How many books have you read? For me it is a difficult question to be answered since I cannot really trace my memory back to my college ages. I quickly take a look at the records on Anobii.com. 85 books were read in 2 years. Not a really book lover, huh? And there are several hundred kept unread on the shelves.
My professor got a personal library in his home. I guess there are several thousand books but only 5-10% of them, he says, have been read. So even for a professor, it is nearly impossible to read all books purchased. That means the number of unread books must be larger than that of read ones.
Where does this small observation take us to? When I read The Black Swan, I found a small Eureka flashing on my mind – unread books are much more important than those read, since “private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool”, the author elaborates, “You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.” This collection of unread books is called anti-library.
The growing number of unread books on shelves reminds not just my ignorance, nor did I find myself the need to be more humble. We just put too much focus on the knowledge we know, or the skill that we can grasp. It is a bias in human mental operations. We need to overcome the tendency and make attempt to focus on the unread books.
So Black Swan, now a metaphor that encapsulates a surprising event with major impact, comes from our ignorance of the unread books. The attempt to focus to the undiscovered, or being a “skeptical empiricist”, is a crucial step to understand the impact of the highly improbable.