Black Swan

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book Black Swan, speaks about the “narrative fallacy” and the disease of dimension reduction.

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without quickly weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them. Narrativity comes from an ingrained biological need to reduce dimensionality.

I feel I am within these “reduced dimensionality” environments all the time. At it’s simplest level, it can start with someone saying to me, “Jim is wrong, we definitely don’t have the money to invest in that building.”

In this case, Jim’s ‘wrongness’ is usually – and ultimately – not so simple. Ditto on the fact that there are various interpretations about whether there is the “money to invest in the building.”

These tight beliefs we all carry are further explained by a related concept: The “confirmation bias.” Ideas are sticky: once we produce a theory, it becomes harder and harder to change our minds. One person “believes” we don’t have the money. Another person holds an opposite point of view.

Both individuals will have a natural tendency to look only for corroboration. The “confirmation bias” then reduces the quality of decision making, and ratchets up the potential for conflict.

To counter this problem, the philosopher Karl Popper introduced the mechanisms of “conjectures and refutations”.

With any bold conjecture – in this case the belief in affordability – I would immediately start looking for the observation(s) that might prove me wrong. This is the alternative to our seemingly hard-wired search for confirmation.

This takes training as it seems counter to our nature. To have a belief, and be genuinely interested in refuting it?

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