People think that phenomena happen with frequencies in normal distributions too often.
Nassim Taleb talks about the challenges of coping with uncertainty, predicting events, and understanding history. This wide-ranging conversation looks at investment, health, history and other areas where data play a key role. Taleb, the author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan, imagines two countries, Mediocristan and Extremistan where the ability to understand the past and predict the future is radically different. In Mediocristan, events are generated by a underlying random process that is normally distributed. These events are often physical and observable and they tend to cluster around the middle. Most people are near the average height and no adult is more than nine feet tall. But in Extremistan, the right-hand tail of events is thick and long and the outlier, the seemingly wildly unlikely event is more common than our experience with Mediocristan would indicate. Bill Gates is more than a little wealthier than the average. The civil war in Lebabon or the events of 9/11 were more worse than just a typical bad day in the Beirut or New York City. Taleb’s contention is that we often bring our intuition from Mediocristan for the events of Extremistan, leading us to error. The result is a tendency to be blind-sided by the unexpected.