Book Summaries

Warren Buffet – QMB 1121

  • If merely looking up past financial data would tell you what the future holds, the Forbes 400 would consist of librarians. – Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders (February 2009)
  • Degree of difficulty counts in the Olympics; it doesn’t count in business. You don’t get any extra points for the fact that something’s very hard to do, so you might as well step over one-foot bars rather than try to jump over seven-foot bars. – CNBC, October 18, 2010
  • How do you beat Bobby Fischer? You play him at any game but chess. I try to stay in games where I have an edge. – Businessweek, July 5, 1999
  • I don’t know a thing now that I didn’t know at 19 when I read (Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor). For eight years prior to that I was a chartist. I loved all that stuff. I had charts coming out of my ears. Then, all of a sudden a fellow explains to me that you don’t need all that, just buy something for less than it’s worth. – Letter to Notre Dame faculty, spring 1991
  • The future is never clear; you pay a very high price in the stock market for a cheery consensus. Uncertainty actually is the friend of the buyer of long-term values. – Forbes, August 6, 1979
  • If you really know businesses, you probably shouldn’t own six of them. If you can identify six wonderful businesses, that is all of the diversification you need, and you’re going to make a lot of money, and I guarantee you that going into a seventh one… , rather than putting more money into your first one, has got to be a terrible mistake. Very few people get rich on their seventh best idea. – Colloquium at the University of Florida, October 15, 1998
  • Newton lost a bundle in the South Sea Bubble, explaining later, “I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.” If he had not been traumatized by this loss, Sir Isaac might well have gone on to discover the Fourth Law of motion: For investors as a whole, returns decrease as motion increases. – Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, February 2006
  • A simple rule dictates my buying. Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. – New York Times, October 16, 2008

Source: The Oracle Speaks

3 Myths
  • He’s a value investor
  • He’s a long-term investor
  • He’s a straight shooter


5 Books

The Warren Buffett Way: Lays out all the rules of thumb Buffett uses in his investing and walks the reader through them with case studies out of Buffett’s own investment portfolio.

The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America: Surprisingly, Buffett has never written a book himself. Taken in total, however, his shareholder letters amount to the equivalent of several books—though, if read back-to-back, they suffer for the lack of an editor. Lawrence Cunningham solved that issue, going through the letters and organizing Buffett’s thoughts around topics

The Warren Buffett CEO: The Warren Buffett CEO is less about Buffett as an investor and more about him as a manager. The book shows how Buffett selects the CEOs for Berkshire’s many subsidiaries and how he oversees them. It tells that story through the Berkshire executives.

Dear Mr. Buffett: This is a Buffett book that really isn’t about Buffett, although he is one of the main characters. Janet Tavakoli is a structured finance expert whose previous books focus on collateralized debt obligations. She met with Buffett and, following the financial mess of 2009, started to see more value in Buffett’s philosophy and value investing methods.

The Snowball: The legendary Omaha investor has never written a memoir, but now he has allowed one writer, Alice Schroeder, unprecedented access to explore directly with him and with those closest to him his work, opinions, struggles, triumphs, follies, and wisdom.

Source: Investopedia

Book Summaries History Politics Psychology

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World Notes

Selected excerpts from Things Hidden Since The Foundation of the World by Rene Girard.

Fundamental Anthropology

“The most we can do is to recognize as the one who produces symbolic forms, systems of signs, and who then confuses them with ‘reality’ itself, forgetting that in order to make reality meaningful he interposes an always particular system of signs between reality and himself.” P.6

The Victimage Mechanism as the Basis of Religion

“One might object that in children – as in animals – the existence of acquisitive imitation has been recognized by researchers. This can be verified experimentally. Place a number of identical toy in a room with the same number of children; there is every chance that the toys will not be distributed without quarrels. An equivalent situation rarely occurs among adults. That does not mean that mimetic rivalry no longer exists among them; perhaps it exists more than ever, but adults, like the apes, have learned to fear and repress rivalry, at least in its crudest, most obvious and most immediately recognizable forms.” P. 9

“We are always ‘against’ imitation, though in a very different way from Plato; we have excluded it from just about everything, including our aesthetics. Our psychology, psychoanalysis, and even sociology, accommodate it only grudgingly. Our art and literature take great pains to resemble nothing and no one mimetically. We have little idea of the possibilities for conflict contained in imitation. And neither the primitive prohibition nor Plato gives us any direct explanation of the fear of mimesis.” P. 17

The Process of Hominization

On the idea that there must be something more specifically human in games of chance than in other types of games.

“Caillois is of this opinion. He divides games into four categories and these correspond to the four principal phases of the ritual cycle. I will list these in the order corresponding to the unfolding of the founding process rather than in the order given by Caillois. There are first of all games of imitation: mime, masquerades, theatre etc. Then there are games of competition or struggle (agon), like racing, boxing, etc. These correspond to the antagonism of doubles. There are games of vertigo that Caillois designates with the Greek word ilinx, games that consist in turning very rapidly in one place, like the cabriole, etc. These games correspond to the hallucinatory paroxysm of the mimetic crisis. There are finally games of chance. The only games that are truly specific to man. All the other forms of play have precedents among animals.. The only thing lacking in animal rites is the sacrificial immolation, and the only thing an animal needs to become human is the surrogate victim.” P.101

Myth: The Invisibility of The Founding Murder

“How to diminish this encumberment? How to reduce the excessive crowding of the fiel so that one might get on there more easily? That is the question that is constantly posed. Behind the appearance of the coolest logic we can sense a fear of the spectre of overpopulation, which certainly has many psycho-sociological implications, one can detect it almost everywhere at the present time. It is the greatest fear of the so-called developed countries.” P.125

“The tragic situation of humanity today is stated not only in terms of a total destruction that has to be avoided, but also of the selective destruction that must be based on choice – which is precisely what has become impossible at a time when any selective destruction runs the risk of becoming total destruction. The question, then, is one of reducing the question and surely the ‘topological’ model of Levi–Strauss reflects it. The model also brings to ind the many urban situations of overcrowding, such as those of traffic or of a bus that is so full that ejecting a single passenger eases the congestion. In our own time the question of the scapegoat hides easily behind statistics and the specifically modern anguish caused by excessive growth.” P. 125

Texts of Persecution

“If man acts as he has in the past and abandons himself to mimetic contagion, there will be no victimage mechanisms to save him.” P.137

The Judaeo-Christian Scriptures

“People have asked why God, although he condemns the murder, responds to the appeal of the murderer. Cain says, ‘Everyone that findeth me shall slay me.’ And God responds: ‘Whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ God himself intervenes and in response to the founding murder he enunciates the law against murder. This intervention makes it clear that the decisive murder, here and elsewhere, has a founding character. And to talk in terms of ‘founding’ is also to talk in terms of ‘differentiating’, which is why we have, immediately afterwards, these words: ‘And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.’ I see in this the establishment of a differential system, which serves, as always, to discourage mimetic rivalry and generalized conflict.” P. 146

“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates hi brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and odes not know where heis going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – John 2, 10-11” P.277

“The love of which John speaks manages to escape the hateful illusions of the doubles. It alone can reveal the victimage processes underlie the meanings of culture. There is no purely ‘intellectual’ process that can arrive at true knowledge because the very detachment of the person who contemplates the warring brothers from the heights of his wisdom is an illusion. Any and every form of human knowledge is illusory to the extent that it has failed to submit to the decisive test, which is the test of the warring brothers, a Nietzsche well showed. It may never confront that challenge and remain intact in its vanity and pride, but that will only result in sterility.

Love is the only true revelatory power because it escapes from, and strictly limits, the spirit of revenge and recrimination that still characterizes the revelation in our own world, a world in which we can turn that spirit into a weapon against our own doubles, as Nietzsche also showed. Only Christ’s perfect love can achieve without violence the erfect revelation toward which we have been progressing – in spite of everything – by way of the dissensions and divisions that were predicted in the Gospels. The present expression of these dissensions is our increasing tendency to load responsibility for all these divisions upon the Gospels themselves. We can only agree among ourselves in attacking the Gospel, which by a wonderfully revealing symbolism is in the process of becoming our scapegoat. Human beings came together in the first societies of our planet simply to give birth to the truth of the Gospel and now they are determined to deny that truth.

This will to deny the truth acquires a particular force of blindness and insight in Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ, which explicitly rejects the epistemology of love set out by the New Testament.

Love is the state in which man sees things most of all as they are not. The illusion-creating force is there at its height, likewise the sweetening and transforming force. One endures more when in love than one otherwise would, one tolerates everything.” P. 277-278

“The more people think that they are realizing the Utopias dreamed up by their desire – in other words, the more they embrace ideologies of liberation – the more they will in fact be working to reinforce the competitive world that is stifling them. But they do not realize their mistake, and continue to systematically confuse the type of external obstacle represented by the prohibition and the internal obstacle formed by the mimetic partner. They are like the frogs who became discontented with the King Log sent to them by Jupiter and, by importuning the gods with their cries of protest, obtained more and more satisfaction. The best method of chastising mankind is to give people all that they want on all occasions.

