Black Swan: A Thought Experiment

hungry child

Photo from Agence France Presse via Global Policy Forum

This is a thought experiment, and an idea for a possible new video game, one that might actually help us learn about the world most humans live in, appreciate our personal fortune, and help us increase our resilience to cope with the times ahead. It came to me last night:

Imagine this:


You wake up suddenly, wracked with pain. You don’t know who or where you are. It is early morning, and you are lying on the grass, covered with several layers of old newspapers. You are a middle aged woman. Vaguely, you recall an accident, fire, explosion, terrible suffering.

You sit up and look around you. You are in a field near a huge garbage dump, and the smell is bad. Beside you there is a young child, still sleeping, also wrapped in newspaper. You are hungry, thirsty, and cold. Your body is hurting in several places, as if something inside you is broken. Your clothes are torn and streaked with blood. You have no idea how long you have been there. You have no purse, nothing to help you identify who you are or where, if anywhere, you might live.

Nearby, in the opposite direction to the dump, there is a large farm. Endless rows of corn meant for cattle feed are growing there. There is no sign of a building or human activity anywhere. There is a lot of barbed wire around, much of it fallen to the ground.

You hear a voice, and in the distance you see two men in uniforms walking towards you. They are white, and suddenly it occurs to you that you are not. Nor is the child beside you, who is just waking now, crying.

Tell the story of the next 72 hours of your life. Your situation doesn’t suddenly change for you in this time, so no deus ex machina allowed. Just describe what you do.


It is some time later. You and the child have been taken by some people to a hospital, and then to a shelter. You don’t speak much of the language these people speak, so you have trouble understanding them. Apparently they don’t know who you are, or who the child is. No one has identified you as a friend or family member.

You’re having terrible flashbacks of the accident, but the details are all jumbled together and don’t make sense. You still hurt all over. Occasionally you have brief memories of your early childhood, warm and laughing in the outdoor sun. Or perhaps they’re just imaginings. You don’t see any faces or details of places, homes, in these memories.

The people show you to a tiny house, perhaps 12 by 12, and indicate that it is now your residence, yours and the child’s. They say you are fortunate, because you have the child you do not have to board with others, and you get food stamps and a cheque that will be sent to you each month, to the post office, with your rent already deducted. They give you a book about their language, to study, and information on a language course nearby; this will enable you to find work. You try to remember how to do things, how to operate the stove, how to mend your tattered clothes, how to read the map they’ve given you, but it’s all a blur. Then they leave.

The child comes up to you, looks in your eyes, imploringly, and takes your hand. You walk into the tiny house, which has two mattresses and blankets on the floor. The child sits on one mattress and begins to play with a toy truck, a gift from the people who just left.

Tell the story of the rest of your life.


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5 Responses to Black Swan: A Thought Experiment

  1. Beth Patterson says:

    It is two years later. I am now in charge of helping those who arrive in this place in similar circumstances. It’s like there’s some portal through which the refugees from all over the earth appear here in this place. I have learned enough of the language to get by and I have learned how to communicate in many different ways with the other refugees. My boy, as I now think of him, is growing up. He’s wary but adjusted to this place. He is being taught to read this foreign language and I am glad for this. Sometimes I feel imprisoned, sometimes just grateful. My work is never ending. My body has adjusted to the injuries from the accident, of which I still know little. I hurt at night especially. I dream of nothing more than a little bit more food, a little bit softer mattress, a little less pain.

  2. liliana says:

    Greeting, Mr. Pollard

    (Maybe later, another day, tell you what I experienced when reading the story one (it was shocking. And… here, what always is present: the sensibility face of disasters on one side and for other, the thoughts about of the historic impossibilities). And, what I experienced and thinking by reading the story two moment,later.I can reading English but I have not enough skill to writing it).

    I have a question for you: a) it is assumed that people is personally touched by the story One. That said, b) Whom? People – in awaresness state-, whom have experienced or observed similar pictures: hunger in the streets and slums, fields, or mass media; in wars, the accidents …? Or c) Any person, in general?

    (Yes,the Ebola for Africa matters to a certain percentage of people in the world. The Fukushima disaster: what percentage of people was to touched-treated with it?)

    I live in South America.



  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Hey Beth — it seems as if you’ve answered, for yourself, my questions to Part Two of this experiment. They are pretty close to what my answers would be. It’s amazing what we do, and what we can do, when there is no other real choice, isn’t it? That’s part of the reason why I’m a ‘joyful’ pessimist — I think as things get worse we will, mostly, show the bright side of human nature, not the darker side.

    I suspect that, to some extent, this is the story of most of the humans living on this planet now.

    Liliana, thanks for your comment. To try to answer your question: I don’t think any writer can know who will be touched by their writing, and that applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Our job as writers is, I think, to provoke the reader with new ideas, perspectives, knowledge and insights, cleverly enough that they are also entertained. My hope is to help a few people make some important shift in their lives that was ready to happen. But who and how many, I couldn’t begin to guess.

  4. liliana says:

    Mr. Pollard

    I appreciate very much your response. You are right, I make a marginal question to story.
    Mostly, I wrote you under the impressions of the Story One. I made the ‘thought experiment’ from that story. …I did not know the child and me had had an accident. … I can say, in addition to what you described, that I experienced a state of complete expectation at the landscape … at strangers they approaching, and at the eagerness of care to the child.

    I understand that the interrogative at the end, between parentheses, it is surplus. It’s a rhetorical question, relative to any other events, and regardless of history, too.

    I follow your work; I have an great appreciation for it and for your person. I do not have a blog, and I have not written the book; I study … try to talk to people.

    Of course! you are helping us. Yes!
    We are many, a vast minority, or better, we all are.

  5. liliana says:

    Misprint on my phrase: “and regardless of history,”. “History” for “story”.

    Thanks for reading me,

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