The Fourth Installment Of The Signal And The Noise By Nate Silver

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I wanted to share some information from the chapter entitled Desperately Seeking Signal on page 172 as it speaks on the predictability of earthquakes. I love this excerpt:

“Even if we had a thousand years of reliable seismological records, however, it might be that we would not get all that far. It may be that there are intrinsic limits on the predictability of earthquakes.

Earthquakes may be an inherently complex process. The theory of complexity that the late physicist Per Bak and others developed is different from chaos theory, although the two are often lumped together. Instead, the theory suggests that very simple things can behave in strange and mysterious ways when they interact with one another.

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Bak’s favorite example was that of a sandpile on a beach. If you drop another grain of sand onto the pile (what could be simpler than a grain of sand?), it can actually do one of three things. Depending on the shape and size of the pile, it might stay more or less where it lands, or it might cascade gently down the small hill toward the bottom of the pile. Or it might do something else: if the pile is too steep, it could destabilize the entire system and trigger a sand avalanche. Complex systems seem to have this property, with large periods of apparent stasis marked by sudden and catastrophic failures. These processes may not literally be random, but they are so irreducibly complex (right down to the last grain of sand) that it just won’t be possible to predict them beyond a certain level.”

I find this very fascinating in attempting to uncover where the next Black Swan may be hiding. I know that it is very difficult to see but I still find understanding complex adaptive systems to be most interesting.


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