Monthly Archives: June 2014

Investing, Expectations, & Excitement

As you might have gathered from previous posts, I’m interested in financial independence. Towards that end, I’m learning about options trading. This type of speculation ought to augment a more traditional buy-and-hold investment strategy: to make it one’s only investment vehicle is like betting your life savings on horse races. Whether that opinion is correct, I’m not terribly interested in debating investment strategies right now.

I am interested in the effect that practicing an option strategy has on one’s emotions. If buy-and-hold bond or equity investing is like drinking coffee to wake-up in the morning, options trading feels like mainlining methamphetamine (as far as popular culture has led me to believe, regarding the effects of the latter substance). If the assets underlying an option contract is volatile enough, it’s possible to gain and lose hundreds of dollars multiple times per day. I’ve never been a pathological gambler, and perhaps that’s why I find this experience so foreign to my previous financial adventures.

Despite the heady rush of watching an options contract flap about like a boat in a hurricane, it is only money, and if you’ve developed a prudent investment plan, the flapping options should be pretty harmless at worst and a windfall at best.

Extension on “Wrong Question” post

I’ve picked up Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil again. Nassim Taleb’s particular brand of pragmatic epistemology made me think back to Nietzsche’s brand of the same, and the similarities are interesting. Taleb talks about “Platonicity”, or formalized ideas that are disconnected from practical uses for various reasons — the Gaussian “Bell Curve” probability distribution is one example. Nietzsche talks about the “Will to Truth”, which is a mistaken human drive towards truth and rationality at the fault of leaving room for tail events that defy explanation under such “truths”.

Both Taleb and Nietzsche have their reasons to favor an epistemology that offers more explanatory values than just true or false. Taleb’s epistemology must account for Black Swans, and “Platonified” epistemologies cannot do this because they can’t arrive at an idealized conclusion without ignoring some messy, inexplicable details. Nietzsche’s epistemology seeks to overcome unnecessarily rigid types of thinking or being (e.g. Hegel’s dialectic, Christian theology, positive science). While it’s important to qualify one’s reasons for doing away with traditional epistemic models, these two appeal to me towards the end of keeping my mind clear of cob webs and alert to opportunities I might miss while adhering to business as usual.

If you haven’t read Antifragile or Beyond Good and Evil, they’ll handsomely repay careful reading.

Questions about conflict

The recent re-ignition of the Iraqi conflict, as well as a recent personal disagreement have led me to think about conflict. I don’t have answers to these questions, but if anyone has suggestions, I’m interested to hear them.

– Is there a resolution to a conflict, besides simply dropping the issue?

– Can one expect a resolution to conflict beyond a simple lack of conflict? I.e. Is there a positive state of conflict resolution that is distinct from the lack of conflict?

How to Press Olives, Part 3

I must admit: this trio of posts is overwrought. Other writers have already covered the issue of managing personal finances to produce a state of financial independence (and early retirement), and while I agree with much of their writing (e.g. Early Retirement Extreme, Mr. Money Mustache, Brave New Live), I feel increasingly less inspired to recreate the wheel with my trope surrounding Thales. Thales is far too bad-ass to be stuffed into a journalistic series that belongs on a segment for Market Place Money. I won’t denigrate his writing and Aristotle’s hagiography of him further. Consequently, if you want to read part three of this series, pick up a copy of Early Retirement Extreme, or read the bloggers mentioned above. They’ll teach you how to manage your money well, and then you can find a copy of Thales’ extant fragments and read Aristotle without any trite commentary. As Jacob Fisker said in his book, and in his last post on his blog, the subject of financial independence isn’t terribly difficult to master, nor do I think it’s terribly difficult to describe clearly. Since others have already done that, I intend to explore other subjects that still need elaboration.

“‘Is it true?’ — wrong question. Instead, ‘Does it work?’”

Epicureans — the philosophical school, rather than the folks who like overpriced and overwrought food — had the right idea about epistemology: knowledge is what appears to our senses. The Abhidharma Buddhists have similar ideas about knowledge, although their models of sense perception are detailed beyond the necessity of this essay. The senses are an intuitive epistemic foundation, rather than an abstract logical standard, such as truth. And while there are certainly objections to sense perception as the currency of knowledge — such as where the mind and cognition fits into sense perception — it avoids the translation of sense perception and cognition into abstract logical values, e.g. true, false, unknown. In fact, sense perception, and epistemology built upon it functions as if truth values are unknown because truth values are secondary to perceptions.