At the very moment when the last prohibitions are being forgotten, there are still any number of intellectuals who continue to refer to them as if they were more and more crippling. Alternatively, they replace the myth of the prohibition with one that invokes an omnipresent and omniscient ‘power’ and can be seen as yet another mythic transposition of the strategies of mimesis. The greater part of Foucault’s work is erected on that false premise.” P.278

Mimetic Desire

“All modern thought is falsified by a mystique of transgression, which it falls back into even when it is trying to escape. For Lacan, desire is still a by-product of the law. Even the most daring thinkers nowadays do not dare to recognize that prohibition has a protective function with regard to the conflicts inevitably provoked by desire. They would be afraid that people might see them as ‘reactionary.’ IOn the currents of thought that have dominated us for a century, there is one tendency we must never forget: the fear of being regarded as naive or submissive, the desire to play at being the freest thinker – the most ‘radical’ etc. As long as you pander to this desire, you can make the modern intellectual say anything you like.” P.287

Interdividual Psychology

“In archaic societies, prohibitions are closely interlocked and the different compartments they establish determine the distribution of disposable objects between the members of the culture. We have the impression that if it were possible some cultures would dispense with individual choice altogether and so entirely eliminate the possibility of mimetic rivalry.

In contemporary society, the exact opposite increasingly takes place. No more taboos forbid one person to take what is reserved for another, and no more initiation rites prepare individuals in common, for the necessary trials of life. Modern education does not warn the child that the same type of imitative behavior will be applauded and encouraged on one occasion and discouraged on another, or that there is no way of telling what will happen by simply paying attention to the models themselves or to the objects to which desire is directed. Instead, modern education thinks it is able to resolve every problem by glorifying the natural spontaneity of desire, which is a purely mythological notion.” P.291

From Object Rivalry to Metaphysical Desire

“R. G.: To untie the knot of desire, we have only to concede that
everything begins in rivalry for the object. The object acquires the
status of a disputed object and thus the envy that it arouses in all quarters, becomes more and more heated.

G. L.: Marxists will solemnly say that capitalism invented this escalation. Marxists hold that the problems we are discussing have been resolved once and for all by Marx, just as Freudians think that they have been resolved once and for all by Freud.

R. G.: As far as that goes, the real founders of capitalism, and also of
the Oedipus complex, are the monkeys. All that capitalism, or rather
the liberal society that allows capitalism to flourish, does, is to give mimetic phenomena a freer rein and to direct them into economic and
technological channels. For religious reasons that are far from simple,
capitalism is capable of doing away with the restraints that archaic
societies placed upon mimetic rivalry.

The value of an object grows in proportion to the resistance met with
in acquiring it. And the value of the model grows as the object’s value
grows. Even if the model has no particular prestige at the outset, even if
all that ‘prestige’ implies-praestigia, spells and phantasmagoria-is
quite unknown to the subject, the very rivalry will be quite enough to
bring prestige into being.

The mechanical character of primary imitation makes it likely that
the subject will misinterpret the automatic aspect of his rivalry with the
model. When the subject interrogates himself about this relationship of
opposition, he will tend to endow it with meanings it does not possess.
Moreover, all explanations that claim to be scientific, including those
given by Freud, do the same. Freud imagines that the triangle of rivalry
conceals a secret of some kind, an ‘oedipal’ secret, whereas in fact it
only conceals the rivalry’s mimetic character.

The object of desire is indeed forbidden. But it is not the ‘law’ that
forbids it, as Freud believes-it is the person who designates the object
to us as desirable by desiring it himself. The non-legal prohibition
brought about through rivalry has the greatest capacity to wound and
traumatize. This structure of rivalry is not a static configuration of elements. Instead the elements of the system react upon one another; the
prestige of the model, the resistance he puts up, the value of the object,
and the strength of the desire it arouses all reinforce each other, setting
up a process of positive feedback. Only in this context does it become
possible to understand what Freud calls ‘ambivalence’-a pernicious
force that he identified but was unable to explain adequately.

Legal prohibitions are addressed to everyone or to whole categories
of people, and they do not, as a general rule, suggest to us that we are
‘inferior’ as individuals. By contrast, the prohibition created by mimetic rivalry is invariably addressed to a particular individual, who tends to interpret it as hostile to himself.” P. 295

“The ‘metaphysical’ threshold or, if we put it a different way, the
point at which we reach desire properly speaking, is the threshold of the
unreal. It can also be seen as the threshold of psychopathology. Yet we
should insist upon the continuity, even the identity, between such a
level of desire and everything that passes as completely normal because
it is defined in terms sanctioned by society, such as the love of risk,
thirst for the infinite, stirrings of the poetic soul, amour Jou, and so on.” P.297

Interdividual Psychology

“J.-M. 0.: You are always referring to a subject who never gets the
upper hand in his struggles with his rival. But the opposite can happen.
What happens ifthe subject successfully gains possession of the object?

R. G.: For victory to change anything in the fate of the subject, it
must come about before the gap has started to widen between all that
possession can offer in the way of pleasure, satisfaction, enjoyment, and
so on, and the increasingly metaphysical aspirations that are brought
into being by the misconceptions of rivalry.

If the gap is too wide, possession will be such a disabusing experience
that the subject will put all the blame for it upon the object, not to mention the model. He will never blame desire as such, or the mimetic
character of desire. Object and model are both rejected with disdain.
But the subject sets off in search of a new model and a new object that
will not let him down so easily. From this point, desire seeks only to
find a resistance that it is incapable of overcoming.

To sum up, victory only speeds up the subject’s degeneration. The
pursuit of failure becomes ever more expert and knowledgeable, without being able to recognize itself as the pursuit of failure.

J. -M. 0.: In effect, whether he succeeds or fails, the subject always
courts failure. Rather than conclude that desire itself is a cul-de-sac, he
can always find pretexts for coming to more favourable conclusions and
giving desire one last chance. He is always ready to condemn the objects
he has once possessed and the desires he has already experienced-the
idols ofyesteryear-at the very moment when a new idol or a new object
comes over the horizon. But fashion works like this, as well. The person
obsessed by fashion is always ready to give up everything, himself included, so as not to have to give up fashion-so as to keep a way open for his desire.

So long as you have not triumphed over all the obstacles, there is still
one possibility-which admittedly gets slimmer and slimmer, but
never quite disappears-that behind the last rampart, guarded by the
last dragon, lies the treasure that has been sought for everywhere, just
waiting for us.

R. G.: Desire has its own logic, and it is a logic of gambling. Once
past a certain level of bad luck, the luckless player does not give up; as
the odds get worse, he plays for higher stakes. Likewise, the subject
will always manage to track down the obstacle that cannot be surmounted-which is perhaps nothing more than the world’s massive indifference to him, in the end-and he will destroy himself against it.

J.-M. 0.: People always refer to Pascal’s famous wager about the
existence of God as if it were the only one of its kind. What you have
been saying amounts to what Pascal perceives when he theorizes about
divertissement. Desire is also a kind of wager, but it is always a losing
wager. Betting on the existence of God is therefore betting on a God
radically other than the God of desire, a non-violent and benevolent,
rather than a violent and perpetually frustrating, divinity.” P.298

Desire without Object

“R.G.: In effect, desire is responsible for its own evolution. Desire
tends to become a caricature of itself, or, to put it another way, to cause
all the symptoms to become more and more aggravated. In contrast to
what Freud thinks in his constant preoccupation with the ‘unconscious’, desire knows itself better than any form of psychiatry does.
What is more, it gets better and better informed because it observes, at
every stage, what is happening to it. This knowledge governs the aggravation of symptoms. Desire is always using for its own ends the knowledge it has acquired of itself; it places the truth in the service of its own untruth, so to speak, and it is always becoming better equipped to reject everything that surrenders to its embrace. It always does its best, at
both the individual and the collective levels, to generate the double
binds in which it gets caught, seeking always to entrap itself in the culde-sac that is its very raison d’etre.

The idea of the demon who bears light is more far-reaching than any
notion in psychoanalysis. Desire bears light, but puts that light in the
service of its own darkness. The role played by desire in all the great
creations of modern culture-in art and literature-is explained by this
feature, which it shares with Lucifer.” P.304

lnterdividual Psychology

“Everything that brings me up brings down my competitors; everything that brings them up brings me down. In a society where the place
of individuals is not determined in advance and hierarchies have been
obliterated, people are endlessly preoccupied with making a destiny for
themselves, with ‘imposing’ themselves on others, ‘distinguishing’
themselves from the common herd-in a word, with ‘making a career’.
As we have pointed out, only our society can unleash mimetic desire
in a number of different domains without having to dread an irreversible escalation in the system, the runaway defined by cybernetics.

