Bear Stearns and Self-Experimentation

Understanding and investment go together: The more you understand something, the more you should invest in it. On Friday, Bear Stearns owners thought their stock was worth $30/share; they were utterly wrong, it turned out.

In this sense, self-experimentation — research so cheap it can be done as a hobby — is a statement of complete ignorance. Because it is so cheap, you can test a hundred absurd ideas. If you use more expensive research methods, you cannot afford to test ideas you think are absurd. You must search a smaller solution space. If you are not correct about where the answer to your question will be, the region of possibilities that contains it, your research will fail to find it.

My self-experimentation about why I was waking up too early revealed that I was almost completely ignorant about what I was studying. Two of the causes I found — eating breakfast and not standing enough — were not on my list of possibilities when I started. The Shangri-La Diet is outside the range of weight-loss methods that obesity researchers consider reasonable; without self-experimentation, it would never be tested.

5 Replies to “Bear Stearns and Self-Experimentation”

  1. The Bear Stearns deal just proves what I’ve noticed since I was a teenager. Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. I was never one to “Ooh” and “aah” over expensive cars, purses, coats, boats, etc., but since that realization I have had a reason why. The question I have never been able to answer is why do most people buy into the “luxury item = status” equation? I guess if something is difficult to buy (i.e., takes a lot of money) then this prevents most people from buying it. Thus, those who CAN buy it are by definition in a special minority. An elite minority. It is a symbol of power. But the success of that symbol requires the masses to buy into this equation even if they can’t afford to (puns intended). I unplugged myself from those masses a long time ago and I feel like I’m looking down into an ant jar and watching the ants duke it out whenever I see people caught up in this struggle for symbols of success. I also think they guy who built the ferrari get the credit for building a beautiful machine, and not the guy who buys it. This is especially true of art.

  2. I wish it were so easy to escape the status game. You might disdain the process, but it’s real and it affects you, whether you want to close your eyes and wish it away or not. Looking like a bum on the subway? People will instantly judge you, and usually they will be correct. Dress extremely well and you’ll get a very different judgment.

    Status symbols are used because they are usually reliable. When they stop being reliable indicators of status, they will stop being used, I’m guessing. The idea that the masses only should buy into them if they accord status to the masses is illogical, because high status by definition require differentiation from the mass of people.

  3. Tony, you make some good points. Even when academics (such as myself) dress more casually than our counterparts in the corporate world, its likely because our status as allows us to do so (the standards are different). I guess the status symbols I feel unaffected by are the real luxury items, such as very expensive cars, designer clothing (not just nice clothes, but name brands like Versaci and the like), and a house in Beverly Hills. Sure, some of these things are nice, but others are no different than the Scion XB that I drive (and LOVE) or my beautiful 1,500 square foot home in Culver City where the sun is bright, the birds are singing, and life slows down to a day dream. I don’t have city or ocean views or a truly expensive zip code (though that has changed dramatically these past few years), etc. Once I have achieved a nice standard of living (a wife and kids, a nice home to house us, a great job that I love going to every day, good food to put on the table), then the rest is just fluff. Do I wear a Rolex or a Timex? Doesn’t matter to me (actually it’s a cheap Indiglo). I’ve had a couple of suits custom tailored in Hong Kong (from where my wife hails) which aren’t name brand, but they fit me like a glove! I’m comfortable, happy, and content. Maybe these are status symbols, but for the most part they aren’t out there for most people to see and I don’t have a drive to compare my stuff to that of others.

  4. Oh, you absolutely have a good point that being impressed by fancy cars and so on is something to avoid, and that status games in general tend to be superficial. (Although I think that status in some way is a basic need for almost all humans.)

    Status in the academic world is a little different from most parts of the world, as you pointed out, which I think is why so many academics get so heated when others question or attack their ideas. Distinguished originator of ideas = status in the academic world (often). Attack the pedigree of the ideas, and you attack the basis of that person’s distinction. The seemingly irrational counter-attacks and refusal to give credence to different ideas or data has its basis in a very rational desire – to keep or increase one’s own status.

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