Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole

The White Rabbit

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do…..when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

Charles Lutwidge 1898, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll went to Westminster School and Christ Church College Oxford. When I have dinner in the magnificent “Harry Potter” dining hall, I usually take time to stare up at the beautiful “Alice Window”.

What does it mean to “go down the rabbit hole”? According to one source it is to enter into a situation or begin a process or journey that is particularly strange, problematic, difficult, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds.

That definition is an excellent one.

I cannot prevent myself from disappearing down the rabbit hole whenever the opportunity presents itself and nor would I wish to. One of the great advantages of age (I

am 62) is that some of us come to know ourselves. I certainly have. I am not always very pleased with what I have found but at least I have done my best in recent years to lessen my very worst characteristics. I’m not so convinced about the plasticity of the brain but I do my best to act as if it were true.

My interest is in “knowledge”.

My particular fascination is in the nature of consciousness and the “meaning” (or otherwise) of reality. It has always been so, although I did not always recognise it. If it is to be found anywhere the answer lies in science and the philosophy of science. While the number may not be 42, the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything“, will indeed be calculated by an enormous supercomputer. Except of course “Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is.”

If I had to name a single book I have found most influential in my life it would be David Deutsch “The Fabric of Reality“. Followed perhaps by Voltaire’s Candide. I will leave my readers to figure out why or read the books for themselves.

So, let me give a concrete example. I had been trading volatility. I disappeared down the rabbit hole and am still speaking from an underground labyrinth. The trouble is of course it never really stops. I spent months with Python and Excel creating various trading systems. I spent weeks recreating volatility indices and ETFs.

And then I took a dark turn down the options fork somewhere deep, deep down in the rabbit hole.

I bought VIX options data from CBOE. I spent weeks understanding it, cleaning it up and manipulating it into a useable format with Pandas and Python. I spent more weeks designing and testing all manner of options systems on the data. Could I use options to hedge my short volatility position in XIV? And then the chaos and madness really set in. I decided to try and fabricate “fake” options data from the spot prices of the S&P 500 index. More weeks of intense fun with the wonderful Pandas (thanks Wes McKinney you are one of my heroes). Endless hours of fun playing with Black Scholes, monte carlo, binomial models.

But no time is truly wasted unless you really want to make money fast. It lead me into deep speculation on my favourite topics. Predictability, randomness, determinism and on. As did my endless months experimenting with machine learning. The small minority of followers who have “followed” this article so far will be wondering where the ramble ends and what is my point. Well it’s back to philosophy I fear. And the temple of Appollo at Delphi. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living – a gloss perhaps on “know thyself”. I know myself: I know that I love rabbit holes.

Happiness is being fully engaged in something you find fascinating.

Looking out at the blogosphere I suspect that those who create great wealth from finance are people who do NOT go down rabbit holes. Or if they do, then they are people who are sensible (or clever enough) to make the journey pay. And kudos to such people. Perhaps the biggest problem in the financial world is that a large percentage of its population is made up of people who would not recognise a rabbit hole if they were to break their leg in one. And such people have no interest in disappearing down it.

And as for me? Well I’m just an aging cynic. I trade a bit, I scribble down a few thoughts. But mostly I disappear down the rabbit hole for months at a time.

10 Comments

  1. “If it is to be found anywhere the answer lies in science and the philosophy of science.” My “life koan” is the same as yours, what is the ultimate nature of reality. And I had the same attitude when I went to university and studied physics, specializing in theoretical physics, But I had a profound experience one night, in which my actual experience of reality changed significantly but in relatively subtle ways. What shook me the most is that I had no way of figuring out which of those two versions of reality, or perhaps neither, was what other people were experiencing. And realizing that science was unlikely to be the best route to figuring that out. And that led me on a path that led to meditation, trance visions, lucid dreaming, zen practice and more. Still don’t know what reality really is, but I find reality is more fluid than I had realized when I was younger. The reality physics studies, consciousness, brain processes all play some part but still I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fascinating and thank you. I am sitting in the sun on a bench in a beautiful part of the Kent countryside. Meditating. Or have been. I reckon science will probably bring us what we want eventually – in my case increasing my hedonic set point would be a good start. We are our chemicals I guess, or at least our experiences can be drastically altered by chemicals. But as you can see, like you I am constantly in search of the mystical and sometimes believe I have found it. Like you I never quite seem to solve the koan. Or if I do then doubt soon enough creeps back in.