It is because of this unprecedented capacity to promote competition within
limits that always remain socially, if not individually acceptable that we
have all the amazing achievements of the modern world-its inventive
genius, and so on. The price for all of this is perhaps not invariably the
aggravation beyond all bounds, but certainly the democratization and
vulgarization, of what we call neuroses, which are always linked, in my
view, to the reinforcement of mimetic competition and the ‘metaphysical’ aspect of the related tensions.

The ‘manic-depressive’ is possessed with a huge metaphysical ambition. But this metaphysical ambition does not form something apart.
It can vary according to the individual case, but it is the paradoxical
result of the obliteration of differences and the unleashing of mimetic
desire in its specifically modern form. All these factors hang together.

In a world where individuals are no longer defined by the place they
occupy by virtue of their birth or some other stable and arbitrary factor,
the spirit of competition can never be appeased once and for all. Indeed
it gets increasingly inflamed; everything rests upon comparisons that
are necessarily unstable and insecure, since there are no longer any
fixed points of reference. The manic-depressive has a particularly acute
awareness of the state of radical dependence that people occupy vis-avis one another, and the lack of certainty that results.

As he sees that everything around him consists of images, imitation and admiration (image and imitate derive from the same Latin root), he passionately desires the admiration of others. He wishes for all mimetic desires to be polarized around himself, and he lives through the inevitable lack of certainty-the mimetic character of what develops-with a tragic intensity. The smallest sign of acceptance or rejection, of esteem or disdain, plunges him into dark despair of superhuman ecstasy. Sometimes
he sees himself perched on the top of the pyramid of being-sometimes,
by contrast the pyramid is inverted and, as he is still situated at the
point, he is in the most humiliating position of all, blotted out by the
entire universe.

For this experience to reach the clinical stage, the individual terrain
must be particularly favourable. But, in a slightly milder form, the ordeal is that of most intellectuals. The manic-depressive is never wholly
out of touch with human relationships, particularly in the world in
which we live. The sick person is not completely justified in carrying to
an extreme, as he does, everything capable of affecting his relationships
with others. But neither is he completely unjustified, since the mimetic
and contagious nature of these relationships, and their tendency to
‘snowball’, in either are in no way products of the imagination. For
him, moderation is no longer possible, and in effect it is becoming less
and less possible in a society that becomes increasingly destructured
and so is increasingly threatened by the uncontrollable oscillations of
mimetism.” P.308

“R.G.: It is hard to believe that the mimetic context does not play a
central role in determining the particular susceptibility of certain professions to the psychopathological states we are describing; I refer to the various activities and vocations that depend most directly on the judgements of others in their most brutal and arbitrary, and least subtle,
forms. I am thinking of those who are in direct contact with the crowd
and live off its favours, like politicians, actors, playwrights, writers and
so on.

The person who pays attention, of necessity, to collective reactions
knows by experience that nothing in this area can ever be taken at face
value; turn-arounds can take place quite suddenly and unpredictably.
The man of the theatre can see the ‘flop’ of a premiere be transformed
next morning into a raging success, and vice versa, without there being
any ascertainable cause for the change. How is it possible to make a hard
and fast distinction between a manic-depressive tendency and the emotions registered by someone whose existence largely depends on the
arbitrary decisions that arise from mimetic contagion?

Desire is far too well informed that scapegoats and divinities are near
at hand when individuals and societies are in the process of becoming
destructured. To judge from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, we might well
feel that psychosis always threatens when an individual’s intuition of
these matters exceeds a particular threshold. We have only to read Ecce
Homo in the light of what has just been said to understand that Nietzsche is in the process of tipping over into psychosis.

J.-M.0.: If the signs of incipient psychosis can be detected in the
works of Nietzsche, it is possible to note in Dostoevsky, by contrast,
the moment at which the writer overcomes the threat and produces his
first real work of genius, the first work that is to reveal and not merely
reflect mimetic desire and its paradoxes: Notes from Underground.
The oscillatory movements associated with cyclothymia flourish in
our society behind a whole range of cultural phenomena that people
would not think of associating with them. For example, just think of all
those manuals that claim to teach the secret of success in love, business,
etc. What they reveal is always a strategy for relating to the other person. The one secret-the ideal recipe that is repeated over and over
again-is that all you require for success is to give the impression that
you have it already.

Nothing could be more depressing for the reader than this cold
comfort. He is already more than convinced that everything depends,
in the encounters awaiting him, on the impression that is given and received. Equally, he is more than convinced that these two sides of the
impression will give rise to a struggle: each person will try to prove to
the other that he already possesses the stake, which in reality must be
reconquered all the time by being snatched away from the other-this
stake being the radiating certainty of one’s own superiority.” P.309

The Disappearance of the Object and Psychotic Structure

“J.-M.O.: What strikes me about all you have been saying is that there
is no longer any object. Everything comes down to the relationships
between the mimetic rivals, each of which is model and disciple to the
other. The fact that the object disappears must, I imagine, be an aspect
of desire’s tendency to become a caricature of itself and proclaim in its
own terms its own truth-the ascendancy of the mimetic model over the
object. From the outset, desire interferes with the way in which the
instincts are ordered and directed toward objects. By the stage of psychosis, the object is no longer there at all; all that remains is the mimetic double-bind, the obsessive concern with the model-obstacle. Madness is particularly human in so far as it carries to an extreme the very tendency that is furthest removed from the animal part of man – a form of
mimetic behavior so intense that it can take over from the instinctual

R.G.: Freud was well aware of this dynamic force driving man to
madness and death, but he could only cope by inventing a ‘death instinct’ in order to provide an explanation. We must return to this urge
to postulate an instinct. Desire itself leads to madness and death if there
is no victimage mechanism to guide it back to ‘reason’ or to engender
this ‘reason’. Mimetic desire can account for it all more directly and
efficiently. Thanks to it, we can come back to Edgar Morin’s excellent
formula: Homo sapiens demens. The mysterious link between madness
and reason takes on a concrete form.

At his own expense, the subject manages to release the logic of mimetic desire. Desire becomes detached from the object, bit by bit, and
attaches itself to the model. This development is accompanied by a
marked aggravation of the symptoms-for behaving normally is not a
matter of escaping from mimetic desire (no one can do that) but of not
giving in to it to the extent of losing sight of the object entirely and only
being concerned with the model. Being rational-functioning properly-is a matter of having objects and being busy with them; being mad
is a matter of letting oneself be taken over completely by the mimetic
models, and so fulfilling the calling of desire. It is a matter of pushing to
final conclusions what distinguishes desire-only very relatively of
course-from animal life and of abandoning oneself to a fascination
with the model, to the extent that it resists and does violence to the
subject. How do you, as psychiatrists, see psychosis from the perspective that I have sketched out?

G.L.: We are not very good at providing the right vocabulary because we are working-how could it be otherwise?-within a culture, a period, and an ‘order’ that are necessarily post-sacrificial. Yet when we talk, even from the moment that we exist, the founding sacrifice has already taken place.
Our weakness is conveyed by the fact that we are obliged to call
everything that existed previously-that is to say, everything that belongs to the pre-sacrificial period-by pejorative and negative names: non-culture, disorder, and so on.

J.-M.O.: This pre-sacrificial period is not in any sense ‘destructured’. It does not correspond to a dissolution of the structures of culture as we know them, let alone to a complete absence of structure. On the contrary, we know now that the disorder of the pre-cultural and pre-sacrificial stage possesses its own structure, which is exactly defined and is based, paradoxically, on the principle of absolute symmetry.

It is this mimetic symmetry-which generates disorder and violence,
and is in a perpetual disequilibrium-that is stabilized by the scapegoat
mechanism: the zero hour of culture and the zero degree of structure.
The culture produced by this differentiating mechanism will possess
a structure based upon asymmetry and difference. And, this asymmetry and the differences associated with it form what we call the cultural order.
That is how ‘order’ comes out of ‘disorder’. But we know now that
both are structured and that one is not a destructured form of the other.
Overall, one well-determined structure gives way to another through a
previously misunderstood mechanism, that of the scapegoat.

G.L.: What we have just been saying about order and disorder also
applies to logic and confusion. ‘Confusion’ is structured symmetrically
and organized with a view to lack of difference. Logic, on the other
hand, is structured asymmetrically and depends on difference.
We can appreciate that ‘consciousness’ comes out of differentiation.
But we can also see that the ‘unconscious’ has the same point of origin;
both, to the extent that they belong to a post-sacrificial and cultural
space-time, are structured through difference-both are ‘structured as
a language’. This point appears even clearer if we reflect that the presacrificial period is one of symmetry, undifferentiated violence and inarticulate cries.” P.311-312

Mimesis and Sexuality

“J.-M.O.: If I follow you correctly, the subject becomes weighed
down by failure and devalued in his own eyes, and at the same time the
surrounding world becomes enigmatic. Desire can easily see that
appearances cannot be trusted. It lives more and more in a world of
signs and indices. Failure is not sought for its own sake but in so far as it
signifies quite a different thing-the success of another, obviously, and
only this other is of interest to me, since I can take him as model; I can
enrol in his school and finally obtain from him the secret of the success
that has always eluded me. This secret must be in the possession of the
other, since he knows so well how to make me fail, how to reduce me to
nothingness, how to bring out my own inadequacy when confronted
with his unalterable being.

