As a philosopher, I like to take a great deal of time in choosing words that are appropriate for what I am trying to expose. Recently, I have been thinking about certain classes of events of which wild card and black swan events are examples. The problem I ran into is the problem of a proper definition of terms. What I want to try to do is find the right terms to express the concepts that I am working on. Without further ado, let us begin.
I’m thinking of events that are unpredictable and unanticipated, as well as improbable. I sometimes call these “Impossible Events” in the sense that you never in a million years would have thought that such a thing was possible, i.e. in the moment, the event is literally impossible, at least it is impossible to CONCEIVE of it happening. It’s not a possibility you currently entertain.
It has been my experience in life that human life is peppered lavishly with such Impossible Events. They are not coincidences or even synchronicities and they are not always high-impact events. They are just rare events and wild cards in that regard. It’s not just that they are improbable, but that the foundations of probability themselves cannot provide even a framework for conceiving of such possibilities. It is like when the least likely option is the one that takes the cake and in the wisdom of your risk analysis, you failed to consider that it was even an option or a possibility. Surprise majeure.
What I’d like to do is come up with a kind of impossibility theorem that states that the impossible often happens. I suppose it would be a “possibility theorem” for impossible cases, instances of impossible events.
It’s not that these events are contradictory or even that they are ironic. It’s that it was impossible to anticipate them because the gear-work didn’t exist to even be able to conceive of such possibilities. This is a blindness that humans have, we can only conceive of what we know, and these types of events are closer to what were called “Unknown Unknowns” by then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Experience is not a reliable guide for these types of events. They have never happened before. They are impossible, miraculous if you will. It is miraculous that such a thing could happen, since it was by all conceptions impossible.
Sometimes these events can be of very high-impact, but of positive impact. Other times, the impact is negative. But they are worse than rare events. They are events that have never happened before, so it’s not a question of frequency. They can be seen to be akin to cascading discontinuity sets, to rare events, extreme risks, events in the very Long Tail, outliers, Large deviations, etc. They are events for which you would reasonably give a 0% chance of happening at any moment in time. Yet they happen constantly around us.
Enter Extreme Philosophy
Surprise majeure. We are speaking of a “contest of circumstances”, unlikely events that were previously inconceivable. We did not have the concepts to deal with such eventualities. We cannot comprehend how it could happen, yet it does and on an hourly and daily basis.
In these impossible events, sometimes it’s just weird, it’s strange, it takes you out of your comfort zone. They are rare events, extreme events, it’s not a matter of frequency because they’ve never happenedd before, and you lack the ability to conceive of them, yet they happen all of the time. They can have high impact or low impact, good or bad impact, and sometimes they are hilarious: These perplexity-points is what I call them. They defy all logic and expectation. Often you can be pleasantly surprised by these events, like when you just happen to look at the sky in some direction and you see this maginificent sunset, it looks like it’s from a Technicolor movie, you think you are hallucinating, etc. Well those are joyous events and are the same kind of perplexity-points. The unexpected will happen. They are unreasonable accidents. They form part of the mystery of being.
In a sense, these unlikely and often inexplicable events are value transgressions. They transgress our values of knowledge, expectation, of a billiard-ball universe with smoothly operating simple laws. In a sense they are miracles, inexplicable, bizarre, strange.
In an effort to generalize the concept, I have chosen to speak of perplexity-points. Perplexity-points, a.k.a. p-points, occur throughout the day whenever we encounter something strange or uncomfortable. They can be wild card events, cascading discontinuity sets, or just basic elements of surprise. The brain is dealing with too many variables and collapses. You have hit the reset button. Perplexity is upon us. Too many constraints, cannot compute.
More to come…
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