In The Black Swan, Taleb shows in a playful way that Black Swan events explain almost everything about our world, and yet we—especially the experts—are blind to them.
Yevgenia’s interest in philosophy
Five years ago, Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova was an obscure and unpublished novelist, with an unusual background. She was a neuroscientist with an interest in philosophy (her first three husbands had been philosophers), and she got it into her stubborn Franco-Russian head to express her research and ideas in literary form.
Publishing rejection letters
No publisher would have given her the time of the day, except that there was, at the time, some interest in those rare scientists who could manage to express themselves in semi-understandable sentences. A few publishers agreed to speak with her; they hoped that she would grow up and write a ‘popular science book on consciousness.’ She received enough attention to get the courtesy of rejection letters and occasional insulting comments instead of the far more insulting and demeaning silence.
Publishers were confused by her manuscript. She could not even answer their first question: ‘Is this fiction or nonfiction?’ Nor could she respond to the ‘Who is this book written for?’ on the publishers’ book proposal forms. One editor protectively added, “This, my dear friend, will only sell ten copies, including those bought by your ex-husbands and family members.”
A famous writing workshop
She had attended a famous writing workshop five years earlier and came out nauseated. ‘Writing well’ seemed to mean obeying arbitrary rules that had grown into gospel, with the confirmatory reinforcement of what we call ‘experience.’ The workshop instructor, gentle but firm in his delivery, told her that her case was utterly hopeless.
Yevgenia ended up posting the entire manuscript of her main book, A Story of Recursion, on the Web. There it found a small audience, which included the shrewd owner of a small unknown publishing house, who wore pink-rimmed glasses and spoke primitive Russian (convinced that he was fluent). He offered to publish her, and agreed to her condition to keep her text completely unedited. He offered her a fraction of the standard royalty rate in return for her editorial stricture–he had so little to lose. She accepted since she had no choice.
One of the great and strange successes in literary history
It took five years for Yevgenia to graduate from the ‘egomaniac without anything to justify it, stubborn and difficult to deal with’ category to “persevering, resolute, painstaking, and fiercely independent.” For her book slowly caught fire, becoming one of the great and strange successes in literary history, selling millions of copies and drawing so-called critical acclaim.
The start-up house has since become a big corporation, with a (polite) receptionist to greet visitors as they enter the main office. Her book has been translated into forty languages (even French). You see her picture everywhere.
Today, Yevgenia has stopped marrying philosophers (they argue too much), and she hides from the press. In classrooms, literary scholars discuss the many clues indicating the inevitability of the new style. It was so evident that we needed to remedy the fragmentation between art and science. After the fact, her talent was so obvious. Many of the editors she later met blamed her for not coming to them, convinced that they would have immediately seen the merit in her work.
Yevgenia’s book is a black swan
[bluebox]The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.[/bluebox]
Explanation of the theory
- The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
- The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
- The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs.