Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekend Grab Bag ~~ Herding Black Swans

Black Swans, of one sort or another, can be found gliding around all over the place:

The Movie and Ballet

First, and what usually comes to mind first these days, particularly apt as we swan into zodiac sign Virgo: last year's movie, Black Swan, Oscar nominated re-telling of the Swan Lake ballet, exploring the perils of artistic perfection. The heroine (Nina, played by Natalie Portman) gradual cracks into two separate personalities. Her mental breakdown reflects the ballet’s duality embodied by the White Swan and the Black Swan. Traditionally, these characters are portrayed by the same dancer and while Nina is the right dancer for the White Swan her attempts to embody the Black Swan bring about trouble.

In Philosophy and Writers' Trope/Figure of Speech

Recently I've been noticing journalists comment that we're in a "black swan
situation". A little light Googling explains:

The Black Swan Theory or Theory of Black Swan Events is a metaphor that encapsulates the concept that The event is a surprise (to the observer) and has a major impact. After the fact, the event is rationalized by hindsight. The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (born 1960), a Lebanese American essayist whose work focuses on problems of randomness and probability. His 2007 book The Black Swan, was described in a review by Sunday Times as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II.

A "black swan event" sounds like a job for planet Uranus does it not? Uranus, with its eccentric orbit is the planet linked to "the unexpected" in astrology. I wonder if Mr Taleb has Uranus strongly placed in his natal chart - but I can find no birth date for him, other than 1960 - when Uranus was in Leo.

A black swan is an outlier, an event that lies beyond the realm of normal expectations. Most people expect all swans to be white because that's what their experience tells them; a black swan is by definition a surprise. Nevertheless, people tend to concoct explanations for them after the fact, which makes them appear more predictable, and less random, than they are. Our minds are designed to retain, for efficient storage, past information that fits into a compressed narrative. This distortion, called the hindsight bias, prevents us from adequately learning from the past. ~~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Derivation ~~~ The term black swan derives from a Latin expression, its oldest known reference comes from the poet Juvenal's characterization of something being "rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno". In English, "a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan." When the phrase was coined, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the simile lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought. A set of conclusions is potentially undone once any of its fundamental postulates is disproved. In this case, the observation of a single black swan would be the undoing of the phrase's underlying logic, as well as any reasoning that followed from that underlying logic.

On Signs
In towns, cities and villages all over the UK you'd have little trouble finding pubs called The Black Swan with lovely illustrated signs hanging out front.

On a Flag

The Black Swan is the official state emblem of Western Australia, and is depicted on the Flag of Western Australia, as well as being depicted on the Western Australian Coat-of-Arms. The symbol is used in other emblems, coins, logos, mascots and in the naming of sports teams.

The Black Swan is also of spiritual significance in the traditional histories of many Australian Aboriginal peoples across southern Australia. Metaphoric references to black swans have appeared in European culture since long before the real-life discovery of Cygnus atratus in Australia in the 18th century.

In Reality
The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) is a large waterbird, a species of swan, which breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia. The species was hunted to extinction in New Zealand, but later reintroduced. Within Australia they are nomadic, with erratic migration patterns dependent upon climatic conditions. Black Swans are large birds with mostly black plumage and red bills. They are monogamous breeders that share incubation duties and cygnet rearing between the sexes.

The Black Swan was described scientifically by English naturalist John Latham
in 1790. It was formerly placed into a monotypic genus, Chenopis. Black Swans can be found singly, or in loose companies numbering into the hundreds or even thousands. Black Swans are popular birds in zoological gardens and bird collections, and escapees are sometimes seen outside their natural range.

In Dreams:

White swans in dreams are symbolic of cleansing and purifying ourselves and our lives. Black swans indicate deep mysteries within us that are longing to be set free to express themselves creatively.

In Song

Nina Simone with Black Swan

Thom Yorke's Black Swan


Twilight said...

Comment received by e-mail from Gian Paul (not able to access Blogger directly at present)

Taleb could have been crisper in his view that our minds store
experiences (facts after they occured turn such by the workings of our mental screening) in a condensed, rational way. An alternative, less automatic (more aware) way of walking through life is to live new experiences now, instantly, before the cathegorizing mind as usual puts them into some "normal pattern".

If I read your mind T. correctly, you are infering that without
Uranus' influence (and some people realizing that) all would forever
continue in the same, dull "mind - simplification of human passivity".
Taleb more naturalistically used the "Black Swans" to express the same

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~~ Erm - not terribly sure what I'm thinking on this.

Because we don't truly know what astrology is - how and why it works (sometimes) it sounds silly to say that Uranus "causes" unexpected event. It doesn't cause them, yet, because such events often occur in the time/space area when Uranus is in certain positions relative to other planets and cycles, Uranus "seems" to cause these unexpected "black swans" to happen, for us to experience.

I'm philosophically a bit dim I have to say - philosophers lose me very easily! I'm all for simplicity and philosophers are of the opposite inclination.

Anonymous said...

GP: What one might conceive is that the planetary influences permeate all terrestrial molecules and atoms (there is more space between the electrons spinning around a nucleus then between Sun and Earth and all other planets - proportionally speaking.

So, given the possibility of Uranian and other planetary vibrations having free access to all matter (including our own bodies) I can quite well imagine that such influences occur all the time. It's our mind which filters them out. Which of course does not mean that they do not exist. Possibly there are more black swans than we would be comfortable in accepting. But that's "philosophizing"...

Twilight said...

Anon/Gian Paul ~~

That's one possibility, considering that we're all (as the wonderful Carl Sagan said) made from "starstuff".....why wouldn't we be influenced by all the rest of the starstuff?

I still feel more comfortable with the time cycles theory though - thinking of each planet in our system as marking place on a system of multiple time cycles.

Each cycle of time has its own properties and when the cycles cross, they blend or antagonize one another......something along those lines anyway. Black swans could be caused (if cause there be) when certain cycles of time collide.

JD said...

I recognise that second pub sign :)
That's where I get my pictures framed; not in the pub of course but in the shop next door.
Small world huh :)

Twilight said...

JD ~~~ Oh really? Yes indeed - the world's getting smaller by the hour.

Black Swan is (or was in my day) one of the most common pub signs - after Red Lion perhaps....and Queen's Arms/King's Arms.

I always enjoy looking at your sketches on Nourishing Obscurity - and have, so far, failed to say so - will rectify that here! :-)

Louise said...

Thank you for sharing this. I watched the film last week and loved it.

Twilight said...

Louise ~~~ I've still to see the movie, but will do so very soon.
I avoided it when at our local cinema because of all the hype - I'm obtuse that way. ;-)