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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Incerto)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb · 11 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Incerto)" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
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Amazon Summary
The most influential book of the past seventy-five years: a groundbreaking exploration of everything we know about what we don’t know, now with a new section called “On Robustness and Fragility.” A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives. Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible.” For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. In this revelatory book, Taleb will change the way you look at the world, and this second edition features a new philosophical and empirical essay, “On Robustness and Fragility,” which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan world. Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory. Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, The Black Swan is a landmark book—itself a black swan.
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Hi, Salvatore, Read this book, Nassim discover and explore for most of people the true meaning of randomness, and actually he show useless of "Mathematical true randomness" in real life. Highly recommend this book. And Yep, u are absolutely right, the random effect, is totally depends on how to look at it.
Thank you! I'll buy the book, it's a truly interesting subject :)
Yep, exactly! Especially u can look on more common topic like success, and part of probability in it.

And sorry, they already have a second edition: ,

after this book, i highly recommend read his another book: fooled by randomness

Sep 13, 2011 · azulum on Laws of Productivity
in aggregate, i would say that everything in this study is on point. but there is a caveat—in aggregate. just as there is human variation in size, strength, appearance, so is there variation in intelligence, endurance and work ethic. try as i might, i will never be able to function well deprived of sleep, but my dad is a different story (he's 60, been through chemo, has migraines all the time and can still work longer than me—it's quite infuriating). the point is that all statistical methods which discount outliers, and productivity in aggregate would adhere to the gaussian bell curve†—the so-called normal distribution which by definition discounts outliers, will not show the work of the exceptional ones, whether they exist or not. given my own experience with my old man, i would say

1) it depends on the work 2) it depends on the type of production 3) it depends on the person 4) it depends on the time scale

i believe that those who think they are superhuman are mostly wrong, but some of them are right. wasn't it kahneman and tversky who measured confidence and for people over-estimated their skills? i'm pretty sure 95% of swedes believe that they are better than average in sweden (read taleb's the black swan#). and then there is the Dunning-Kruger effect^ which describes the underestimation of skills by the skilled and the overestimation of skills by the unskilled, the n00bs as it were. so i consider self-selection specious. i want to see a measure of the guys who didn't toot their own horn, or more appropriately, those recognized by their peers as being exceptional.

† production on long time scales does not fit to the bell curve because it can be 'bumpy', but normalized for innovation it should



Well, there are some related topics on Quora: and

You can actually ask your question there as well in case this question gets unnoticed on HN; Quora people are very smart and pretty responsive

see, and do a search for Random Processes or Stochastic Processes on Amazon bookstore

Read about Entropy: A good book on Information theory can help you put it in context:

Check out GMP

If you're philosophically inclined read some existentialists, they deal a lot with irrationality and chaos:

If you're financially inclined read Random Walk Down Wall Street: and the Black Swan: you may want to check out his other book as well, it is rather non-technical:

To learn more on how Wall Street deals with the stock market randomness read some books on Time Series analysis and forecasting, e.g the classic

If you are a data scientist in heart read this great Q&A thread:

I wish I could help you with a link to a clear non-technical introductory article but this is all I've got. As random as it gets:)

Probably some good introductory book on science will fit the bill, science after all deals primarily with randomness. You may want to check out

Also, since it looks like you're like you've been on HN for a while, do you know how I can add this to the questions section? Some posts start with "Ask HN:"

[I'll delete this comment once the issue's been resolved]

Just put "Ask HN:" in the title
Thanks, but I guess I can't change that now.
Thank you very much! You are extremely helpful and supplied me with a lot of material to look over! Some of these books or topics are only covered by big textbooks, which is not exactly what I was looking for (I think it was unclear in my original post), but you did help introduce me to some new topics and fields where randomness takes place.

Also, it's nice to be reminded about Quora. I've heard of it before, but hadn't thought about it in a while. I might try it and give it a go!

An interesting viewpoint on what it takes to "predict" such influential events (including the adoption of a particular product/service) is the black swan theory. Nassim Nicholas Taleb seems to be very closely associated with it.

Basically, Taleb says the event must be:

1. Quite difficult to predict

2. Have an significant impact

3. Be able to be explained rationally, after the fact

Examples include September 11th attacks, the personal computer, Google and others.


Read more about at your desired level of interest:






Note: I found the writing style of the author to be a little quirky. You may want to read a sample chapter at local bookstore before going all in.

Leading to more herding and informational cascades ( wherein individuals cease to follow their own thoughts and instead rush to verify what they have heard through (in this case) the academic grapevine.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb also addresses this topic in some depth in his book "The black Swan" (

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of [The Black Swan]( suggests not listening to men who wears ties, especially when they are making predictions about the future.

The fellow's predictions in the past have missed the big events: don't bother trusting his newest predictions.

One should be wary of anyone making predictions (those in ties are just especially annoying because they take themselves so seriously). Mr. Simmons says he doesn't believe we will discover any other energy sources that will deliver sufficient energy. Then he claims only to base his predictions on data. The past can tell us nothing about future invention.

That said, it's about time for the world to turn the Black Swan of peak oil into a Grey Swan (to use Mr. Taleb's expression). We really ought to start preparing to soften the blow. The current alarm is also inspiring bright folks to research alternative energy sources and that can only be good for us in the long term.

perhaps not exactly what you are looking for but: nassim nicholas taleb:
Don't know why this is getting downvoted -- I read and enjoyed this books a lot recently. I'm finding this to be a great thread for resources to satisfy the curiosity about probability and statistics that they left me with.
I don't doubt they're enjoyable books, but they're more about the social implications of statistics. They aren't good books to teach you statistics, which was the topic of this thread.
Well, if it works it's a great model...

A "sell the company" business model is like becoming an actor with a mind of becoming rich like Tom Cruise. No doubt some people who do it will find some success, but by definition this is something that (a) works only for a small number of people (the world needs a limited number of movie stars, Google & Co acquire a limited number of companies) and (b) contains a large element of luck - many actors have comparable talent & looks, many companies can (and a few already have) build a Twitter-like product.

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a great book about the randomness in our lives:

Selling the company: that's not a rare event. An IPO: that's like becoming an actor with the intent of being the next Tom Cruise. There are many, many buyers out there, hardly just Google. If you make something that people need (not merely what they think they want, but what they need) then you will be able to sell.
Read Taleb's book, "The Black Swan." Very timely these days.

Honestly, Black Swan is not Taleb's best book. I would recommend you read Fooled By Randomness first if you have the chance...

Both are good and help give you some perspective on stepping back and looking at the big picture.
In the above talk, he mentions that Black Swan is better than Fooled by Randomness.
I grabbed this book to read on the flight to Dublin (from Seattle). It's a good read; humorous, but informative.
As you might guess, this is one of my favorite books! One of the things I find so fascinating is how, as in Fooled By Randomness, the concepts he outlines are readily applicable to so many spheres of activity in the modern world. There are black swans happening and about to happen in every field where modern technology has accelerated communication and is changing the way things are done.
Listen to this talk he gave at the Long Now:
Didn't the black swan refer to Kahnemann? Drat, I've lent out my copy.

I haven't read, but maybe I should - just checked out the reviews on amazon.

It is interesting to note though how markets (and in particular stockmarkets) are heavily influenced by behavioral economics and traders inability to assess a situation correctly in statistical terms, which creates a non-equilibrium in the marketplace. I actually thought up a plan for exploiting this that might just work, unfortunately I am not a programmer so I will have a tough time implementing it.

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