An example, an Epicurean sitting down to a chili dinner doesn’t verify the truth of her perceptions. At most, she tests whether she can work with those perceptions to do something useful with them, i.e. feed herself. The same holds true if she has to perform some work, like typing an email or mowing the lawn. I submit that truth values enter into her awareness only as secondary values that aid in doing something: she might ask herself, “Is it true that the lawn mower has gasoline?” which is tantamount to asking, “Does the mower have gas?” Or, “Can I start the lawn mower?” Except for an abstract discussion, like those you’ll find between the later Stoics and Skeptics,  Buddhists and Vedantins, Christians and Muslims, Pragmatists and Rationalists, or Republicans and Democrats, truth is not the point of our motivations in the world.

You might want to except religion from that last sentence, but if you do, I think you miss the point. Most religions of which I’m aware seek to promote virtuous actions from their followers, and again, truth (or Truth) plays second fiddle to virtuous actions, e.g. tithing, missionary work, volunteering, doing unto your neighbor, and all that. Regardless of your creed, life is about what we do towards one another, and towards ourselves, rather than the truth-value of our thoughts. Does it even make sense to talk about an action being true?

Since we’re discussing religion, N. N. Taleb has an interesting quip about the function religion on his Twitter feed, “The purpose of Abrahamic religion is not to teach man about God, but to remind him that he is not God.” In one of his books, Antifragile, Taleb proposes the idea that religion is a set of heuristics that has helped people survive many centuries. Bypassing the truth value of any particular religion — Taleb was apparently raised in the Abrahamic tradition of Syria and the Middle East generally — he suggests that religions could be better used as sources of pragmatic tips and tricks to live more fulfilling lives, rather than loci of critique and analysis for logical faults or flaws. In this view, the truth value of a religion’s tenets are secondary to the question, “Does it build a better community?” In fact, this seems to be the question most anti-religious critics want to discuss when the topic of religion is raised — e.g. religious conflicts, religious bigotry impeding education initiatives, religious doctrine impeding health care initiatives, etc. And these are pertinent questions we ought to discuss — who cares whether the religion is “true” (disregarding the debate regarding standards of truth!). Let’s talk about what works: what makes our lives better? What makes them worth living?

Applied Philosophy

At first glance, it seems like the term “Applied Philosophy” ought to be redundant, and I agree: it ought to be. However, much philosophical writing and teaching since the European Renaissance has grown abstract from problems that ancient philosophy used to address: how to live well. I don’t intend that all philosophy for the last 600 years has been little more than mathematics without the math, but the problems one finds discussed in philosophical journals seem a far cry from the questions analyzed in Plato’s dialogues.

Perhaps my discontent with the topics of contemporary philosophy stem from the book I’m currently reading: An Introduction to Hellenic Philosophy. It surveys source texts and commentaries about the Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics in Hellenic Greece. For the most part, these Philosophical schools sought the meaning of life as the goal of philosophy, as well as philosophy as a method for attaining that goal. These folks sought the betterment of human life as the result of a deductive argument or analogy, rather than the publication of a paper or a citation by another academic philosopher.

However, it’s true there were the equivalent of academic debates among the Hellenic philosophers. The Stoics and Skeptics went many rounds regarding the types of valid perception or conception, and the debate has spilled over into later centuries as well — although, like politics, the names of the competing parties have changed over time. Nevertheless, each school sought a better life for each student.

I’m not certain that contemporary philosophy can claim the same noble goal, but I’m making the claim anew. There is much content ripe for bricolage in the wake of centuries’ worth of philosophical writing. I intend to assemble some pieces into a heuristic system, which seeks to provide a better way of living for those inclined to hear me out.

One fault of many philosophical systems, such as those of Ancient Greece, was their attempt to be comprehensive in attempting to answer every objection laid before them. The deification of rationality is a fault, I believe. This deification of logical consistency distracts philosophers from the goal of providing a better way of life, leading them astray into academic arguments about whether colors are real or just perceptions of some underlying substratum that is more real than the perceived color. It brings philosophy too close to televised political debates, when it ought to be generating productive heuristics.

A heuristic is a rule that seeks to resolve the most common problems encountered by a system. By definition it will not provide answers to all contingencies, because doing so assumes that the heuristic’s author knows all the contingencies. This assumes too much of human beings, or perhaps, it is too generous towards our knowledge about the world and our ability to navigate through it successfully.

I’ll develop this heuristic system in upcoming posts.