gaussian distribution is invalid for most phenomenon, and more importantly, it discusses and describes the impact of not realizing this invalidity. Some of the themes include discussions of the “winner-take-all” phenomenon, the effects of randomness, the concept of scalability (fractals vs. fat-tail distribution), and instabilities of certain phenomenon when information travels quickly. Taleb discusses in great detail why people have not been able to predict the future (e.g. in trading and risk management) and the fallacies of this inability—in other words, we could do a better job of prediction if we had the right theory or the right assumptions.
These are important ideas for people to understand in the modern world. Taleb’s exposition helps change the way we look at the world.