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This Article Won’t Change Your Mind

….The theory of cognitive dissonance—the extreme discomfort of simultaneously holding two thoughts that are in conflict—was developed by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s. In a famous study, Festinger and his colleagues embedded themselves with a doomsday prophet named Dorothy Martin and her cult of followers who believed that spacemen called the Guardians were coming to collect them in flying saucers, to save them from a coming flood. Needless to say, no spacemen (and no flood) ever came, but Martin just kept revising her predictions. Sure, the spacemen didn’t show up today, but they were sure to come tomorrow, and so on. The researchers watched with fascination as the believers kept on believing, despite all the evidence that they were wrong.

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,” Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schacter wrote in When Prophecy Fails, their 1957 book about this study. “Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point … Suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.”

More here – The Atlantic

News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

More here – The Guardian

More On Being Wrong

There’s an academic I know — very well respected — who especially values one of his collaborators. This particular colleague isn’t invaluable because of his creativity or intellect, says my professor friend, but because “he is willing to tell me when I’m wrong, and that’s rare”. It is indeed rare. Perhaps even rarer is the practice of seeking out colleagues because they give frank criticism.

I certainly don’t enjoy being told that I’m wrong. And it seems that I’m not alone. A recently published working paper from Paul Green and Francesca Gino of Harvard, and Bradley Staats of the University of North Carolina, caught people in the act of avoiding criticism. The particular kind of criticism that interested the researchers was where I think I’m doing a good job, and then you tell me that I’m not. (In the jargon, this is “disconfirmatory feedback”.)

Green, Gino and Staats looked at data from an internal peer feedback process in a medium-sized company over several years. They were able to show that when disconfirmatory feedback arrived, workers would then avoid contact with the people who had given them the unwelcome comments. This is the exact opposite of my professor friend’s behaviour — but, I think, a much more typical response. We don’t like it when people tell us that we’re failing.

More here – Tim Harford

The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time

Napoleon Hill is the most famous conman you’ve probably never heard of. Born into poverty in rural Virginia at the end of the 19th century, Hill went on to write one of the most successful self-help books of the 20th century: Think and Grow Rich. In fact, he helped invent the genre. But it’s the untold story of Hill’s fraudulent business practices, tawdry sex life, and membership in a New York cult that makes him so fascinating. 

That cult would become infamous in the late 1930s for trying to raise an “immortal baby.” But even those who know the story of Immortal Baby Jean may not know that the cult was inspired by Hill’s teachings, practically using his most famous work as their holy text. Don’t worry, the whole story of Napoleon Hill only gets weirder from there.

Modern readers are probably familiar with the 2006 sensation The Secret, but the concepts in that book were essentially plagiarized from Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic Think and Grow Rich, which has reportedly sold over 15 million copies to date. The big idea in both: The material universe is governed quite directly by our thoughts. If you simply visualize what you want out of life, those things and more will be delivered to you. Especially if those things involve money. 

The past few decades have been a profitable era for all sorts of self-help and business success books. Napoleon Hill blazed a trail for an entire industry. But Napoleon’s early work is seen as “the source” when people get deep into self-help and business success literature. Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is passed around in certain business and real estate circles like some kind of ancient text. In fact, when The Secret emerged on the scene in the mid-2000s, countless entrepreneurial writers would pen their own books, pointing to the works of Napoleon Hill as the true basis for what The Secret called the Law of Attraction.

You can see the influence of Hill in everything from the success sermons of Tony Robbins to the crooked business dealings of Trump University. In fact, you can draw a direct line to Donald Trump’s way of thinking through Norman Vincent Peale, an ardent follower of Napoleon Hill. Reverend Peale, author of the 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking, was Donald Trump’s pastor as a child.

“You always, when the service was over, you said, ‘I’d have sat there for another hour,’” said Trump of Peale. “There aren’t too many people like that. It wasn’t the speaking ability, it was the thought process.”

The legend of Napoleon Hill has grown and morphed over the years. He really did live an extraordinary life, just not the life that his thousands of disciples over the years have claimed. It’s just too bad that Hill spent most of his life as an utter fraud—a fraud who by hook and by crook was constantly reinventing himself.

More here – Paleofuture

The Pot-Belly of Ignorance

What you allow to leak into your head is immensely important.

Increasingly, we’re filling our heads with soundbites, the mental equivalent of junk. Over a day or even a week, the changes, like those to our belly, are barely noticeable. However, if we extend the timeline to months and years, we face a worrying reality and may find ourselves looking down at the pot-belly of ignorance.

More here – Farnham Street

The Irrationality Within Us

We like to think of ourselves as special because we can reason and we like to think that this ability expresses the essence of what it is to be human. In many ways this belief has formed our civilization; throughout history, we have used supposed differences in rationality to justify moral and political distinctions between different races, genders, and species, as well as between “healthy” and “diseased” individuals. Even to this day, people often associate mental disorder with irrationality and this has very real effects on people living with mental disorders.

But are we really that rational? And is rationality really what distinguishes people who live with mental illness from those who do not? It seems not. After decades of research, there is compelling evidence that we are not as rational as we think we are and that, rather than irrationality being the exception, it is part of who we normally are.

So what does it mean to be rational? We usually distinguish between two kinds of rationality.  Epistemic rationality, which is involved in acquiring true beliefs about the world and which sets the standard for what we ought to believe, and instrumental rationality which is involved in decision-making and behavior and is the standard for how we ought to act.

More here – Scientific American

Inside a Moneymaking Machine Like No Other

That’s because the area’s wealthiest residents, scientists all, work for the quantitative hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, based in nearby East Setauket. They are the creators and overseers of the Medallion Fund—perhaps the world’s greatest moneymaking machine. Medallion is open only to Renaissance’s roughly 300 employees, about 90 of whom are Ph.D.s, as well as a select few individuals with deep-rooted connections to the firm.

The fabled fund, known for its intense secrecy, has produced about $55 billion in profit over the last 28 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, making it about $10 billion more profitable than funds run by billionaires Ray Dalio and George Soros. What’s more, it did so in a shorter time and with fewer assets under management. The fund almost never loses money. Its biggest drawdown in one five-year period was half a percent.

“Renaissance is the commercial version of the Manhattan Project,” says Andrew Lo, a finance professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and chairman of AlphaSimplex, a quant research firm. Lo credits Jim Simons, the 78-year-old mathematician who founded Renaissance in 1982, for bringing so many scientists together. “They are the pinnacle of quant investing. No one else is even close.”

More here – Bloomberg

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