BLACKSWANMichaelGottschalk:Getty

An Irishman's take on Fukushima and the black swan:

With extremely rare events, there is an obvious limit to the power of rational calculation. Being extremely rare, they don’t happen often enough for us to be able to work out the patterns of their occurrence. Yet when it comes to systems designed by mathematically literate people themselves, this wisdom goes out the window. Highly unlikely events are treated as if they are, in effect, impossible...

This way of thinking is peculiar to economic and scientific elites, who are prey to utopian delusions.

The rest of humanity tends, from the bitter experience of countless generations, to believe in Sod’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” We may add the extensions of Murphy’s law: “If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that goes wrong will be the one that can cause most damage. If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.”

Now I understand the deep genetic causes of my occasional dips into hyper-pessimism. It's the Irish in me!

And, yes, I know we cannot live by this maxim, in a highly developed advanced industrial society. But that just keeps suggesting to me that a highly developed advanced industrial society is itself prone to a black swan. In the grand narrative of human existence, it's a recent hubristic blip.

We may be the exception that ultimately proves the rule. It sure feels like it lately, doesn't it?

(Photo: Black swan Petra swims behind a swan shaped pedal boat 28 March 2007 on the Aasee lake in Muenster, northwestern Germany. Petra fell in love with the pedal boat already in spring 2006, never left its side and even spent the winter time with the boat at Muenster's zoo. Both were brought now back to the Aasee, where the romance began. By Michael Gottschalk/Getty.)

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