Daily Speculations

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Brett Steenbarger: The Power of Illusion

I think we underestimate the power of illusion in human life. For the psychologist, the most interesting thing about the TV show "American Idol" is the audition process. A very large number of people try out for the singing competition (which is rewarded with a recording contract) who have no talent whatsoever. Indeed, there are so many aspirants with such modest capabilities that the show devotes entire segments to the rejects. (One reject--William Hung--was so enthusiastic in his embrace of non-talent that *he* got a recording contract).

Now if it were simply the case that these are self-acknowledged hacks wanting to get a few minutes of fame in front of Paula, Randy, and Simon, that would be one thing. But no. Many of the non-talented entrants really think they have talent. They are shocked when they are roundly trashed by the judges. Some become belligerent. Off-key and awkward, they truly think that they are divas and crooners.

There's a bit of Walter Mitty in all of us, and I suspect that this is why we resonate with a William Hung. But there is something frightening in the spectacle of a person's self-image being completely at odds with reality--like the skeletal anorexic who feverishly insists that she is still overweight, still needs to diet.

All of this came to my mind when I stared last week at a trading suite with literally miles of cables and banks of servers, querying the markets in increments of milliseconds, identifying patterns of misalignment between bids and offers, and firing off orders to exploit those misalignments--all for pennies a round turn.

Then I thought of the one-lot traders paying dollars per round turn, armed with their chart patterns and Fibonacci sequences, their trading seminars, coaches, and magazine articles--all auditioning for the opportunity to make it big. Almost daily, I hear their anguished protests when the market renders its judgment (more harshly than Simon) that they don't have what it takes to be the next big thing.

Do I despair over such realities? Not at all. I retain my enthusiasm, and each day I happily offer another rendition of "She Bangs."

Janice/Bcoached Comments on The Power of Illusion

Thank you for this most interesting and thought-provoking post.

There is more than illusion ( unreal vision) at work here. There is a non-psychotic (or, perhaps even psychotic) form of delusion ( false belief) at work in those who are totally convinced that they have talent when they clearly do not.

What is the origin of this belief? Were they told by others--family friends,etc.--that they are simply the best and deserve to win and are simply the best?

Do people lie to each other about these things, or are they truly clueless?

Walter Mitty or not, William Hung is a freak of nature. It is a commentary on the ambivalent and conflicted state of our society that we embrace and allow more than 15 minutes of fame to someone with no talent other than to allow us to ridicule him while embracing and elevating him to celebrity status.

Adam Kretschmann Comments on The Power of Illusion

I think the list underestimates the intelligence of the masses. Listening to the History of New Rock on 102.1 in Toronto tonight and the topic was the invention of the music video and the profound changes it had on the music industry - namely that the sound of the music became less important and the look of music became very important. Such as it is with American Idol: the contestants understand that it is not necessary to sing well to become the Idol, William Hung confirms this idea. The list constantly comes back to the power of method, of science, of reason but sometimes the greatest of us all are those with the faith to do the unreasonable, the illogical, the impossible. I am thinking of 50 cent, a man who was born to a crack whore, raised as part of a thirteen member family by his grandmother, had his mother murdered at nine, was dealing crack by thirteen, was shot eight times and left for dead and is now one of the most successful selling hip hop artists in the world. Who among the list will show me the model for his life? What were the odds of this outcome at his birth? The odds when he was shot eight times? What frightens the people on this list is not the failure of the irrational - that is to be expected. What frightens all of you deep down in your soul is that the irrational - that those with faith - should succeed in spite of their "illusions".

"In the hands of a master anything is a weapon"

Janice/Bcoached responds

The success of 50 cent has little or nothing to do with the intelligence of the masses. It has to do with raw determination, a life story that is so hideous that ANYONE who survives is to be praised, extreme sex appeal and charisma and the solid backing of Eminem and Dr. Dre. In fact, the mentors (Eminem and Dre) now take a back seat to 50 cent who has become a folk hero and a role model for the hoards of young people who sit mesmerized by the tachistoscopic images of MTV. Moreover, 50 cent is a talented rapper- just listen to the soundtrack from Eight Mile. Raw, sexual, pulsating talent--and the bullet wounds make it even more so.

William Hung ( about whom I know nothing personally) has a talent for exploiting his lack of talent. So- I guess that works for him as well. Look at George Weah, the Liberian soccer player who came from a war torn and destitute environment to receive the Arthur Ashe award on the ESPYs tonight.

These men ( and many other, both men and women, like them) are living out the American Dream. I applaud them. I see nothing to fear, nor do I see anything irrational about the triumph of faith over circumstance. This is the very essence of the soul, not a rejection of same.

These stores inspire and encourage and propel us. We are not afraid of these people nor of this concept. Quite the opposite... we nurture and cherish the principle that anything is possible. That is what drives us to achieve greatness, even though few actually attain it. It is about the journey...and such individuals ( talent or no talent) are markers on the path.

Nigel Davies Comments on The Power of Illusion

Yet another reason why the world of speculation could do with a grading system (e.g. the z of % monthly/weekly returns). I guess it's not in the interests of brokers to provide such a service.

You get wannabes in chess too, but the harsh reality of having a number next to your name can be very sobering.