Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Black Swan

Korzybski's famous 'aphorism'—"A map is not the territory" has become ubiquitous in some parts of the culture.

The analogy seems so compelling and has become such a common part of people's 'mental furniture', that many people like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, use it as part of their own formulating without any indication that they know that it came from Korzybski or constituted an important formulation of his system of 'thought'.

That's not necessarily a fault of Taleb's yet I believe that his own excellent writing would probably benefit from his knowing about Korzybski and reading his work.

At any rate, the difference between map and territory appears as a repetitive motif throughout his wonderful book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Indeed, it constitutes very much part of Taleb's theme of expecting the unexpected:
"What I call Platonicity, after the ideas (and personality) of the philosopher Plato, is our tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well-defined "forms," whether objects, like triangles, or social notions, like utopias (societies built according to some blueprint of what "makes sense"), even nationalities. When these ideas and crisp constructs inhabit our minds, we privilege them over other less elegant objects, those with messier and less tractable structures (an idea that I will elaborate progressively throughout this book.)" (p. xxv)
Taleb's The Black Swan goes onto my list of highly recommended 'reads' for aspiring non-aristotelians (or non-platonists).

1 comment:

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