by Gene Callahan
I am now on my second review of Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, the first of which will appear in The Review of Austrian Economics soon, and the second of which, an essay length review, is due out in a forthcoming issue of Critical Review. I have very mixed feelings about this book — Taleb is very good in his areas of expertise, but apparently feels that his skill in those domains makes him emminently qualified to propound on any damned thing that comes into his head. I wanted to share with ThinkMarkets readers a little excerpt from my upcoming CR review:
Unaware that he is illegitimately importing explanatory terms from domains in which they make perfect sense into a territory in which their use is banned for incoherence, Taleb writes, “But it is hard to look at a computer or a car and consider them the result of aimless process. Yet they are” (170). Certainly, if we restrict ourselves to considering the human past in terms of matter and energy mechanically interacting to produce unwilled motion, or even in terms of the statistical aggregates of a social science that analyzes society as a sort of mechanism that is controlled by the influence of such aggregates, then we have pre-determined that all we will discover are aimless processes. That only means that we have found what the rules of our search restricted us to finding. That does not render such findings useless or incoherent, but only demonstrates their conditional nature. Other than an unfounded prejudice against any alternative guidelines for exploring the human past, there is no reason we shouldn’t conduct other explorations using other investigative principles, such as attempting to understand how events of the past arose from purposeful human action. From that perspective it is ludicrous to propose that computers and cars were the outcome of “aimless process,” since it is obvious that their inventors set out intending to create useful machines, and were not merely throwing together random materials only to be shocked that the result could, for instance, be used to get around town more rapidly or run a spreadsheet program.