Black Swan Ghosts (book excerpt)

The following is a rough draft excerpt from my forthcoming book Black Swan Ghosts: a sociologist’s encounters with witnesses of unidentified aerial craft, strange beings, and the unexplained (Mount Baldy Press, inc., August 2017, ISBN 0-9715863-7-3) Enjoy

 Chapter Two—Black Swan Ghosts

Most of us get up everyday imagining the world will pretty much be the same as yesterday with only minor, superficial differences. Perhaps it would take too much mental energy to contemplate all the possibilities. And yet sometimes unexpected things happen that shake up the view.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb presents another way to look at things. He shows us that rare events happen more frequently than we anticipate and that our modern statistical methods are uniformly horrible for predicting such rare events. In fact, our whole way of thinking is based on “things as usual” statistics so we don’t know how to deal with the improbable. So when it happens, no one sees it in advance. He calls this Mediocristan, for our ordinary sense of ordinary things. Extremistan is the realm of logic for extreme, rare events. When things are really falling apart. Chains of events interact and produce non-linear outcomes: the effects become disproportionately large compared to the size of the causes.

Think of the catastrophe at Fukushima in the aftermath of the massive earthquake near there and resulting Tsunami in 2009. Simple design decisions made years earlier led to a near total meltdown of the reactor after it was damaged. And the cleanup is still going on today.

Or the credit crunch of 2008-9, where risky financial products bought and sold by banks and investment firms, credit derivatives mainly derived from real estate, became correlated with each other like dominoes in a way that was never seriously imagined. It all came crashing down. There was much more risk than acknowledged and the collapse of one firm could have disproportionate effects on the whole economy if the banking system had been allowed to collapse if the federal government hadn’t stepped in.

Those are Black Swan events, rare, with disproportionately large impacts, and not foreseeable beforehand. Which makes them even more dangerous. These events are rare but accepted as possibilities, even remote ones.

According to Taleb, when we get to edge of understanding of events, we’re in something he calls the “Platonic Fold.” Where our thinking is grey because we don’t have any prior experience with that type of event. It’s in the Platonic Fold that we find the Black Swan Ghosts: events that are not only rare but not talked about for any variety of reasons. Events about which we’re silent and afraid to discuss.

“The Platonic fold is the explosive boundary where the Platonic mind-set enters in contact with messy reality, where the gap between what you know and what you think you know becomes dangerously wide. It is here that the Black Swan is produced.” Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan: Second Edition

Now let’s take another class of events. These are also rare. They are also Black Swan events. But they are not for the most part accepted as real because they are not on most people’s radar. We might think that a meteor collision with the Earth with extremely remote, but still possible. But how about a mass UFO landing? A herd of Bigfoots invading your town? A hoard of vampires approaching from the East?

These would be considered by our social consensus either as extremely rare AND also unreal, or both. These events probably haven’t happened in living memory, anyone’s memory. (Though there are some books that describe supposedly real zombie events through-out history.) No one truly expects them. And yet . . . These are what I call Black Swan Ghosts. Rare events that society as whole has not accepted yet as even being possibly real. They are the stuff of movies and fiction but not taken seriously in national newspapers. Our memory of them is almost entirely derived from fiction.

You might dismiss these type of phenomena as being the stuff of the supernatural. But it’s important to remember that in the Middle Ages vacuum spaces were at one time considered to be supernatural too.

Aristotle had said that vacuums were unnatural and didn’t exist in nature. Entire experiments and thesis were put forward to show that vacuums were real. (David Wooton, The Invention of Science.)

For the most part, this type of discussion would be considered more part of science fiction than science fact, because these phenomenon are considered imaginary.

But what if the phenomenon are considered real by a small fraction of society and imaginary by the rest, by everyone else. There are plenty of credible people who’ve described UFO encounters and even occupants who came out of the craft on the ground. Are these imaginary or real? What if they’re possible and have really happened, or are happening, but we’re totally unprepared for them. That is the ultimate Black Swan event: impossible and totally unexpected yet brought into mass consciousness very suddenly.

If you think that the scientific community can make sense of these, they can’t. As Taleb says:

“Empirical researchers have found evidence that scientists too are vulnerable to narratives, emphasizing titles and “sexy” attention-grabbing punch lines over more substantive matters. They too are human and get their attention from sensational matters. The way to remedy this is through meta-analyses of scientific studies, in which a uberresearcher peruses the entire literature, which includes the less-advertised articles, and produces a synthesis.” (p. 213 The Black Swan kindle version.)

We have a whole set of industries built around insuring people for risk. It’s an ancient business model. We can insure you for risk of fire, theft, floods, and rare economic events if you’re a business. From liability to lawsuits, that your fleet of ships sink, airplane crashes or against auto crashes. Rare events that have a defined risk.

And there are entire options markets for stock, commodity, and currency volatility and risk.

But what about events that don’t have a defined risk? Events that are so far out in terms of our sense of reality that we don’t even know how to talk about them? Events which no one even acknowledges are real? Because these events are so difficult of understand, let alone quantify, no one will even officially acknowledge them. So you’re left on your own and maybe even accused of having a mental illness.

