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Historia

On-line version ISSN 2309-8392

Abstract

BENNETT, Bruce S.. The Black Swan and the owl of Minerva: Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the historians. Historia [online]. 2014, vol.59, n.2, pp. 369-387. ISSN 2309-8392.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb considers the importance in human affairs of "Black Swan" events of low probability but high impact. In the process he argues, in a confrontational manner, that historians' causal narratives are mainly invalid on a number of grounds but especially because the unpredictability of Black Swan (or other) events implies that subsequent narratives connecting events are merely "good-sounding stories". This article analyses Taleb's arguments against historical explanation and concludes that they are largely unsatisfactory. It questions Taleb's link between explanation and prediction in the context of history, arguing that Taleb's own concept of randomness as insufficient information implies greater knowledge after an event. However Taleb offers insights which can be of value to historians, and a more irenical relationship would be desirable.

Keywords : Black Swan; chance; randomness; Taleb; probability; causation; narrative; explanation; prediction.

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