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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reading With Care

Ever been a little chagrined by one of the reasons you've liked a book?

"Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" (2003) by Nassim Taleb, had me from the start. Even when out of my depth, the central premise of how we fool ourselves into believing unpredictable events are somehow "explainable" kept me engaged. The author's intellect, coupled with a cheeky irreverence, also helped me through the technical stuff.

However, there were instances when the laughter stuck in my throat. Sometimes, Taleb's disdain for people who have challenged his iconoclastic views got a bit nasty. If a group of people he was dissing happened to be a group I'm frequently scornful of, it was easy to giggle...for a moment. But liking a book because it is snarky is not something to be proud of.  I don't need help being more judgmental.

"Black Swan" devotes serious attention to confirmation bias, the human tendency to seek out information that supports our views and ignore whatever challenges those views. It's a construct I'm very familiar with from years of teaching value-laden subjects like racism. More than once while reading this provocative and intelligent book, I had to remind myself that Taleb's views often mesh with mine. Hmmm.

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