A Black Swan Event

Black Swan Events were introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American essayist, scholar, statistician, and risk analyst in his 2001 book, Fooled by Randomness, in which he seeks to show that some extreme events are impossible to predict no matter how sophisticated the statistical model.

Taleb gave the Black Swan Event three attributes.

  • It is an outlier that lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
  • It carries an extreme 'impact'.
  • Human nature leads to explanations after the fact, seeking future predictability that is, in fact, impossible.

The idea of a black swan has actually been traced back to the Roman poet Juvenal who lived in the late 1st and early 2nd century AD.  He coined the Latin phrase "rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno" ("a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan"). 

The black swan phrase became a common expression in 16th century London as a statement of impossibility. Because no one had ever seen a black swan it was assumed that they did not exist.  Then in 1697, the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh discovered black swans in Western Australia.  The metaphor took on a whole new meaning.  A single observation could upend any human system of thought, because in an instant the impossible can become a reality—like a black swan

Albert Greenberg

How we came upon our new name

So now that we have impressed upon you the great erudition with which we approach our new identity, I'd like to tell you how we, in fact, came upon our new name. Helen and I have agonized for several years over finding a name that would encapsulate a new identity.  We went went through a bevy of choices--Chiaroscuro, Salamander, The National Theatre of the United States of America, Slow Boat, Blue Door (our house has a blue door), Orange House (we have an orange house--which looks better than it sounds)...  Then came the fateful day when that Eureka! moment struck like a 10-point earthquake--Super Bowl Sunday.

Our friends, the Quinns, invited us over to watch the game.  Now Helen and football go together like Chris Christie and Dancing with the Stars, so she declined.  There we were seconds to go in the game and  Seattle was one yard away from a touchdown that would give them the championship.  Then the coach, Pete-what-a-strong-jaw-I-have-Carroll, made the biggest boneheaded decision since George-how-cool-do-I-look-in-my-flight-jacket-Bush decided to invade Iraq.  Instead of running Marshawn 'Beast Mode' Lynch right up the gut of the couldn't-stop-him-if-they-had-a-tactile-nuclear-weapon-New England Patriots, Ol' Pete had his poster boy for all that is good and right with America quarterback, Russell Wilson, throw a how-stupid-can-you-be? pass that was intercepted. 

Quinn--Jim Quinn--that is, looked at me and said, "That is a black swan event."

Albert Greenberg