The White Swan: Beyond Occam’s Razor

“What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
”  Nassim Nicholas Tale

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite” ~ William Blake


The human race (Homo sapiens sapiens, as we like to call ourselves), is possibly the most extreme example of an invasive species the planet has ever experienced.  Perhaps 200,000 years ago, an infinitesimal number of us diverged from our parent species (Homo sapiens) and now seven billion of us swarm every landmass on the Earth.

The majority of this explosion in population occurred only in the last two centuries; from one billion individuals to seven billion individuals.  Five billion people were added in the last hundred years alone.  This geometry is a type signature of an invasive species, a species that has occupied an ecological niche in which it has no natural predators or other environmental checks to limit its growth.

That we are no longer subject to any natural predation is self-evident; we have become the apex predator of the entire globe.

How, then, have we evaded all other environmental checks to exponential growth, to the present tune of seven billion and accelerating ever further?

That shift in paradigm, to my way of thinking actually came about a little earlier, as expressed in the dawn of the Neolithic. . . a time beginning perhaps twelve thousand years ago.

The popular view is that mankind settled down from ragged bands of opportunistic scavengers, “hunter-gatherers”, to far superior lives as herdsmen and farmers.  We domesticated both plants and animals, mastered metallurgy and subsequently learned the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare to manage the enormous richesse gained from exploiting our environment in these new ways.  The first cities were built, and the first proto-nations were formed.  Man had discovered the extractive economy, and assumed the power of life and death over all he surveyed.  He became civilized.

The hunter-gatherers, those who were left of them, faded into the darkness outside the firelight of civilization.  They and their economy, the economy of symbiosis, withdrew into the hinterlands, the wilderness.

Now, the fundament of the extractive economy is that it assumes that the resources from which it profits are limitless and effectively free for the taking.  Oil, that geologic distillation of Carboniferous swamps, has no value and no price until we put a price upon it.  The act of possession becomes singly material, rather than relational.  The concept of abstract wealth as a mensuration of the material life enters here; two primary expressions of early metallurgy were weapons and currency; war and commerce.  The very land itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold, invaded and defended, as also do the people who live upon it.

The economy of symbiosis has no currency.  It lacks the initial and subsequent levels of separation in which the relational algorithm is separated into subject and object.  Value can neither be accumulated or lost, as it cannot be differentiated from the act of living, which itself is intrinsically a zero-sum entity.   It is fractal in nature: “As above, so below.”

The difference between these two economies is the result of something I can only identify as a cognitive mutation, a genetic fault line or discontinuity in the neural stratigraphy of the human mind.  The new man, this invasive subspecies of Homo, rapidly overwhelmed the old and became the dominant feature in any ecosystem he colonized.

And at the spiritual horizon, the symbiotic Shamanic worldview succumbed to the extractive Neolithic, the hierarchic imposition of Deity, Deified, and Profane.  William Blake’s doors of perception were barred and nailed shut; for all practical purposes, forever.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Or so we thought.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Another characteristic of an invasive species is that its population crashes just as dramatically as it expanded when it has consumed the relative overabundance of resources that were available to it in the environments it colonized.

To that species, this is a terminal Black Swan Event; life as they know it abruptly ends, as do the lives of most – if not all – of the population.

The world we are living in today, with its increasingly and violently erratic climate, ever more tenuous energy base and debased and poisoned lands, seas and atmosphere shows all the signs of a niche pushed past its limits of recovery by an invasive species.

Concomitantly, the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare – the flowers of the Neolithic mutation – have proved barren and seedless and are rotting on the stem. As William Yeats noted in The Second Coming:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

The survivors will be the Shamans, those who have retained or re-learned the alphabet of symbiosis, both physical and spiritual.  The doors of perception will be opened and cleansed; the wing song of the first, impossible white swans will fill the air.


 wódr̥  copyright 25.11.11  

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  2. Pingback: The White Swan II: “Energy is Eternal Delight” | Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  3. wódr̥

    Violet Hour Muse, Rob –

    You’ll remember that at the very end of my words, I called upon the White Swan. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Taleb, but I see Black Swan/WhiteSwan as the two halves of the Yin-Yang or the unison of the double helix, so:

    “What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
    ~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    “What we call here a White Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an ex-stasis, as it begins within the realm of regular expectations, because everything in the timestream – past, present and future – convincingly points to its possibility. Second, it carries an unconditional holistic resonance; it thrills the soul. Third, in spite of its ecstatic status, human nature makes us prescient of its occurrence before the fact, making it expectable and desirable.
    ~ wódr

    In my life, I have been graced by Grandfather with the White Swan flying at my left shoulder and the Black Swan at my right. For a long time I felt torn to pieces by these two, but things are coming right, now . . . . .



  4. Violet Hour Muse

    Scott Alexander-King of ‘Animal Dreaming’ attributes the Black Swan to Grace: teaching us to see below the surface and to recognize the true essence of others while demonstrating how to trust the grace of our own being.

    Ravenari of Wildspeak offers another interpretation;

    The Black Swan is the symbol for Western Australia


  5. rob

    I’ve heard it said that the Black Swan is also symbolic of the desire for unlocking of and re-unification with the deeper ‘mysteries’, the natural ‘gift’ of Life, otherwise with-held…

    …….a Black Swan ‘event’ may be a natural eruption of that desire, innate within Life, its juice and accompanying thirst for innate knowledge, breaking through – the ‘grace’ (Swan) of Natural Law (black)…?!

    I think you are right about the neolithic….a kind of global post-traumatic stress dysfunction that saw its opportunity…..the schism of Natural Law and Human Law….?!

    …..through 12k yrs of progressive separation from innate knowledge, become exponential – human nature has created a technology of neurosis – sucking at the flower of global trauma, intoxicated by the pervasive scent of the ‘old wound’, seeking to re-unite with that knowledge while controlling the pain, neurotic reflex, a ‘with-holding from’ psychism that (ironically) inculcates further ‘separation’ and manifests its ‘objective’ in objectivity

    True too with the shamans – shamans ‘know’ and so can/do we all, at root – healing, re-membering, making whole, restoring the ‘gift’ – shaman’s knowledge/symbiotic by nature

    Symbiosis keeps the ‘gift’ in circulation – objectification/commodification profers ownership, cuts off circulation, kills the gift and subverts its vitality, its power, which is Life force (for a v good read on the subversion of our innate ability to engage with the world through gifting see Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’) – no greater desire than Life in search of itself, its own ‘mysteries’

    thanks friend


  6. marriagecoach1

    He did not refer to Occam’s Razor in the piece. Basically it states that given any scientific idea, the simplest one is usually the right one. I have used it in my writings about Global warming and how CO2 can’t cause it.



    • Ishtar Babilu Dingir

      I think the point about Occam’s Razor is covered in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s quote, at the beginning, about how we try to justify the unjustifiable in retrospect and with post-hoc explanations. Occam’s Razor breaks down quite quickly when we step through the doors of perception because the rules of a whole new dimension, and dimensions, rewrite reality. In other words, Occam’s Razor is only as good as the intelligence, wisdom and perception of the person wielding it and, in the hands of some, it can be a pretty blunt instrument. I should add that in Nature, many times the most seemingly simple (to our minds) route is not taken but something more complicated, hence the Fibonacci spiral which is at the heart of creation. There are no straight, uncomplicated lines in Nature.


  7. Ishtar Babilu Dingir

    wódr̥ this is a wonderful, inspired piece that made my heart sing and soar just like those Trumpeter Swans in the last picture (above). Thank you for letting me publish it here.


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