Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Back to the Past

Yesterday I spent most of the day traveling back through the classical world.
Landing in Rome and then hopping a lovely Aegean Air flight to Athens.

In Athens, I am attempting to savor the last bits of urban life before heading into the hinterlands to ride horses like the ancient sychthians.

As a one time student of ancient greece, you would think a trip to Athens would be the fulfilment of a lifetime ambition. However, there is a quality of Athens, different than that of Rome, which makes the Agora and the Acropolis not part of some remote past enhabited by Socrates and Pericles, but part of some eternal present - integrated into 'Athens.' Perhaps Athens is the eternal city.

In Rome, you get the sense of living among ruins. That there were different stages of rome and they are all presevered in different strata - all on view in the Museum that is the city of Rome.

Rome is stratified Rock, Athens is metamorphic rock or something (I cant google it now i am being rushed off the computer by german tourists).

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Market and Quantum Physics

These days many physics (and other math/science PhDs) go into finance - in to trading in particular. Why? Well from the point of view of the scientist there is the remunerative aspect (you will probably 3x an academic salary and possibly much more). Also, the professionalization of science has made much of science an exercise in grant writing, front running hot topics, lab management and other tasks not normally associated with the unfettered search for TRUTH.

I would even argue that the professionalization of modern science has changed the methodology of science so that it is not properly following the 'scientific method' ie -
propose hypothesis
design and run experiments to test hypothesis
data analysis of experimental results to
support hypothesis and create a theory, or to reject hypothesis and start again.

With the professionalization of science and a professional scientific class to crunch data the emphasis on the scientific method has shifted to skew the data analysis section - however with our myriad analytical tools and with our surplus of data one can prove almost anything - so we perhaps need a return to first principals.

But I digress - quantum physicists may now work in finance - designing dynamic models to figure out the correlation of asset prices or what now. But what is the real truth is the market is like quantum physics. Namely you can either figure out the price (or location) of a stock/particle or the momentum of a stock/particle but not both. If I take the price of the stock (and buy or sell a share) - i affect the momentum of the system, if i look at the momentum of the system - i may not be able to buy/sell the stock at the current price (because it is moving).

This is why stock market money is not real until you take it out (or get a dividend)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Freud Vs Meditation

I am entering my 4th month of my bikram yoga practice. I practice at the Bikram yoga studio on the lower east side of Manhattan. Bikram (or beginner bikram) is a series of 26 yoga postures practiced for 90min in a hot yoga studio with an instructor yelling out commands. It is one of the most intense workouts I have ever had, and also the most meditative. It is so exhausting that my mind cannot wander and attain a certain amount of mental stillness or being in the moment.

This has started me thinking more about meditation. I used to meditate every night as part of my kung fu practice. This meditation was very much focused on the break and on different types of breathes and cultivating your chi. But like yoga meditation (kung fu has roots in yoga), the focus is on emptying your mind.

I think of this tradition contrasted with the freudian tradition, where everything must be put into context, explained away - or given a story. Pathologies are caused by incorrect or faulty personal histories and can be fixed by rewriting these personal histories via talking therapies. With meditation (inspired by Buddhism) there is not wrong personal history. Rather all personal histories are wrong. The self is an illusion and the practice is to become comfortable with ungroundedness (anxiety). Rather than finding the cause of the anxiety and explaining it away - gaining control over the anxiety, with meditation we must sit with our anxiety. We must notice the anxiety and not label it, not give it a story, just accept it and then let it slip away so we can be present to our sense perceptions rather than our mental processes in our brain.

Stay tuned for more meditation musings in a future post - also I have been reading some Pema Chodron that has been inspiring my thinking on meditation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Future of Books

Last weekend I went to my local library and got a library card. The awesomeness of this experience was compounded by the fact that I was able to bring my dog otto into the Library. Why the library? My apartment is overflowing with books. This is generally a wonderful thing. Last week after finishing 'Betraying Spinoza' - I went to my personal library and pulled out all my Spinoza books - and some random books by jewish philosophers like 'The Star of Redemption' by Rosenzweig. However there are a few books that might have best been checked out and then RETURNED to the library - such as "The Ultimate Journey", an NYTimes book reviewer's personal memoir on travelling the same path as the Monk in the Chinese classic 'Journey to the West'. Journey to the West is fantastic - The Ultimate Journey not so much. There are also the impulse hardcover fiction purchases that I almost always regret - and regret paying too much for. Also, I hear you can check out DVDs and CDs from the library - and that is very exciting.

The day I went to the Library was also the day that I spent some time playing with Paul's (see 13Bit) iPad - a device that will probably replace the book and I started meditating on what this will mean to a place like my neighborhood library.

I live in chinatown. A few generations ago, when my grandfather was a boy, it was a jewish neighborhood, and during my childhood it was mostly dominican. The thread that runs through all these changes, is that it is an immigrant neighborhood and the little kids probably know english better than their parents.

At the library, there were a bunch of little kids running around, checking out books, checking out DVDs, learning - all for free. What will happen in 10 years when all this 'media' is consumed on a $500 iPad?

This got me