Taleb believes in tinkering – it was to be the title of his next book. Trial and error will save us from ourselves because they capture benign black swans. Look at the three big inventions of our time: lasers, computers and the internet. They were all produced by tinkering and none of them ended up doing what their inventors intended them to do. All were black swans. The big hope for the world is that, as we tinker, we have a capacity for choosing the best outcomes.
“We have the ability to identify our mistakes eventually better than average; that’s what saves us.” We choose the iPod over the Walkman. Medicine improved exponentially when the tinkering barber surgeons took over from the high theorists. They just went with what worked, irrespective of why it worked. Our sense of the good tinker is not infallible, but it might be just enough to turn away from the apocalypse that now threatens Extremistan.
Bryan Appleyard quoting Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Sunday Times.
Taleb also cites the work of Philip Scranton who has demonstrated that:
the original developers of the jet engine had no idea of the theory behind it, which was only developed after the fact. The jet engine was arrived at through tinkering and rote trial and error.
The theory to explain why it worked came later.
Image by jurvetson licensed under Creative Commons.