In the course of a long journey across a desert, the thirsty traveller
will be cheered considerably by the unexpected presence of animals,
however unpleasant and dangerous they may be. He sees it as a sign that
water is not far away; soon, no doubt, he will be able to quench his
thirst. It would be ridiculous to draw the conclusion that this unfortunate person takes pleasure in snake-bites and insect-stings-that his
‘morbid masochism’ draws an enjoyment from them that would be unintelligible to normal beings like ourselves.

Yet that is what is done by those who believe in masochism and stick
this obfuscatory label on forms of conduct that are easy to interpret in
the light of the mimetic hypothesis.” P.328

Theatrical ‘Sada-Masochism’

“G. L.: All you have said about the pseudo-masochistic structure of
mimetic desire seems to be controverted by the existence of a much
more spectacular, even theatrical, form of masochism on the basis of
which the theory of masochism was set up. I am thinking of the masochistic mise-en-scene as Sacher-Masoch describes it. In this interpretation, masochists are people who ask their sexual partners to make them undergo all kinds of insults and humiliations-whipping, spitting and so on-with the aim of reaching sexual fulfilment.

R.G.: This is only an apparent contradiction. In order to come to
terms with it, we have only to concede what we have already conceded-that desire, just like psychiatry but well in advance of it, observes what is happening but does not interpret it correctly. The false
conclusions become the foundations of further desires. Far from being
unconscious in Freud’s sense and only appearing in its true form in our
dreams, desire not only observes but never stops thinking about the
meaning of its observations. Desire is always reflection on desire.
From the basis of this reflection, it takes its direction and, from time to time, modifies its own structures.” P.329

“G. L.: You could also say that Freud’s system of narcissistic libido
tends to work in the same way as capitalism. The richer you are, the
easier it is to conduct increasingly lucrative financial operations without
really putting your capital at risk. Poor old object-directed desire
clusters around intact narcissism and gets poorer and poorer in the process. To sum up: money is only lent to the wealthy, and desire always
pursues desire, just as money pursues money.

R. G.: Metaphors taken from economics and finance are as pertinent
here as the great themes of the sacred, but we must not conclude that
they have any priority, any more than we must conclude that libido or
even the sacred has an absolute priority. Behind all of this, you always
have mimetic desire. The priority belongs to it, irrespective of the many
cultural contents with which it can be vested-but only as long as it has
not been fully unleashed and is still regulated, at least up to a point, by
mechanisms derived from the scapegoat. These vestiges of ritual make
it possible for the game to operate by blinding us a little to the fact that it
has no anchor in the real. The difference between what Freud saw and
what we are capable of seeing today results not from our greater perceptiveness but from the far greater rootlessness that has developed in
the half-century separating us from the last stages of Freud’s work.

The moralistic tone of the essay on narcissism is worth emphasizing.
Intact narcissism is presented as infantile, egoistic, perverse and inferior in all respects to object-directed desire, which all the same grovels
abjectly at its feet. Object-directed desire is the desire of the man who is
truly a man and who gives up his childhood illusions in order to launch
himself on the austere but noble path of great achievements for the sake
of his family and his culture. It is object-directed desire which-with a
little bit of sublimation, naturally-succeeds in inventing psychoanalysis.
What Freud gives away here, on the sexual level, is the fact that his
erotically charged rivalry is directed toward the other sex. Women appear both as obstacles and as rivals. As a result, the text takes on an
anti-feminine character despite Freud’s explicit denials.

We have it from Freud himself, I believe, that he broke off sexual
relations with his wife at a very early age. Zur Einfiihrnng des N arzissmus
shows him admitting quite ingenuously that a particular type of woman
has always fascinated him. This always makes me think of the wayward
innocence of the old bearded professor in the film The Blue Angel: a
close-up of Marlene Dietrich’s long legs, sheathed in black stockmgs…
At the time when he was writing on narcissism, Freud had a number
of vivacious female disciples, like Helene Deutsch and Lou Andreas Salome. When they failed to turn up at his seminar, he would write
them letters that were ambiguous, to say the least. They, in turn, were
attracted by the genius in him, the founder of psychoanalysis.

J.-M. 0.: Narcissism is in fact the final manifestation of the idol
worshipped by the Romantics. It gives its own mythological character
away when it turns uncritically to the narcissus myth and interprets it as
a myth of solipsism, while in reality the image behind the mirror (as in
the story of the nymph Echo) conceals the mimetic model and the
struggle between doubles.

R. G.: What gives the text on narcissism its particular charm and
makes it seem so lively in its observations and so youthful in its impact
is the fact that beliefs from another age and an almost naive faith in the
distinctiveness of the female sex are still very present in it. But there is
also a darker side to the essay, which is linked to the welling up of
Freud’s Puritanism. Narcissism is condemned because of the resentment invariably inspired by the mimetic model and obstacle-a resentment that plays a much greater part in our own intellectual world than it
ever did in Freud’s work.

Anything that puts itself forward as a form of ‘demystification’ nowadays has become the principal business of avant-garde researchers,
their passionate calling, their only raison d’etre after the advent of nihilism. If we think about this a little, we can see how the interpretation
called for by this demystificatory urge is to be sketched out from the
mimetic point of view. We have here a form of desire that frustrates the
great avant-garde researcher that Freud was, and projects around itself,
from his perspective, the metaphysical mirage of self-sufficiency that
he ascribes to intact narcissism.

Metaphysical desire experiences a violent rancour toward the object
that it desires-an object that insolently refuses access. A time will
come when this most advanced mimetic desire realizes that it is the victim of an illusion. But this will be no more than an intellectual awareness, an abstract form of disillusionment that will not liberate its
victims from the traps still being laid by desire the strategist, who exploits every appearance of indifference, whether real or imaginary.

Desire must convince itself that the other’s self-sufficiency is just a
superficial deception, something that has no right to exist. In order to
do this, it will commit itself increasingly to the task of convincing the
other that this is really so-of disenchanting and demystifying him, or,
in other words, of persuading him that he has no reason to believe in his
own happiness. If the other has not lost all confidence in the world and
in human beings, this must be because he is not perceptive enough (or
too ill-informed) to notice how pointless and desperate everything is,
including ourselves. The other is a victim of mystification and he must
be demystified, at all costs.

G. L.: If we take a broad view of modern literature and theory, we
can see that present-day thinkers are invariably obsessed by the people
whom they are trying to demystify-people who still to some extent
rely on the sacrificial mechanisms that keep all the values in place.” P.378

Opinion philosophy psychology

Habits That Blind You

William James, the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States, made an interesting argument about habits. He said that society would fall apart if not for habits. James was not arguing that this was a good thing, it is simply how the world works.

If people were not habitual, business would not be possible, all but chaos would remain. We take habits for granted, but without the automatic execution of certain kinds of behavior, we would have no mental space left over for new problems. This automaticity preserves order for the individual and for society, yet the destruction of habits is equally necessary. Once the problems you have to solve change, so do some of the habits that you have constructed.

A habit is like a tool – efficient for solving a limited range of problems. New problems require the destruction of old foundations. If you are never, under any circumstances, willing to destroy the routines of the past, then you are not a man who wields a tool, but one who is subjugated to the tool that he has built.

Most people are interested in getting rid of bad habits, and learning good habits, but this quest itself is a habit. You are habituated to constantly look for ways of enhancing efficiency. The thing that is not obvious, however, is that such a quest can be blinding. As you are focusing on improving one dimension of life, you become blind to all the other dimensions.

That is the tragic trade-off we must constantly deal with. Each decision we make, even if it seems desirable on the surface, could be the precursor to what is eventually undesirable. Once we have tunnel vision, we rid ourselves of the ability to think holistically, we become too detail-oriented, and life becomes an ordeal which requires constant optimization, rather than an exploration or an adventure.

A habit has the power to enslave you, as well as empower you. Why? What is this mysterious thing about habits that holds such power over us?

First of all, a habit is a technique, directed inwards. What is a technique? A better way of doing something. We use technical knowledge to improve the way we do any task. As our technical efficiency increases, our productivity improves. A habit is no different. Seen from a distance, a habit is a way for you to accomplish long term tasks without having to expend too much willpower and mental resources. It makes long, difficult journeys easier. In other words, it makes you more efficient, because when the journey is easier, you are less likely to quit.

