Thursday, 26 July 2007

Black Swans

Thursday 8.30 am

Black Swans. The totally unexpected happening. They happen all the time and yet are always unexpected. You have heard the excuses, "it was a one in a million chance" or "a one in 500 year occurance" or even just "who would have thought that would happen ?" The nuclear industry will probably come up with a good one when they poison the planet or the financial planners when your life savings disappear. But logically, if something can happen then it will. Or it will not. Or it might, we cannot foresee the future after all. So why are we surprised. I have been reading "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and although quite difficult to read ( he rambles on just like I do ) he does explain it better. It seems our brains are set up to recognise patterns, day follows night follows day that sort of thing. It helps us live, a car going along the road in the distance will end up there in a few minutes and so I can cross safely here now. It all done without concious thought most of the time, we presume the ground will be there when we step and so can think or talk of other things whilst walking. But what if it isn't ? You throw a ball in the air and it comes down again, but what if it doesn't ? "Of course it will" you might say, "I have done it a million times, it always comes down". But this is where the unexpected comes in. Our minds see patterns and then extrapolate them into the future, and this is so hardwired into us that we cannot envisage it any other way, and this is why we are surprised when something (unexpected) happens. And Black Swans ? I think it was David Hume who mentioned this first. You see a white swan, and another and another. You might spend your whole life looking for swans and they are all white. But at no time no matter how many white swans you see, can you say that all swans are white. One black swan in a million white ones changes everything. And If you threw a ball up and it stopped in mid air ? As Nicola said about Harry Potter, part of the appeal is that lots of us would like things to be suddenly different, for magic perhaps to be real. Deep down inside I think we know it is and have just forgotten.

Three black ducks, three white ducks, and three brown ducks, but no ducklings. pic by nicola

Monday, 23 July 2007

More of the Pacific

Monday 9pm

Wouldn't it have been great if my first view of the Pacific Ocean had been a twinkly azure blue-green sea, stretching to a distant horizon, glimpsed through primordial Norfolk Pines. It wasn't. It was a fertiliser factory seen in the dark through the rain. Let me explain. We arrived in New Zealand at Auckland in the middle of the night. After stopping the rest of that night in one of those souless instantly forgotten boxy motels with souless service and a souless breakfast, both of which I would like to forget, we picked up a hire car and headed for Havelock. What we thought would be a sixhour journey became eight then ten, and as we came down into Hawkes Bay it was long since dark and the rain had started. We were all tired and just wanted to arrive. Driving out of Napier towards Havelock, as I gazed sleepily out of the car window ( Nicola was driving ) I saw in the vague lighting . . . dusty factories, vandal decorated railway wagons, and chimneys. "Oh my God " I thought, "what have we done " The rest of the journey was coloured by this, all I could see in the dark were row upon row of houses and more factories. ( we were driving through orchards ! ) In the daylight, well yes the factory is still there but on the other side of the road is also the pacific, azure blue-green and yes, bordered by a row of Norfolk Pines. Sometimes we just do not see what is really there. Sometimes you need to look in a different way or different direction, the answer is there.

The Pacific Ocean, for me a symbol of everything we dream of but never expect to find. But you can you know.

Picture of fertiliser factory by Nicola ( hope she was not driving while taking this ! )

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