Daily Archives: March 4, 2008

Black swans and dead turkeys

by Feisal Naqvi

I first started playing cards in high school. Ever since then — through college, law school and more than a decade of legal practice — I have continued to play; occasionally for profit, sometimes for a loss, and always for fun.

The problem with playing cards seriously though is that you start analysing all social phenomena like a card player. What that means is that you always play the odds. In any given situation, you figure out the percentage play and then stick to it. If you go for broke, you will most likely wind up broke. If you get beat by a bad draw, that’s life.

The bigger problem with thinking like a card player is that the card player’s view of probability does not necessarily apply to life beyond the card table. In his brilliant book titled The Black Swan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb explains how very little human beings actually know and how much of life is in fact determined by the highly improbable.

Taleb illustrates his first point about the limitations of human knowledge by referring to the fact that, prior to the European discovery of Australia, there were literally hundreds and thousands — if not millions — of instances where people had observed white swans but no black ones. And yet, once the first black swan was discovered, all of that experience counted for naught. Continue reading


Filed under movements, musings, Pakistan, Politics

Greeks in Chitral, Pakistan?

Salman Rashid debunks a few myths here:

There is no historical evidence of Alexander or his men straying north of the ridges of the Hindu Kush Mountains into Kafiristan. But we know that the Greeks and the Kalasha themselves are today sold on this piece of charlatanry. The simple answer would thus be to turn to DNA testing

Every half-baked expert who writes on Chitral has to tell us of the Kalasha people of Kafiristan being the progeny of Alexander of Macedonia or at least of the many soldiers he ‘left behind’. So long has this fib been bandied about that even the poor Kalasha have established an amorphous and, at the same time, rigid belief in it.

The refrain is always been that the soldiers ‘left behind’ were responsible for starting the Kalasha line. This implies that Alexander reached Chitral and turning back left his soldiers there. Continue reading


Filed under History, Media