Humor, from Orson Terrill

January 4, 2010 |

 As one who, for a while, based all my market hypotheses on the importance of humor, I could go off for a very long time about it. Specifically related to stocks there is a relationship. However, I think that the study of birds is important to understanding humor (one subject of which I had desired to submit here some time back but immediately lost all my data, models, photos, video, and writings (and my dogs) when my girlfriend discovered my heart was for another girl).

Birds preferring groups, like pigeons, exhibit a useful behavior that I believe is a pointer to the origins of laughter. When observing pigeons for an extended period of time you will notice a repeating pattern. Typically when feeding on the ground, for instance, one pigeon will scare from a sudden movement of another and take flight. Most of the time all frantically join in flight and fly in circles a few times surveying the area for any real threat, and make their way back to where they were. They will do this over and over unless the threat is real, or the incentive for returning has been removed. They become more comfortable with a location with this process. Too much comfort and they start to just merely jump in the air and float back down, because after all, the place is safe. Is this “trusting the comedian”?

I was fortunate enough to be a few feet away from a large group in a park observing this "panic-exertion-calm" cycle as a hawk dove in on us. They were in the air before I even knew what was going on compressing the air around me with their flapping wings. Though I could tell it was different that time. After flapping full speed away over the lake in front of me they made lighting fast cut back. The hawk joined their flock, closing in on one. As fast as they flipped back towards me they reversed back to other direction, no circle here, and flew full speed out of sight. The hawk's target escaped by diving towards to the lake below while the group faked the move and continued away from me. Needless to say they never came back. It wasn't "funny" in the bird's equivalence of the word. I think this may point to the origins of laughter, and may explain its contagious attribute.

As a group creature a large portion of this animal's logic is based on the behavior of those around it. It makes up for what it lacks mentally by grouping. I think this is how they continually rationalize the safety of a location. Instead of incorporating many variables they merely use this “panic exertion calm” pattern as a way of giving them a feeling for the place.

People have a more complex method as we deal with many complex issues. Our intricate social experience necessitates the ability to chuckle off something that threatens our understanding of reality, an understanding we need to act out our roles daily. If someone jumps out and scares us we don't run around for five minutes to get over it, though if it’s scary enough we will. Laughter assists us in rejecting the negative association with the person scaring us and our environment. We logically understand we are safe, but chemically our brains are telling us we are in danger. Laughter gives us the chemical correction we need. If we don't, then an unhealthy sense of anxiety may develop and negatively affect our risk taking abilities (like going to the basement at night).

Many theorists on laughter believe that laughter is largely an ego driven behavior, many times used to assert our superiority over someone else's subhuman mishaps. Surely this occurs, but I believe that this is mostly using laughter to assert the status about ourselves to ourselves. It is one that the most insecure engage in: standing around making fun of people. Even this exposes the real purpose of laughter. This is a tool used to protect the whole person (which includes our sense of physical safety) and their social group. Here it is used in an attempt by someone to protect their own identity from incorporating characteristics of the people they make fun of (real or imagined). They neurologically reject the information (clothing, hairstyle, whatever) being presented to them. Teenagers are the best at this, and they are also the most insecure. They wield this tool cruelly because their self-identity is so fragile. Is a young up trending stock with many volatile swings insecure, but does that mean it is developing properly? I believe this is partly why teenagers and children laugh so much more. They are chemically rejecting certain behaviors or notions while having a good time with the exploration of their logical boundaries (small children).

The relationship of flocking birds returning to a location, laughter being used as a sentinel for what we incorporate as normal behavior for ourselves, social group, and society, and stocks is this: They are all based around a relatively trusted position and threats to that position. The structures of our personalities are obviously not fixed on a Cartesian plane, but they are still a mostly fixed structure at any point in time. Humor or laughter is an agent of plasticity. It seeks to maintain the status quo. It keeps the entropy of the social environment from making us gray. It preserves our direction. It doesn’t mean we whole heartedly reject the information per se. Laughter helps us induce a different view or information while safely maintaining our status quo. This is important. Our trajectory is determined in a symbiotic relationship between the short and long term. What we reject in laughter this time we may embrace the next. A dying rally can look like this.

Stocks have positions and direction of course. There are many ways to measure this. That brings up another subject entirely that I will avoid here as this already much longer than I had hoped. In equities most people are long so a sell off is generally a negative experience to a person holding, and possibly scary. Will the selloff be juxtaposition to the trend? Will it be a joke that only a few “get” at first? Then the understanding spreads to a wall of laughter across the audience? Conversely, will it be swift and unanimous?

Humor has a range of plasticity, or it is the range of which the plasticity occurs. A joke may be so far outside of the range that our logic can simply deal with it by becoming offended or simply recognize it as too much like our reality in a way that is simply not funny. Our social structures of the mind can deal with this incoming, unfunny, proposition. It did not get inside us and cause a problem with differentiation. We can reject it without exerting the correcting laugh that aids our logic in rejecting the small juxtapositions or subtle misunderstandings.

So like jokes, maybe there are ranges in stocks too which are digestible? Maybe it depends on the counter velocity and range relative to the longer trajectory? Maybe there is an escape velocity? Something that ensures it escapes from the constructs which laughter could heal. Escapes to a range where a different response would be needed; a sell off that actually needs to be sold into. Maybe at that point the rally, instead of the sell off is the joke; the frame of reference; the direction in need of preservation. Careful you don’t end up like those pigeons; too comfortable pecking at my seed while the hawk dives in.

What companies do people like? What will they decide is playing a good prank after a selloff occurs? Will a selloff and recovery reinforce their sense of safety or leave it weakened? Likewise for the “over rally”. How will that change the ranges you buy and sell? I dedicated much time building and studying various algorithms around this. It was worth it, though the fruit does not hang low and may not be plentiful if you lack resources as I do.





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