Triplet of Opacity

History is opaque.

You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what’s inside the box, how the mechanics work. What I call the generator of historical events is different from the events themselves, much as the minds of the gods cannot be read just by witnessing theis deeds. Your are very likely to be fooled about their intentions.

This disconnect is similar to the differences between the food you see on the table at the restaurant and the process you can observe in the kitchen. The human minds suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are:

a. the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (and random) then they realize;

b. the retrospective distortion, or how we can access matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearviewmirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality), and;

c. the overvaluation of factual information and the handcap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories–when they “Platonify“.

–Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan



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