there is nothing more predictable than randomness
“there is nothing more predictable than randomness”
an aphorism when unpacked degenerates in tautology? though I would take exception to “predictable;” how is it being used?
Though we can (generally) predict that randomness will occur, can we predict when it will occur and can we predict the content of the random walk? Sometimes >> but if we can, is it truly random, or does it then become just variable? doesn’t randomness include implicit in its definition unpredictability, both as to time and to content? To be aware that randomness is a feature of the universe (and what kind of randomness? is the imprecision of electron position random or is it merely imprecise?) is not the same thing to render it predictable. To predict that randomness will occur is no prediction at all, since being early is the same as being wrong. A weatherman who said “one day it will rain” would be unlikely to get the words “some weatherman” spun above his domicile.
re: Nasser Taleb, The Black Swan — the Black Swan is of course the concept that large unpredictable events are unpredictable and consequently no one will predict them, and that because of several cognitive biases, being unpredictable will mean that will not be prepared for or even considered; ironically, I bought and read this book in the spring of 2007, before law school, before Europe, while the Dow was still humming along nicely.
Nevertheless, the housing market still burst, only Goldman got out in time, and we call came tumbling after. In August 2005, when I began working at B21, I predicted to Bill Hatton that the housing market had about a year left in it. I’m not sure I got it right, but I was close — but did I predict randomness? That wasn’t so much randomness as the chickens coming home to roost anyway —
What’s really random? Barack Obama. I like to think about how in 2000, while everyone was up in arms about recounts and Chad, nobody even knew who this guy was. How many other hidden heroes are out there in America, in the world, appearing to slumber even while they plan? Is someone like Barack Obama predictable? Not while he remains random, I would argue.
I would counter then, Old Father, All Father, that there is nothing predictable about randomness, which is the true tautology, since randomness = impossible to predict. To the extent that information becomes forecastable, it is no longer random.
Finally, then, we are confronted with the conundrum. What to do with all this randomness. Taleb, not knowing when or how randomness will occur, nevertheless was able to craft an investment strategy that loses money in normal years but makes outsized gains in extreme ones. How does this work? How can we apply this lesson to our own lives?
I believe people dismiss randomness because it makes them uncomfortable. How do we live and prepare and save money in a world where there is a nontrivial risk of sudden death at every moment? Well, the first step may be to lose the angst. The fact that I might die at 30 gave me great pause for many years — until I realized what the effect on my life would be if I operated as if I’d die at 30 but instead lived until 100. Not too much money for shoes in my extremity, I surmised.
Randomness was not lessened, and when deciding to go to Law School, I neglected to include a sufficient discount rate on my future earnings to actually make the proper analysis. But nevertheless, I found some path to action. By controlling what I can control.
We cannot pinpoint the position of an electron, yet we’re still able to turn on lightbulbs. The sky has fallen yet we live. To live in and admidst uncertainty is foreign to the human mind. It is why we invent Gods and Laws and Metaphysics, which serve to reduce the random to only those things that are necessarily random. When we walk out on the street, we could randomly get stabbed by people — but that’s something within our power to control, and control it we do — not because we can predict randomness, but because we can see a path of control.
Perhaps the answer is traps? But then again, is a randomness foreseen truly random? A corrollary to the Black Swan is that once it appears, it ceases to be black; i.e., it is no longer truly random, it will become foreseen, and fooled, forecasters will begin to think that because it is visible in hindsight, the next Black Swan will be visible with foresight — which misses the point. The Black Swan is the one you don’t see coming.
What’s the strategy then? To be quick like mercury, so that when the Black Swan comes you can hitch a ride? To build your house as well as you can, and when the tornado knocks it down, to rebuild it as well as you can? To live frugally and cheap, to keep yourself close to yourself so that it is easier to clean up when the mess does get made?
My suggestion is that you cannot predict randomness — any randomness you can predict is not random. But perhaps you can prepare for it — and once the random reveals itself, it does possess a wholesome certainty about it — is is now the world, and no matter who tangled the knot that appears, it is now amenable to the tuggings of men and women.