Finding Extremistan

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb explores the possibility of improbable occurrences beyond our ordinary world. Our day -to-day existence supports our familiar categories and explanations. There is continuity and stability that gives us (false) reassurances that whatever happens next will fall within our expectations. Taleb characterizes this conformity to limitations as occurring "within the Platonic Fold". We idealize forms, models and formulas and assume the variations will conform to these. We live in Mediocristan with fallacious certainty.

Extremistan is home to Black Swans. Rare occurrences with widespread impacts are the opposite of a typical white swan. When we allow for these unusual and extreme occurrences, we are considering power laws, scalable dynamics, and the recursive propagation of responses. We have abandoned our familiar ways of seeing the familiar evidence. We stop predicting, controlling and applying techniques. We allow for the improbable to take off with a life of its own.

Taleb was trained as a securities analyst. He thinks about the improbable in the contexts of investments and sales figures. He grasps the dynamics of the occasional stock market crash or soaring valuations. He expects the skyrocketing book sales of J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown. Taleb was raised under siege in Lebanon during a 13 year war. He sees the robust ability of humans to take the most extreme occurrences and perceive them as more sensible mediocrity. We explain away the improbable instead of entering into it with open minds.

Finding Extremistan is the same challenge posed by countless stories that start out in the ordinary world. Dorothy realizes "she's not in Kansas anymore" upon her arrival in Oz. Wendy, Michael and John Darling leave Nana behind in Hyde Park to soar to Neverland. Frodo leaves the Shire to hook up with elves and dwarves. Lucy goes through the back of the wardrobe to find Narnia. Harry Potter vanishes through a column on platform nine to board the train to Hogwarts on Track 9-3/4.

Extremistan appears in other worlds besides high finance, blockbuster sales and violent conflicts. The highly improbable occurs in our minds. We we get an ingenious inspiration for what to write, we have left the ordinary world. When we receive a sense of what to do that proves to have occurred with an uncanny sense of timing, we are being a Black Swan. Leaving our ordinary mind requires a change of cognitive processing: from thinking to receiving the extraordinary in our minds. We work with our unconscious mind in appreciation instead of opposing it out of fear.

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