All posts filed under: Essay

Notes on balance

The contest is over for the players, but not for the camera professionals and commentators. The spectator is presented with portraits of joy, relief, agony. Zoom to a clutch of players: all hands to heads. All the evidence is in and the critics make their case. Preparation? Lax. Leadership? Too relaxed. The team? Undisciplined. Would-be heroes had spent too much time nurturing their second-curve careers in fashion and idleness. For almond trees, poor soil [is preferable], for if the soil is deep and rich, the trees experience an exuberance [hubris] because of all the good nutrition, and they stop bearing fruit [a-karpeîn]. Theophrastus About the aetiologies of plants 2.16.8, trans. Nagy. A headstrong defender presents himself for interview, shirtless, tired, bare. He scratches his head as he delivers his analysis. It’s very, very difficult to express the situation in words. We believed in ourselves until the end, even after first goal against us we were looking to turn the game around, but just couldn’t find the goal, none of us could. We had the opportunities. I should have scored when I had …

Notes on a goal

It is the last possible moment. He stands away from the ball at an angle, his back arched, his elbows pointing outwards, his head extending forwards, his feet aligned, right in front of left in a line that ends at Reus. The replay is available from twelve camera angles. The moment is a few seconds long. This is sport in condensed form, thick and full. If a work of art is something you don’t get tired of then a replay could hang looping on a screen next to a Rothko and I think I know what I’d spend more time looking at. Am I making too much of this? It’s a game. These seconds are unimportant outside the game. Yes, but isn’t that always true? 63. If we imagine the facts otherwise than as they are, certain language-games lose some of their importance, while others become important. And in this way there is an alteration — a gradual one — in the use of the vocabulary of a language. 64. Compare the meaning of a …

What do you expect?

What do you expect will happen? We usually think in simple terms: better or worse? Up or down? An advert for Mad Money on CNBC advises: Make $ as bull or bear—but don’t be a hog! How we talk about the markets matters a great deal. Stories influence our expectations and our sentiments. The narratives around the Black-Scholes model and the Gaussian copula were once widespread and affected the way we thought about risks and risk dependencies. Now these narratives are out of currency, along with many others. New stories have taken hold: unicorns and the digitalization of the world, for example.The robots are coming to Wall Street. How influential will they become as storytellers? Markets unravel when the stories get too tall and reality catches up with fantasy. Now it’s an interesting question to ask: when are markets vulnerable and when are they robust to irrationally exuberant conventional wisdom? From a psychological point of view, we become more robust as we become more aware of ourselves and our environment. The ability to describe our …

Howlrounds in Open Society (updated election edition)

Image:  Boxer at Rest, Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Updated Election edition: excerpted and updated from Thinking, Hard and Soft Some actions lead to amplified reactions, which are then in turn amplified. A good example of the phenomenon is audio feedback, or howlback, which is when a microphone and a speaker pick up on each other’s ins and outs in a so-called howlround. The result doesn’t have to be ear-piercing. “I feel fine”, released by the Beatles in 1964, starts with a controlled buzz of feedback from a plucked A-string on John Lennon’s acoustic-electric guitar: not bad. But it pales next to “Foxy Lady,” introduced by Jimi Hendrix with a vibrato feeding in on itself: a balanced wildness and a tribute to Johnny Watson’s “Space Guitar”, regarded as the first popular recording featuring guitar feedback. For Lennon, feedback was an attractive add-on to a musical track, a bit of fun. Watson and Hendrix integrated feedback into their music more completely. But few musicians have ever integrated feedback into their art as comprehensively as hedge-fund manager George Soros. Trump …

On Government

Image: Amphora (neck-amphora): Berlin, Staatliche Museen F 1867; Beazley ABV 371, Leagros Group no. 148; Stähler no. 2. Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft Huangdi and Chiyou clashed on the plains of Zhuolu. Huangdi (the ‘Yellow Emperor’), ruled the Huaxia tribes while Chiyou, his nemesis, commanded an alliance of barbarian tribes. Under the cover of heavy fog, Chiyou’s army attacked the Huaxia army and inflicted heavy losses as the Yellow Emperor’s troops got lost. The fog lingered and Chiyou had the advantage. The emperor and his master craftsman retreated for three days and built a chariot. It was equipped with a wooden figure that had one arm extended, pointing southwards. The wooden figure was connected to the wheels of the chariot in a special way so that it always pointed south. When the chariot turned, a self-adjusting mechanism (a modern solution would use differential gears) translated the turn into an equal and opposite movement of the pointer. The reliable arm of the chariot’s wooden statue steered the army of the Chinese nation through the fog. Chiyou was defeated and captured. …

Thinking, Hard and Soft

Image: Roy Batty, as played by Rutger Hauer after the “Tears in Rain” monologue in Blade Runner Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft The 1982 film Blade Runner is set in 2019 and features an eclectic mix of hardware and software. The hardware is spectacular.  There are flying cars and spaceships and almost-perfect robots. Roy Batty, a renegade “replicant”, is a Nexus-6 model artificial human. He is a beautiful specimen, perfectly built, resistant to pain. But he has a software (or hardware?) problem. He is “built not to last”. Replicants are designed to perish after four years: an in-built timer as a fail-safe. So Roy is on a quest to meet his maker. He finds the man who designed his eyes, then a genetic designer who leads him to meet the man responsible for his existence. “What seems to be the problem”, the man inquires. “Death”, says Roy. He wants to be modified, he wants to be saved, but it can’t be done. In his final moments as his clock winds down, Roy launches into …

Tastes of Tomorrow

Image: 19th-century engraving of Goethe’s Faust and Homunculus Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft Part 1: Hume and the Middleman Raise your wine glass! Odorant molecules rise from the liquid and pass through your nasal passage before reaching a patch of neurons with hair-like extensions. A biochemical reaction sends an olfactory signal to the centre of emotion, your brain’s limbic system. That’s just the start. Drink! Your sensory experience deepens. Onion-shaped structures called taste buds containing up to 100 taste receptor cells, again with neuronal properties, pass more information about the wine’s chemical qualities to your brain. Waves of information hit your consciousness as your “brain” processes them. How much of this are you aware of? You struggle to come up with more than a few words: red fruit, stale cardboard, mushrooms on a forest floor and ladybug taint. All that information. All those neurons. And the best that you can do is stand by and take a few notes. It seems a bit disappointing. David Hume was a great theorist of impressions and ideas. According to Hume, impressions are like pictures …