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      1. “If I had to name a single book I have found most influential in my life it would be David Deutsch “The Fabric of Reality“. Followed perhaps by Voltaire’s Candide.”

        Dead end Muggles’ books, Anthony? Isn’t that like seeking sustenance in the menu not the food? I see one of your readers further on eschews his interest in science and suchlike for the ultimate Reality of the mystical. Reality is the greater part, as Jesuit Founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola bravely averred in the rabbit hole ridden dangers of his day.

        Regards, Keith.

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      2. Voltaire’s Candide is a book for those who have long recognized the absurdities and cruelties of the world. Candide begins life in an Eden, a garden. He spends an extended period of time seeing the brutal behavior of his fellow man and of nature itself.

        After all his travels, he realizes that a simple life is best and returns to his Eden. His garden.

        Candide was a man who certainly saw through the world and its futility. He retired to contentment and simplicity and left the world well alone after that.

        The Fabric of Reality is , well, “fabulous”. It makes you realize that what we see all around us is far from what it appears to be. It raises the question of infinity, the infinity of reality. Timelessness, and how time is either non-existent or can be skirted. The intelligence which survives at the end of Deutsch’s universe is nothing less than “god”. Or reality. By that time the physical universe has no bounds and imposes no constraints. Time and space and matter are the playthings of beings so far advanced as to be omnipotent and omniscient. God is born. Or rather has evolved.

        Deutsch takes us beyond science to an imagined realm where everything is possible, everything is understood and infinity is the only reality there is.

        That, to my way of thinking, is far beyond science or materialism.

        It is, in a very real sense, a vision of reality itself. A reality so beautiful, so intense and so powerful that it rivals anything the mystics have witnessed.

        For me at least, Candide’s quiet pastoral existence which he adopts at the end of the book, and the mystical visions of Deutsch, are satisfying at the deepest and most profound level.

        Others of course may interpret both books quiet differently!

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      3. Excellent! Clearly, your illuminated exposition demands another visit! I’d be delighted to be wrong. If I then agree with you, a fervently desired outcome, I shall be very much the better for it. Thank you Anthony.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve revisited ‘Candide’ Anthony, only to remember with dellght how the School Bursar paying an official dutiful visit to me in the school hospital was so shocked to find the book in my pile of bedside reading. (My House Master had inadvertently gifted it among his other clearouts to my Form’s library). I did read the book but at that age it evidently didn’t impress, though on current reading I finally understand the Bursar’s agitation at the eye witness description it contained of the Castle tutor’s lessons on physics to the maid in the privacy of the woods … Candide’s sexual wroughtiness must explain a lot of the book’s popularity despite the author’s times.

    However, my conclusion is that Candide’s Point Of View is human; not very helpful to Reality’s purifying requirement to discard attachments. However it does tell us how far Voltaire got along the path to spiritual fulfilment. Final spiritual fulfillment is the only truly lasting human contentment. But where he ends the story with tending his own garden as his final conclusion to the mystery of life, while tending your own garden is wisdom indeed, it is not the end of the Path. It’s just an advanced stage of the remaining journey.

    So far as Deutsche’s book is concerned, it adds to my conviction scientists are inexplicably addicted to the spiritually irrelevant human attachment of curiosity – intellectual tourism. 

    Deutsche seems to confirm this when he says right at the end of this book that all scientists are doing is looking for explanations about the world.

    Are scientists blindly addicted to worldliness? If so, science is a dead end so fas as the mystic experience of Reality is concerned,

    Mystics don’t know the how of Reality either, but they have experienced It and do understand the evolutionary spiritual content in which this world and its humans temporarily exist. 
     
    Scientists have knowledge whereas mystics have understanding. This is another difference between the human spirit and Real spirituality – quite an abyss.

    All Is Well.

    Kind regards,

    Keith.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it just my age or does the world seem to have gone mad? Perhaps one’s mind becomes more fragile to the endless stream of banalities, cruelties and hardships in this physical realm. There was endless horror in Candide of course. Deutsch is optimistic ~ that is certainly one of his attractions. At a time when helicopters are circling our neighbourhood looking for the victims of a murderer and possible serial killer, it is hard to summon up much optimism. Perhaps that is what Deutsch supplied me with.

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