The name of the TV series “Black Swan” has a special meaning

The name of the TV series “Black Swan” has a special meaning

(This issue It was first published in Norwegian on Forskning.no).

– In scientific theory there is the term “black swan”. It is used for an unexpected event that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly and changes the way we see the world.

This is how Mads Brügger, presenter of the documentary Black Swan, explains the term. The documentary is a collaboration between Danish channel TV 2 and NRK.

But where did it come from, and what is the relationship of the black swan to scientific theory?

I went to America and saw the Black Swan

The black swan is a teaching example that we use in science to explain a problem, which is that even if you have seen something many times, you are still not sure that it is always right.

Documentary series “Black Swan”

A five-episode investigative documentary series that you can watch on NRK TV. It is produced by TV 2 Danmark and Wingman Media and co-produced by NRK.

The series revolves around Amira Smajić, who was an advisor to criminals. She wants to cut all ties with her criminal past by helping uncover how the crime happened. So Smaichi resumes his activity as a consultant, but with a hidden camera.

(Source: NRK)

This is what Mikkel Willum Johansen, associate professor of philosophy of science, says.

– For a long time it was believed that all swans were white, because you only saw white swans in Europe and America. But that changed when I went to Australia and saw a black swan, which is where the term came from, Johansen explains.

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In American culture, the term is used

In American culture, the term “black swan” is usually used to describe something unusual, explains Mikkel Willum Johansen. Image: Paul Wishart/Shutterstock/NTB

You should not look for confirmation

Johansen explains that the black swan is used to explain a scientific-philosophical problem.

The problem is called the induction problem and means that one cannot generalize on the basis of individual experiences. Not even when there are many experiences.

Philosopher of science Karl Popper used the problem of induction as a criticism of the philosophy of science that prevailed at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, specifically positivism.

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The situation is based on verification. We see things, and on the basis of our observations we build scientific laws, says Johansen.

Karl Popper, the twentieth-century Austrian philosopher of science, pointed out that there is a problem with this way of thinking. Therefore, he formulated the principle of “falsification”.

“The principle is that you shouldn't go out and try to confirm your hypothesis, but rather do the opposite, and actively try to disprove it,” says Johansen.

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– Instead of going down to the same pond and looking for more white swans, you should look elsewhere to try to find a black swan. One must expand boundaries.

Popper's point was that caution should be exercised. Because even if you have seen something several times, there is still a risk that the picture is not complete.

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Science is moving forward

Popper set the criterion that a theory is scientific only if it can be refuted in principle.

You have to be able to imagine the opposite scenario for a theory to be scientific, says Johansen.

However, there has been some criticism of this standard. It's a very strict way of describing what science is, and it doesn't make sense in all forms of science.

Popper used the criterion to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. But it is a hypothesis that philosopher Peter Godfrey Smith does not buy.

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One of the characteristics of the scientific method is the search for ways to subject hypotheses to experimental testing and the search for connections between theoretical ideas and what can be observed, says Godfrey Smith.

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However, he does not believe that Karl Popper's debunking theory can be used as a dividing line between science and pseudoscience. He believes that not all scientific methods can be falsified.

There is no sure science

Science is many different things, and it is constantly evolving, as Mikkel Willum Johansen explains.

The pelican example is just one example of what happens all the time in science, which is that hypotheses and theories change because you get smarter and broaden your horizons, Johansen says.

-Does this mean you can never be sure of anything?

– This is what the problem of induction is about. There is no certainty, because there will always be a risk of a black swan lurking out there somewhere.

© Videnskab.dk. Translated by Lars Nygaard for forskning.no. Read the original story on videnskab.dk here.

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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