Thursday, July 10, 2014

Black Swan, White Swan... Let's Call The Whole Thing Off -Infectiv

Originally published July 10, 2014 via

Formal logic might be the blackest of magics (and it makes for the most excruciating of reads). Just try figuring out the Black Swan Problem. Read a ton of obnoxious articles by formal logicians – who I imagine wear capes and brood in towers while they go about their dark art of turning language into math – without pushing your thumbs into your eyeballs until they pop.
Good luck.

I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of contest going on where each of these schmucks tries to outdo the other by taking simple ideas and complicating the hell out of them with the smartest-sounding words they can find in a thesaurus. Whoever can turn a paragraph into 3000 words wins!
So here’s the incredibly easy concept that you won’t find anywhere in plain English:
Black Swan Problem:
  1. Dude sees a swan. Said swan is white.
  2. Dude says, “Oh, snap. I guess all swans are white.”
  3. Everyone agrees. All swans are white.
  4. But then I see a black swan.
  5. Dude looks like a dummy.
Black Swan Solution: Don’t be that dude.

This all apparently happened in real life when a Dutch sailor named Antonie Caen became the first European to catch sight of a black swan in 1636 near Shark Bay, Australia. Up until this point, there had been a common English idiom, “You’ll see a black swan before… ” which had roughly the same meaning as, “It’ll be a cold day in Hell when… ” 

Caen’s discovery, and the subsequent scientific legitimacy given by Dr. John Latham in 1790, killed the saying by stabbing it to death with irony. Now, a “black swan” had to be something we thought didn’t exist, but in fact did.

It would be like waking up one morning and being confronted by the front page of the newspaper – Scientists Discover Winged Pig in the Yucatan. I can already imagine the memes crowding Reddit.

(Read the rest...)


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