Hence the double-edged sword of habits. If you are aware of the sunk costs fallacy – the idea that we have the tendency to double down on activities (even if they are bad for us) once we have invested a sufficient amount of time or resources – then you can see how habits can help you commit to something you never wanted to commit to in the first place.

There are many podcasts and books that deal with the mastery of habits.

I am not saying that such a focus is unwarranted or useless. It is important to build the right habits rather than the wrong habits, so that over time, you can benefit from the interest made from this initial investment. But it is difficult to know where to draw the line between unquestionable good habits and their evil cousin, habits that blind you.

Ultimately, the only remedy is to schedule a periodic check-in, where one looks at their lives and re-evaluates the direction their ship is moving in. If it is established that a change in direction is necessary, then we must be willing to scrap away what we have taken so much time to perfect, and build again. It is only by doing that do we preserve our sense of agency while at the same time benefiting from the extraordinary technical power of automatic behavior.

Book Summaries

How To Make Better Investments? QMB 1021

Five Quotes 
  • The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient. – Warren Buffett
  • If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice. – Norman Ralph Augustine
  • In the short run, the market is a voting machine. But in the long run, it is a weighing machine. – Ben Graham
  • One of the funny things about the stock market is that every time one person buys, another sells, and both think they are astute. – William Feather
  • Everyone has the power to follow the stock market. If you made it through fifth grade math, you can do it. – Peter Lynch


Five Myths 
  • Investing is the same as gambling.
  • The stock market is just for rich people and brokers.
  • Buying a stock simply because its market price has fallen is a good strategy.
  • Stocks that go up must come down.
  • A little knowledge is better than none.


Six Books 
  • The Greatest Trade Ever is a superbly written, fast-paced, behind-the-scenes narrative of how a contrarian foresaw an escalating financial crisis–that outwitted Chuck Prince, Stanley O’Neal, Richard Fuld, and Wall Street’s titans–to make financial history.
  • The New Financial Order: Shiller describes six fundamental ideas for using modern information technology and advanced financial theory to temper basic risks that have been ignored by risk management institutions–risks to the value of our jobs and our homes, to the vitality of our communities, and to the very stability of national economies.
  • What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars: The story of Jim Paul’s meteoric rise took him from a small town in Northern Kentucky to governor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, yet he lost it all—his fortune, his reputation, and his job—in one fatal attack of excessive economic hubris.
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management is a business classic—now with a new Afterword in which the author draws parallels to the recent financial crisis—Roger Lowenstein captures the gripping roller-coaster ride of Long-Term Capital Management.
  • The (Mis)Behavior of Markets: Benoit B. Mandelbrot, one of the century’s most influential mathematicians, is world-famous for making mathematical sense of a fact everybody knows but that geometers from Euclid on down had never assimilated: Clouds are not round, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not smooth. To these classic lines we can now add another example: Markets are not the safe bet your broker may claim.
  • A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Today’s stock market is not for the faint of heart. At a time of frightening volatility, what is the average investor to do? The answer: turn to Burton G. Malkiel’s advice in his reassuring, authoritative, gimmick-free, and perennially best-selling guide to investing. Long established as the first book to purchase before starting a portfolio or 401(k), A Random Walk Down Wall Street now features new material on “tax-loss harvesting,” the crown jewel of tax management; the current bitcoin bubble; and automated investment advisers; as well as a brand-new chapter on factor investing and risk parity.


Book Summaries

Valis Summary

Valis is Phillip K Dick’s fictional novel based on a real life story, when he had a transcendent experience. He describes how he was transported into a different dimension after encountering a fish sign. A moment of pure information flow gave him knowledge of the past and the future. He had transcended time.

The narrator explains how a theophany is self-disclosure by the divine, in other words, a theophany isn’t something we do; rather, a theophany is something the divine does to us. The intense pink beam of light experienced by the narrator’s persona Horselover Fat was just such a theophany. But how can we tell between a theophany and an illusion?

Fat experiences the divine but it wears off. If only he could have those experiences like a drug, life would be great. Instead, post-revelation, his life became depressing.

Throughout the novel, Horselover Fat (Phillip K. Dick’s fictional character) describes the experience he had. He compares it with what the great religious leaders and mystics have reported throughout the ages. Below are a couple of excerpts that go into more details.

Chapter 8

I did not think I should tell Fat that I thought his encounter with God was in fact an encounter with himself from the far future. Himself so evolved, so changed, that he had become no longer a human being. Fat had remembered back to the stars, and had encountered a being ready to return to the stars, and several selves along the way, several points along the line. All of them are the same person.

Entry #13 in the tractate: Pascal said, “All history is one immortal man who continually learns.” This is the Immortal One whom we worship without knowing his name. “He lived a long time ago but he is still alive,” and, “The Head Apollo is about to return.” The name changes.

On some level Fat guessed the truth; he had encountered his past selves and his future selves — two future selves: an early-on one, the three-eyed people, and then Zebra, who is discorporate. Time somehow got abolished for him, and the recapitulation of selves along the linear time-axis caused the multitude of selves to laminate together into a common entity.

Out of the lamination of selves, Zebra, which is supra- or trans-temporal, came into existence: pure energy, pure living information. Immortal, benign, intelligent and helpful. The essence of the rational human being. In the center of an irrational universe governed by an irrational Mind stands rational man, Horselover Fat being just one example. The in-breaking deity that Fat encountered in 1974 was himself. However, Fat seemed happy to believe that he had met God. After some thought I decided not to tell him my views. After all, I might be wrong.

It all had to do with time. “Time can be overcome,” Mircea Eliade wrote. That’s what it’s all about. The great mystery of Eleusis, of the Orphics, of the early Christians, of Sarapis, of the Greco-Roman mystery religions, of Hermes Trismegistos, of the Renaissance Hermetic alchemists, of the Rose Cross Brotherhood, of Apollonius of Tyana, of Simon Magus, of Asklepios, of Paracelsus, of Bruno, consists of the abolition of time.

The techniques are there. Dante discusses them in the Comedy. It has to do with the loss of amnesia; when forgetfulness is lost, true memory spreads out backward and forward, into the past and into the future, and also, oddly, into alternate universes; it is orthogonal as well as linear.
This is why Elijah could be said correctly to be immortal; he had entered the Upper Realm (as Fat calls it) and is no longer subject to time. Time equals what the ancients called “astral determinism.” The purpose of the mysteries was to free the initiate from astral determinism, which roughly equals fate. About this, Fat wrote in his tractate:

Entry #48. Two realms there are, upper and lower. The upper, derived from hyperuniverse I or Yang, Form I of Parmenides, is sentient and volitional. The lower realm, or Yin, Form II of Parmenides, is mechanical, driven by blind, efficient cause, deterministic and without intelligence, since it emanates from a dead source. In ancient times it was termed “astral determinism.” We are trapped, by and large, in the lower realm, but are through the sacraments, by means of the plasmate, extricated. Until astral determinism is broken, we are not even aware of it, so occluded are we. “The Empire never ended.”

Siddhartha, the Buddha, remembered all his past lives; this is why he was given the title of buddha which means “the Enlightened One.” From him the knowledge of achieving this passed to Greece and shows up in the teachings of Pythagoras, who kept much of this occult, mystical gnosis secret; his pupil Empedocles, however, broke off from the Pythagorean Brotherhood and went public. Empedocles told his friends privately that he was Apollo. He, too, like the Buddha and Pythagoras, could remember his past lives. What they did not talk about was their ability to “remember” future lives.

The three-eyed people who Fat saw represented himself at an enlightened stage of his evolving development through his various lifetimes. In Buddhism it’s called the “super-human divine eye” (dibba-cakkhu), the power to see the passing away and rebirth of beings. Gautama the Buddha (Siddhartha) attained it during his middle watch (ten p.m. to two a.m.). In his first watch (six p.m. to ten p.m.) he gained the knowledge of all — repeat: all — his former existences (pubbeni-vasanussati-nana). I did not tell Fat this, but technically he had become a Buddha. It did not seem to me like a good idea to let him know. After all, if you are a Buddha you should be able to figure it out for yourself.#

It strikes me as an interesting paradox that a Buddha — an enlightened one — would be unable to figure out, even after four-and-a-half years, that he had become enlightened. Fat had become totally bogged down in his enormous exegesis, trying futilely to determine what had happened to him. He resembled more a hit-and-run accident victim than a Buddha.

Chapter 10

It would not be in China, nor in India or Tasmania for that matter, that Horselover Fat would find the fifth Savior. Valis had shown us where to look: a beer can run over by a passing taxi. That was the source of the information and the help.

That in fact was VALIS, Vast Active Living Intelligence System, as Mother Goose had chosen to term it.

We had just saved Fat a lot of money, plus a lot of wasted time and effort, including the bother of obtaining vaccinations and a passport.

