The guy in the office next to me taught a course in financial math last fall, so at least a few times a week, I’d hear him say “rational market” to one of his students. An friend of mine teaches the course sometimes and told me once that he doesn’t like teaching it because he doesn’t believe the rational market hypothesis, so I asked the guy in the office if he believed in the rational market hypothesis. He said “yes, I think you have to, otherwise none of our mathematical models have predictive value.” So whenever any kind of human activity is described as “rational”, I think, well, that’s just some kind of make believe that helps them pretend to have predictive models for it.
If I can put my own pretentious douche hat on for a moment, I thought of this because I fell off the wagon today and found a link to an article about my favorite book of all time, Dostoevsky’s “Notes From The Underground” (the book is very short, so I recommend it to everyone). The article is written by David Denby, who’s a Lee Siegel-type jackoff for the most part, so it’s annoying in parts, but I liked this:
In the first part of the novel, the underground man, after introducing himself, complains, in his ejaculatory, stop-and-start way, about the spectacular Crystal Palace built in London (this was back in 1851). He rails against everything that the building represents—industrial capitalism, scientific rationality, and any sort of predictive, mathematical model of human behavior. Could anything be more contemporary? You can easily imagine what Dostoevsky would make of modern sociology, psychology, advertising techniques, war games, polling of any sort. What’s wrong with such techniques, in both their cynical or ameliorative uses, was simply stated by Sartre, in 1945: “All materialist philosophies create man as an object, a stone.” The underground man says that, on the contrary, human beings are unfathomable, unknowable. Given the opportunity, they may deny, for themselves, the certainty that two and two makes four. Why? Because the mere right to deny the obvious may be more important than the benefit of sheepishly acknowledging it.
This is why I have a lot more sympathy for the evolution-denying, global warming denying wingers than I do for the reasonable, TED-watching centrists. Never mind that Bobo and the Slatesters misuse and/or misunderstand all the pseudo-neuroscience about primal scents and IQs and incentives, what terrifies me is that they think if we ran enough marshmallow tests on kids, and explained the results to everyone via TED, we could build a perfect state.
Anyway…what’s your favorite book of all time?