Black Swans and the Wisdom of Crowds

Back in 1984 I came up with a theory for my Philosophy degree – it went something like this:

We base our knowledge of the world on experience; say ‘the sun rises in the east’. The more times it happens increases our expectancy of it happening in the future until in our dotage we can say we’re 100% certain it’s going to rise in the east tomorrow and will do so ad infinitum because it’s always done so in the past.

But ad infinitum?

However many times it’s actually risen in the east is always going to be an infinitely small number compared to the infinite number of times it might rise in the north, south or west (or anywhere inbetween). So what might seem a ‘dead cert’ today will be a ‘rank outsider’ tomorrow.

Nicholas Taleb came up with the same theory and called it ‘Black Swan’ theory (we corresponded).

It strikes me that the theory affects ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ in it’s crudest form – just because enough people believe something today doesn’t make it true tomorrow.

But if that’s doing your head in, just ask yourself how many Black Swans can dance on the head of a pin…

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