A couple of days later the three of us drove up Tustin Avenue and took in the film Valis once more. Watching it carefully I realized that on the surface the movie made no sense whatsoever. Unless you ferreted out the subliminal and marginal clues and assembled them all together you arrived at nothing. But these clues got fired at your head whether you consciously considered them and their meaning or not; you had no choice. The audience was in the same relationship to the film Valis that Fat had had to what he called Zebra: a transducer and a percipient, totally receptive in nature.

Again we found mostly teenagers comprising the audience. They seemed to enjoy what they saw. I wondered how many of them left the theater pondering the inscrutible [sic] mysteries of the film as we did. Maybe none of them. I had a feeling it made no difference.

We could assign Gloria’s death as the cause of Fat’s supposed encounter with God, but we could not consider it the cause of the film Valis. Kevin, upon first seeing the film, had realized this at once. It didn’t matter what the explanation was; what had now been established was that Fat’s March 1974 experience was real.

Okay; it mattered what the explanation was. But at least one thing had been proved: Fat might be clinically crazy but he was locked into reality — a reality of some kind, although certainly not the normal one.
Ancient Rome — apostolic times and early Christians — breaking through into the modern world. And breaking through with a purpose. To unseat Ferris F. Fremount, who was Richard Nixon.

They had achieved their purpose, and had gone back home.

Maybe the Empire had ended after all. Now himself somewhat persuaded, Kevin began to comb through the two apocalyptic books of the Bible for clues. He came across a part of the Book of Daniel which he believed depicted Nixon.

“In the last days of those kingdoms,
When their sin is at its height,
A king shall appear, harsh and grim, a master of stratagem.
His power shall be great, he shall work havoc untold;
He shall work havoc among great nations and upon a holy people.
His mind shall be ever active,
And he shall succeed in his crafty designs;
He shall conjure up great plans.
And, when they least expect it, work havoc on many.
He shall challenge even the Prince of princes
And be broken, but not by human hands.”

Now Kevin had become a Bible scholar, to Fat’s amusement; the cynic had become devout, albeit for a particular purpose.

But on a far more fundamental level Fat felt fear at the turn of events. Perhaps he had always felt reassured to think that his March 1974 encounter with God emanated from mere insanity; viewing it that way he did not necessarily have to take it as real. Now he did. We all did. Something which did not yield up an explanation had happened to Fat, an experience which pointed to a melting of the physical world itself, and to the ontological categories which defined it: space and time.

“Shit, Phil,” he said to me that night. “What if the world doesn’t exist? If it doesn’t, then what does?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and then I said, quoting, “You’re the authority.”
Fat glared at me. “It’s not funny. Some force or entity melted the reality around me as if everything was a hologram! An interference with our hologram!”
“But in your tractate,” I said, “that’s exactly what you stipulate reality is: a two-source hologram.”
“But intellectually thinking it is one thing,” Fat said, “and finding out it’s true is another!”
“There’s no use getting sore at me,” I said.
David, our Catholic friend, and his teeny-bopper underage girlfriend Jan went to see Valis, on our recommendation. David came out of it pleased. He saw the hand of God squeezing the world like an orange.
“Yeah, well we’re in the juice,” Fat said.
“But that’s the way it should be,” David said.
“You’re willing to dispense with the whole world as a real thing, then,” Fat said.
“Whatever God believes in is real,” David said.
Kevin, irked, said, “Can he create a person so gullible that hell believe nothing exists? Because if nothing exists, what is meant by the word ‘nothing’? How is one ‘nothing’ which exists defined in comparison to another ‘nothing’ which doesn’t exist?”
We, as usual, had gotten caught in the crossfire between David and Kevin, but under altered circumstances.
“What exists,” David said, “is God and the Will of God.”
“I hope I’m in his will,” Kevin said. “I hope he left me more than one dollar.”
“All creatures are in his will,” David said, not batting an eye; he never let Kevin get to him.
Concern had now, by gradual increments, overcome our little group. We were no longer friends comforting and propping up a deranged member; we were collectively in deep trouble. A total reversal had in fact taken place: instead of mollifying Fat we now had to turn to him for advice. Fat was our link with that entity, VALIS or Zebra, which appeared to have power over all of us, if the Mother Goose film were to be believed.
“Not only does it fire information to us but when it wants to it can take control. It can override us.”

That expressed it perfectly. At any moment a beam of pink light could strike us, blind us, and when we regained our sight (if we ever did) we could know everything or nothing and be in Brazil four thousand years ago; space and time, for VALIS, meant nothing.

A common worry unified all of us, the fear that we knew or had figured out too much. We knew that apostolic Christians armed with stunningly sophisticated technology had broken through the space-time barrier into our world, and, with the aid of a vast information-processing instrument had basically deflected human history. The species of creature which stumbles onto such knowledge may not show up too well on the longevity tables.

Most ominous of all, we knew — or suspected — that the original apostolic Christians who had known Christ, who had been alive to receive the direct oral teachings before the Romans wiped those teachings out, were immortal. They had acquired immortality through the plasmate which Fat had discussed in his tractate. Although the original apostolic Christians had been murdered, the plasmate had gone into hiding at Nag Hammadi and was again loose in our world, and as angry as a motherfucker, if you’ll excuse the expression. It thirsted for vengence. And apparently it had begun to score that vengence, against the modern-day manifestation of the Empire, the imperial United States Presidency.

I hoped the plasmate considered us its friends. I hoped it didn’t think we were snitches.

“Where do we hide,” Kevin said, “when an immortal plasmate which knows everything and is consuming the world by transubstantiation is looking for you?”

“It’s a good thing Sherri isn’t alive to hear about all this,” Fat said, surprising us. “I mean, it would shake her faith.”
We all laughed. Faith shaken by the discovery that the entity believed in actually existed — the paradox of piety. Sherri’s theology had congealed; there would have been no room in it for the growth, the expansion and evolution, necessary to encompass our revelations. No wonder Fat and she weren’t able to live together.

The question was, How did we go about making contact with Eric Lampton and Linda Lampton and the composer of Synchronicity Music, Mini? Obviously through me and my friendship — if that’s what it was — with Jamison.

“It’s up to you, Phil,” Kevin said. “Get off the pot and onto the stick. Call Jamison and tell him — whatever. You’re full of it; you’ll think of something. Say you’ve written a hot-property screenplay and you want Lampton to read it.”
“Call it Zebra,”Fat said.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll call it Zebra or Horse’s Ass or anything you want. You know, of course, that this is going to shoot down my professional probity.”
“What probity?” Kevin said, characteristically. “Your probity is like Fat’s. It never got off the ground in the first place.”
“What you have to do,” Fat said, “is show knowledge of the gnosis disclosed to me by Zebra over and above, which is to say beyond, what appears in Valis. That will intrigue him. I’ll write down a few statements I’ve received directly from Zebra.”

Book Summaries

The Top 19 Books On Productivity

  1. The 4-Hour Workweek
  2. The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
  3. Getting Things Done… Fast! : The Ultimate Stress-Free Productivity System
  4. Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success
  5. The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life
  6. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
  7. Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
  8. Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story
  9. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
  10. Rework
  11. The Desire Map
  12. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence
  13. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
  14. Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking
  15. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization
  16. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
  17. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
  18. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
  19. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Book Summaries

The Top Books About Finance

The Man Who Solved the Market
  • Title: The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution
  • Author(s): Gregory Zuckerman
  • First Published: 2019

The Man Who Solved the Market is a portrait of a modern-day Midas who remade markets in his own image, but failed to anticipate how his success would impact his firm and his country. It’s also a story of what Simons’s revolution means for the rest of us.

The Greatest Trade Ever
  • Title: The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History
  • Author(s): Gregory Zuckerman
  • First Published: 2009

The Greatest Trade Ever is a superbly written, fast-paced, behind-the-scenes narrative of how a contrarian foresaw an escalating financial crisis–that outwitted Chuck Prince, Stanley O’Neal, Richard Fuld, and Wall Street’s titans–to make financial history.

The Frackers
  • Title: The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters
  • Author(s): Gregory Zuckerman
  • First Published: 2013

Everyone knew it was crazy to try to extract oil and natural gas buried in shale rock deep below the ground. Everyone, that is, except a few reckless wildcatters – who risked their careers to prove the world wrong.

One Up On Wall Street
  • Title: One Up On Wall Street: How to Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market
  • Author(s): Peter Lynch
  • First Published: 1988

In easy-to-follow terminology, Lynch offers directions for sorting out the long shots from the no shots by spending just a few minutes with a company’s financial statements. His advice for producing “tenbaggers” can turn a stock portfolio into a star performer!

The Intelligent Investor
  • Title: The Intelligent Investor
  • Author(s): Benjamin Graham
  • First Published: 1949

The greatest investment advisor of the twentieth century, Benjamin Graham taught and inspired people worldwide. Graham’s philosophy of “value investing” — which shields investors from substantial error and teaches them to develop long-term strategies — has made The Intelligent Investor the stock market bible ever since its original publication in 1949.