This is what social blindness is all about: denial of elephants in the room. It doesn’t just apply to paranormal events. It describes social processes that every society goes through from civil rights to acknowledging that certain groups are being discriminate against.

Now even things we take for granted now were once considered unreal or unbelievable. Take child abuse, for example. There was time before 1962 where it wasn’t considered real. Doctors couldn’t conceive of the idea that parents could do that to their children. The injuries were thought to caused by falls from trees or neighborhood bullies.

According to Wikipedia: “The whole of recorded history contains references to acts that can be described as child abuse or child maltreatment, but professional inquiry into the topic is generally considered to have begun in the 1960s.[2] The 1962 publication of the article “The Battered Child Syndrome” by pediatric psychiatrist C. Henry Kempe represents the moment that child maltreatment entered mainstream awareness. Before the article’s publication, injuries to children—even repeated bone fractures—were not commonly recognized as the results of intentional trauma. Instead, physicians often looked for undiagnosed bone diseases or accepted parents’ accounts of accidental mishaps such as falls or assaults by neighborhood bullies.”[102]:100–103

So even something as commonplace as child abuse unfortunately is today, just fifty years ago, it wasn’t seen as real.

And to give another example, there was time when meteorites were considered unreal, all of them. Why? The French Academy of Sciences has done an investigation of meteorites and had concluded, as had none other than Isaac Newton, “stones cannot fall from the sky, because there are no stones in the sky.” And all the meteorites across France, with the exception of one to heavy to move, were rounded up and thrown away. Except there was one problem: stones really do fall from the sky as witnessed several years later by hundreds of witnesses in the town of L’Aigle, France on April 26, 1803.

The Boulder Flood of 2013

In late September, 2013, I was in Boulder, Colorado. It started to rain over the weekend in large amounts. And it’s didn’t stop for a whole week. An unusual weather pattern stayed stationary over the Northern Colorado area and it dumped at least twenty inches of water on the area in a short time. More rain fell in a three-day period than any recorded month since record keeping began in 1897.

The flooding was horrendous. Buildings washed away or were badly damaged, cars were destroyed, basements flooded, and some streets turned to rivers. I saw an entire storage unit structure that housed multiple units lifted off the ground and moved several feet. People got into spats with their neighbors by setting up barriers to the water coming down the streets like small rivers. There was just not enough places for the water to go.

We were told later that this was a “500-year flood,” something that would not be seen except twice a millennia. That means that no one alive had ever seen something like this before.

This would be an example of a Black Swan event. Catastrophic and very rare. Yet believable.

The Day after Disclosure

Now, let’s take something even more extreme. Just for fun, let’s imagine an event where the President of United States announces the discovery and evidence for extraterrestrials. We don’t have any precedent for such an event so it’s totally outside the realm of what have ever experienced. There’s no prior experience so there’s no frame of reference. And with the amount of information technology everywhere, the speed at which such an announcement could happen would create spectacularly unpredictable effects with our society. Kind of like a sonic boom created by fast aircraft as the reach and surpass the speed of sound.

Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel explored such a scenario in their book AD After Disclosure: The People’s Guide to Contact (2012), It would be hard to calculate the effects of such an event but even if a small percentage of people stayed home, like truck drivers, for any length of time, it would have large effects on the economy.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

In 1989, I was working at an East-West scientific organization in Vienna, the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) originally set by Nixon and Kruschev during the cold war to foster science cooperation between the two countries. I got to know some of the East Germans working next to me. They told me how comfortable they’re society was to live in, if you had the right relationship with the Communist party. How they had free chid care, health care, and economic security. And yet, within five months their society had ceased to exist. By December, 1989, the Berlin Wall had fallen and East Germany was no more.

Was it because the East German government decided to take it down the Wall? No, it was due to false report from an Italian TV station that guards were for the first time, letting people across the Wall to visit relatives. It caused such an enormous mob to gather at the Wall, that the East German government had no choice but to let people through to West Berlin, by the thousands. And people kept crossing over from the Eastern part of the city, to the Western part. And that was the end of East Germany.

Everyone knew this would happen someday, but if you had asked political experts about when it would happen, they would have all told you that type of Black Swan event was five to ten years away.

Will it be any different with UFO disclosure? We’re pretty confident that we know when future events will occur and how they will play out, but in fact, we’re no different than the East Germans I knew in 1989. We think things will stay the same forever.

And the reason UFO disclosure will have a proportionately higher impact than the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Bloc is because it’s not taken seriously, it’s not talked about in the main stream media as a potentially real event. So no one even knows how to talk about it. There’s no vocabulary, no assessment of the possible impact on the modern human mind.

And yet the evidence for this phenomena is there. All you have to do is look for it. But this evidence is precisely what Taleb calls “Silent Evidence.” Even the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which ascribed nearly every report to weather balloons and meteorites admitted it couldn’t explain five percent of the sightings it received. And that was only the declassified section of Blue Book that the public had access too. Reports that were considered to impact national security were not even included in Blue Book but were part of the CIRVIS (Communications and Reporting of Vital Intelligence Signals) internal reporting system until 2011. None of these CIRVIS reports have ever been declassified in the United States, only those in Canada. So how much silent evidence is out there? We don’t know.