I spent a very large chunk of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, sitting in my living room, watching the television, which told me nothing I didn’t already know. I spent a very large chunk of the following week reading hundreds of thousands of words in the New York Times, New York Post, and any other newspaper I could lay my hands on. These, too, told me pretty much nothing. Why this hunger for information, when I knew there really wasn’t any information there?
The answer, I think, is that an incomprehensible and unique event such as 9/11 is something which simply doesn’t fit well in our brains. We have an overwhelming need to fit it into some kind of narrative. Reading the newspaper and watching the TV quickly helped to construct any number of narratives into which 9/11 could fit. The US government created one such narrative, naming it the War On Terror.
I’m reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s new book at the moment, and he spends a lot of time talking about the “narrative fallacy”. It’s something I’ll definitely ask him about when I see him — I’m hoping to have lunch with him on Thursday. There’s lots of other stuff in the book which is fascinating as well, and I know that I have an advantage here because I have a copy of the book and you don’t. But I’m still interested — what questions do you think I should ask NNT?