Value Investing
  • Title: Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond
  • Author(s): Bruce C.N. Greenwald, Judd Kahn, Paul D. Sonkin
  • First Published: 2001

From the “guru to Wall Street’s gurus” comes the fundamental techniques of value investing and their applications Bruce Greenwald is one of the leading authorities on value investing. 


The Signal and the Noise
  • Title: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t
  • Author(s): Nate Silver
  • First Published: 2012

Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. They distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.


The Most Important Thing
  • Title: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor
  • Author(s): Howard Marks
  • First Published: 2011

“This is that rarity, a useful book.”- Warren Buffett. Marks expounds on such concepts as “second-level thinking,” the price/value relationship, patient opportunism, and defensive investing.


Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings margin of safety
  • Title: Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings margin of safety
  • Author(s): Philip A. Fisher, Kenneth L. Fisher
  • First Published: 2011

Philip Fisher is considered one of the pioneers of modern investment theory and is one of the most influential investors of all time. His investment philosophies, which he introduced almost 40 ago, are not only studied and applied by modern financial experts and investors – including Warren Buffett – but are for many considered the gospel par excellence.


  • Title: Bull!: A History of the Boom and Bust, 1982-2004
  • Author(s): Maggie Mahar
  • First Published: 2003

Philip Fisher is considered one of the pioneers of modern investment theory and is one of the most influential investors of all time. His investment philosophies, which he introduced almost 40 ago, are not only studied and applied by modern financial experts and investors – including Warren Buffett – but are for many considered the gospel par excellence.


Reminiscences of a Stock Operator
  • Title: Bull!: Reminiscences of a Stock Operator
  • Author(s): Edwin Lefèvre
  • First Published: 1923

Philip Fisher is considered one of the pioneers of modern investment theory and is one of the most influential investors of all time. His investment philosophies, which he introduced almost 40 ago, are not only studied and applied by modern financial experts and investors – including Warren Buffett – but are for many considered the gospel par excellence.


Business Adventures
  • Title: Business Adventures
  • Author(s): John Brooks
  • First Published: 1969

Stories about Wall Street are infused with drama and adventure and reveal the machinations and volatile nature of the world of finance. John Brooks’s insightful reportage is so full of personality and critical detail that whether he is looking at the astounding market crash of 1962, the collapse of a well-known brokerage firm, or the bold attempt by American bankers to save the British pound, one gets the sense that history really does repeat itself.


Radical Uncertainty
  • Title: Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers
  • Author(s): John Kay, Mervyn A. King
  • First Published: 2020

The limits of certainty demonstrate the power of human judgment over artificial intelligence. In most critical decisions there can be no forecasts or probability distributions on which we might sensibly rely. Instead of inventing numbers to fill the gaps in our knowledge, we should adopt business, political, and personal strategies that will be robust to alternative futures and resilient to unpredictable events.


Why Stock Markets Crash
  • Title: Why Stock Markets Crash: Critical Events in Complex Financial Systems
  • Author(s): Didier Sornette
  • First Published: 2002

The scientific study of complex systems has transformed a wide range of disciplines in recent years, enabling researchers in both the natural and social sciences to model and predict phenomena as diverse as earthquakes, global warming, demographic patterns, financial crises, and the failure of materials. In this book, Didier Sornette boldly applies his varied experience in these areas to propose a simple, powerful, and general theory of how, why, and when stock markets crash.

The New Financial Order
  • Title: The New Financial Order: Risk in the 21st Century
  • Author(s): Robert J. Shiller
  • First Published: 2003

Shiller describes six fundamental ideas for using modern information technology and advanced financial theory to temper basic risks that have been ignored by risk management institutions–risks to the value of our jobs and our homes, to the vitality of our communities, and to the very stability of national economies.


Irrational Exuberance
  • Title: Irrational Exuberance
  • Author(s): Robert J. Shiller
  • First Published: 2000

The original and bestselling 2000 edition of Irrational Exuberance evoked Alan Greenspan’s infamous 1996 use of that phrase to explain the alternately soaring and declining stock market. It predicted the collapse of the tech stock bubble through an analysis of the structural, cultural, and psychological factors behind levels of price growth not reflected in any other sector of the economy.


Lords of Finance
  • Title: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World
  • Author(s): Liaquat Ahamed
  • First Published: 2009

It is commonly believed that the Great Depression that began in 1929 resulted from a confluence of events beyond any one person’s or government’s control. In fact, as Liaquat Ahamed reveals, it was the decisions taken by a small number of central bankers that were the primary cause of the economic meltdown, the effects of which set the stage for World War II and reverberated for decades.


The Volatility Smile
  • Title: The Volatility Smile
  • Author(s): Emanuel Derman, Michael B. Miller
  • First Published: 2009

It is commonly believed that the Great Depression that began in 1929 resulted from a confluence of events beyond any one person’s or government’s control. In fact, as Liaquat Ahamed reveals, it was the decisions taken by a small number of central bankers that were the primary cause of the economic meltdown, the effects of which set the stage for World War II and reverberated for decades.

No Bull: My Life in and Out of Markets
  • Title: No Bull: My Life in and Out of Markets
  • Author(s): Michael Steinhardt
  • First Published: 2001

No Bull is the long-awaited autobiography of Wall Street legend Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt is considered one of the most successful investors in Wall Street history. Between 1967 and 1995 he amassed a fortune for himself and his investors. With an annual return of over 30%, he was well above the market average and surpassed almost every one of his colleagues. But until recently he was not prepared to reveal much about himself and his philosophy.

The Man Who Knew
  • Title: The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan
  • Author(s): Sebastian Mallaby
  • First Published: 2016

Mallaby argues that the conventional wisdom is off base: Greenspan wasn’t a naïve ideologue who believed greater regulation was unnecessary. He had pressed for greater regulation of some key areas of finance over the years, and had gotten nowhere. To argue that he didn’t know the risks in irrational markets is to miss the point. He knew more than almost anyone; the question is why he didn’t act, and whether anyone else could or would have.

What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars
  • Title: What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars
  • Author(s): Jim Paul, Brendan Moynihan
  • First Published: 1994

Jim Paul’s meteoric rise took him from a small town in Northern Kentucky to governor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, yet he lost it all—his fortune, his reputation, and his job—in one fatal attack of excessive economic hubris


When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
  • Title: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
  • Author(s): Roger Lowenstein
  • First Published: 2000

In this business classic—now with a new Afterword in which the author draws parallels to the recent financial crisis—Roger Lowenstein captures the gripping roller-coaster ride of Long-Term Capital Management.


The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
  • Title: The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
  • Author(s): Benoît B. Mandelbrot, Richard L. Hudson
  • First Published: 1997

Benoit B. Mandelbrot, one of the century’s most influential mathematicians, is world-famous for making mathematical sense of a fact everybody knows but that geometers from Euclid on down had never assimilated: Clouds are not round, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not smooth. To these classic lines we can now add another example: Markets are not the safe bet your broker may claim.


Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises
  • Title: Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises
  • Author(s): Charles P. Kindleberger
  • First Published: 1978

The best known and most highly regarded book on financial crises


The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
  • Title: The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
  • Author(s): Leonard Mlodinow
  • First Published: 2008

With the born storyteller’s command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.


  • Title: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
  • Author(s): Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner
  • First Published: 2015

In Superforecasting, Tetlock and coauthor Dan Gardner offer a masterwork on prediction, drawing on decades of research and the results of a massive, government-funded forecasting tournament.


Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
  • Title: Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
  • Author(s): Michael Lewis
  • First Published: 2008

When it comes to markets, the first deadly sin is greed. In this New York Times bestseller, Michael Lewis is our jungle guide through five of the most violent and costly upheavals in recent financial history


Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
  • Title: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
  • Author(s): Peter L. Bernstein
  • First Published: 1996

With the stock market breaking records almost daily, leaving longtime market analysts shaking their heads and revising their forecasts, a study of the concept of risk seems quite timely. Peter Bernstein has written a comprehensive history of man’s efforts to understand risk and probability, beginning with early gamblers in ancient Greece, continuing through the 17th-century French mathematicians Pascal and Fermat and up to modern chaos theory.


A Random Walk Down Wall Street
  • Title: A Random Walk Down Wall Street
  • Author(s): Burton G. Malkiel
  • First Published: 1973

Today’s stock market is not for the faint of heart. At a time of frightening volatility, what is the average investor to do? The answer: turn to Burton G. Malkiel’s advice in his reassuring, authoritative, gimmick-free, and perennially best-selling guide to investing. Long established as the first book to purchase before starting a portfolio or 401(k), A Random Walk Down Wall Street now features new material on “tax-loss harvesting,” the crown jewel of tax management; the current bitcoin bubble; and automated investment advisers; as well as a brand-new chapter on factor investing and risk parity.


