Thursday, 6 November 2008

Black Swan Theory and human comprehension

Earlier, I read an interesting little BBC discussion on the intransigence of doubt to politicians. It highlights how difficult it is, in practice, to make definite predictions when approaching political matters. This all revolves around the antipathy politicians have to admitting that they don't know about anything. Consequently, when approaches don't work, the public feels betrayed when the fault is really with the indeterminate nature of facts, and the inability of theories to really approximate the real world around us.
An important touchstone for such musings is the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His Black Swan theory asserts the impossibility of a comprehension of the world clear enough to ever predict events. Situations will always occur that confound theories and patterns of explanation. Just as politicians have to manufacture (or fake) certainty around issues, we are all subject to the vagaries of events.
This has important consequences for political organisations. While Taleb is correct to state that it is impossible to predict the future (and he includes the example of the current market crisis as a valuable example), the greater number of minds focused upon a situation, the greater the chance that some individual will comprehend it. It is vital, then, that ultimately as many minds as possible are concerted upon issues. Better political systems are ones that encourage the widespread incorporation of interested individuals as well as common reflection amongst currently uninterested ones, in the hope of capturing as many as possible angles of thought.
This plays into the ideas of John Dryzek when he highlights the segmented nature of current government. The separation of governments into departments splinters goals into particular areas, often contradicting one another (think of transports effects upon climate change etc.). These departmental angles become self defeating. We need a system that can handle, nee encourage, holistic understandings in individuals, sift them, and conglomerate them into eventual outcomes. That way the unpredictibility of the universe is countered by the considered conceptualisations of as many individuals as possible.

No comments: