I’ve just finished reading Fooled by Randomness (The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and have found it to have a strange effect on my outlook. In some respects it seems almost to be creating a feedback loop in my brain. As an example, take the riots in various parts of London over the last few days. As I read about them and watched video clips I found myself thinking not ‘how terrible, we must do something’ but ‘perhaps this is simply one of those things that will happen every so often when you have a large number of people living in close proximity’.
No sooner had I thought this than I disagreed with myself – fatalism is something that I abhor and my response seemed to almost be assuming that there was nothing that could be done to prevent incidents like this occurring. Of course that then lead me on to think about how the specific conditions making these events more likely could be altered. How social, political and economic change might make them less probable (or alternatively more probable if you get it wrong).
This is why I am actually happy that our brains don’t truly see the random nature of the word around us. It would make taking action on anything that much more difficult. The reality is that there is a chance that we will fail no matter how hard we try or how clever we are, just as there is a chance that we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams. All we can do is to try to take as much of the information available to us into account as our poor biological brains can cope with, learn to live with our choices and then change our minds when we find out something new.