Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Black Swan event in her Life

Everyday, we draw inferences and form conclusions from past experiences and data.

At workplaces and many other areas in life, we often hear people making remarks and deductions, "From my experience, this thing won't work." ", "from my experience, this is good for such and such situation", "I came to Singapore 3 times and all these trips, i met friendly people and had a good time. Singapore is a country of very friendly, help and polite people."

It is a helpful and practical way of making sense of the world. Yet, we tend to forget that the fact is, just because something is observed to happen over and over again, and hence will probably happen again the next time, it is not proof that it will happen again.

Consider the famous chicken in Bertrand Russell's Problems of Philosophy. A chicken is fed everyday. The observation that the farmer repeatedly feeds it everyday reinforces the belief that being fed everyday by the farmer has become a general rule of life. So everyday, it looks forward to feeding time. And one day, instead of being fed, the chicken is being taken for slaughtering. Something unexpected happened. The "man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead..."

The chicken learn from observation, like we all do, and its confidence grew as the number of friendly feedings grew. But the truth is, the empirical knowledge of safety it gained tells it nothing of the imminent risk of it being slaughter. In fact, it was viciously misleading.

Which brings me to the cheating man story.

A man is two timing his gf/wife. To cover his cheating behaviour, he continues his normal daily routine (from his gf/wife's perspective). This means maintaining the same routine of fetching her to work, remember to call her at a certain time of the day as part of their daily routine, doing things she expected as loving behavior, going for his routine soccer/ men's outing etc. This maintains the uniformity and observed normal behavior which totally unprepare the gf/wife one fine day, when she unexpectedly caught the man red handed. It became a Black Swan event for the wife.

The fact that the scheming man continues to do what he has always been doing is no proof that the man will not cheat on you. The wife has deduced that because they were together for many years and the man has never cheated, and he was continuing doing things he had always did, to fetch her to work, call her to ask on her day, etc, (behaviours interpreted as loving acts) and everything seem normal, she had no reason to suspect him or to spotcheck him early on. She didn't think he will ever cheat on her.

Precisely because of the immense trust, and the man being her pillar of trust, belief and support, the impact is extremely huge.

And becauses we human like to retrospect and give reasons and explanations for everything that happened, the early signs, the reasons, the explanations, emerges to allow the wife to make sense of why this had happened. To the man, it was not unexpected. To the lady, it was catastrophic at revelation. She had a false sense of normality deduced from the man's behaviour.

What can never happen from what we know and study may just happen. We can never fully know.

We can take this from E.J Smith, captain of RMS Titanic who allegedly was quoted to have made the following statement:

" but in all my experiences, i have never been in any accident...of any sort worth of speaking about...." "...i never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was i ever in any predicament that threatened to end in diasater of any sort."

The ship sank in 1912 and is the most talked about shipwreck in history.