The Big Short
  • Title: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
  • Author(s): Michael Lewis
  • First Published: 2010

The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower- and middle-class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking.


  • Title: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
  • Author(s): Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • First Published: 2012

In The Black Swan Taleb outlined a problem; in Antifragile he offers a definitive solution: how to gain from disorder and chaos while being protected from fragilities and adverse events. For what he calls the “antifragile” is one step beyond robust, as it benefits from adversity, uncertainty and stressors, just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension.


Fooled by Randomness
  • Title: Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
  • Author(s): Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • First Published: 2001

An investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand.


Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis — and Themselves
  • Title: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis — and Themselves
  • Author(s): Andrew Ross Sorkin
  • First Published: 2009 

Andrew Ross Sorkin delivers the first true behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment account of how the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression developed into a global tsunami.


The Flaw of Averages
  • Title: The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty
  • Author(s): Sam L. Savage
  • First Published: 2009

As the recent collapse on Wall Street shows, we are often ill-equipped to deal with uncertainty and risk. Yet every day we base our personal and business plans on uncertainties, whether they be next month’s sales, next year’s costs, or tomorrow’s stock price. In The Flaw of Averages, Sam Savage-known for his creative exposition of difficult subjects- describes common avoidable mistakes in assessing risk in the face of uncertainty


Plight of the Fortune Tellers
  • Title: Plight of the Fortune Tellers: Why We Need to Manage Financial Risk Differently
  • Author(s): Riccardo Rebonato
  • First Published: 2007

Rebonato forcefully argues that we must restore genuine decision making to our financial planning, and he shows us how to do it using probability, experimental psychology, and decision theory.


Book Summaries

Notes From The Belly of the Beast

Book Summaries

Myth 20: Researchers Have Demonstrated that Dreams Possess Symbolic Meaning

Dream dictionaries are books that help people explain the symbolic meaning to their dreams. These books promise to change your life very quickly. Websites exist for this purpose, so do software programs. Dream interpretation is good business. Unfortunately, it’s all bullshit. 

Why do people have these beliefs? Some movies and television shows capitalize on the popular belief that dreams have symbolic meanings. In The Sopranos, Tony Soprano’s friend appeared to Tony in a dream as a talking fish. You see, “fish” is slang for informant, so Tony suspected that that his friend was an FBI informant. 

How many people people believe that dreams have symbolic meaning?

..the results of a recent Newsweek poll revealed that 43% of Americans believe that dreams reflect unconscious desires (Adler, 2006). Moreover, researchers who conducted surveys in India, South Korea, and the United States discovered that 56% to 74% of people across the three cultures believed that dreams can reveal hidden truths (Morewedge & Norton, 2009). In a second study, these investigators found that people were more likely to say they would

avoid flying if they imagined they dreamt of a plane crashing on a flight they planned to take than if they had the conscious thought of a plane crashing, or received a governmental warning about a high risk of a terrorist attack on an airline.

These findings show that people take their dreams seriously, and see dream symbols as prophecies of the future and as portals for personal insight. 

Most psychiatrists (more than two thirds) are not Freudians. Most psychologists (More than 85 percent) are not Freudians. The belief that dreams have real-life value comes from the Freudian tradition – from Freud and his followers. They think that dreams, if they are well interpreted, can surrender the innermost secrets of the psyche. 

According to Freud, dreams are the via regia—the royal road to understanding the unconscious mind —and contain “the psychology of the neurosis in a nutshell” (Freud in a letter to Fleiss, 1897, in Jones, 1953, p. 355). Freud argued that the ego’s defenses are relaxed during dreaming, leading repressed id impulses to knock at the gates of consciousness (for Freud, the “ego” was the part of the personality that interfaces with reality, the “id” the part of the personality that contains our sexual and aggressive drives). 

But these raging impulses never become aware. They are instead transformed by “dreamwork” into symbols that disguise forbidden and hidden wishes – this keeps the dreamer from waking up. This censorship is necessary so that sexual and aggressive material does not erupt onto the surface of awareness.  

Dream interpretation is one of the linchpins of the psychoanalytic method. Yet according to Freudians, dreams don’t surrender their secrets without a struggle. The analyst’s task is to go beyond the surface details of the dream, called the “manifest content,” and interpret the “latent content,” the deeper, cloaked, symbolicThe analyst’s task is to go beyond the surface details of the dream, called the “manifest content,” and interpret the “latent content,” the deeper, cloaked, symbolic meaning of the dream. 

A scary monster in a dream (manifest content) may symbolize a threat by a boss that is feared (latent content). Dream symbols are generated from a wealth of life experiences, including very recent events (a day before). On this point, Freud was correct. But he adds childhood experiences to the list. 

Freud thought that dream interpretation should be guided by free associations made by the patient themselves to different parts of the dream. Even though Freud didn’t think that dream symbols don’t have a one-to-one relationship to psychologically meaningful objects, people, or events, he came very close to violating this rule by interpreting the symbolic meaning of dreams with little to no input from his patients. 

For example, in his landmark book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud reported that even though a woman generated no associations to the dream image of a straw hat with the middle piece bent upwards and the side piece hanging downwards, he suggested that the hat symbolized a man’s genitals. Moreover, Freud noted that penetration into narrow spaces and opening locked doors frequently symbolize sexual activity, whereas hair cutting, the loss of teeth, and beheading frequently symbolize castration. So despite his cautions, Freud treated many dream symbols as essentially universal.

Freud’s writing paved the way for an industry devoted to dream analysis to emerge with no signs of dying off. But most contemporary scientists reject the idea that certain dream images carry universal symbolic meaning. A close examination of dream reports reveals that many dreams don’t seem to be disguised by symbols. In the early stages of sleep, before our eyes go into REM, most of our dreams reflect the daily concerns and activities that occupy our minds. 

During REM sleep, our highly activated brains produce dreams that are sometimes illogical and charged with emotion (Foulkes, 1962; Hobson, Pace-Schott, & Stickgold, 2000). Does this occur because repressed material from the id somehow escapes censorship? Psychiatrist J. Allan Hobson doesn’t think so. In fact, Hobson’s theory of dreaming, which has garnered considerable scientific support, is so radically different from Freud’s that some have called him “the anti-Freud” (Rock, 2004). Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, at Harvard’s Laboratory of Neurophy-siology, Hobson, along with Robert McCarley, developed the activation synthesis theory, which ties dreams to brain activity rather than the symbolic expression of unconscious wishes (Hobson & McCarley, 1977).

But Freud may have been right on two important points: Our daily thoughts and feelings can influence our dreams, and emotion plays a powerful role while dreaming. But just because the brain’s emotional centers become supercharged, and logical thinking shuts down doesn’t mean that dreams are attempts to fulfill the wishes of the id. Nor does it mean that dreams use symbols to disguise their true meaning.

Book Summaries

Myth 19: Hypnosis Is a Unique “Trance” State that Differs in Kind from Wakefulness

The idea that a trance or special state of consciousness occurs during hypnosis traces its origins to the earliest attempts to understand hypnosis. The word “mesmerized” has a resemblance to the word “hypnotized.” There’s a reason for that. “Mesmerized” comes from the Viennese physician Franz Anton Mezmer (1734-1815), who gave powerful evidence of the power of suggestion to treat people who had physical problems like paralyses that stemmed from psychological factors. 

Mesmer claimed that an invisible magnetic fluid filled the universe and triggered psychological nervous illnesses when it (the fluid) became imbalanced. 

Dressed in a flowing cape, Mesmer merely had to touch his suggestible patients with a magnetic wand for them to experience wild laughter, crying, shrieking, and thrashing about followed by a stupor, a condition known as the “crisis.” The crisis became the hallmark of mesmerism, and Mesmer’s followers believed it was responsible for his dramatic cures.

But Mesmerism was eventually debunked in 1784 by a commission held by the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. By then, Mesmer had fled Vienna after a botched attempt to treat a blind musician, and had settled in Paris. The investigators concluded that Mesmer’s early success was due to imagination and belief (the placebo effect) 

But some die-hard believers carried on his legacy, and tried to convince others that magnetism could give them supernatural powers, including vision without using the eyes, and disease detection by seeing through skin. 

Before anesthetics were developed in the 1840s, there were claims that doctors used mesmerism to perform painless surgeries. James Esdaile’s reports of successful surgeries in India were performed by only using mesmerism. In the mid 19th century, hypnosis was a mysterious subject that provoked many claims. 

By the late 1800s, myths about hypnosis abounded, including the idea that hypnotized people enter a sleep-like state in which they forgo their willpower, are oblivious to their surroundings, and forget what happened afterwards (Laurence & Perry, 1988). The fact that the Greek prefix “hypno” means sleep probably helped to foster these misunderstandings.

But research refutes these beliefs. Hypnotized people are not mindless automatons. They can resist hypnotic suggestions and will not do things that are out of character.