A CNN program, Deep Survival, comes to some conclusions about the people who survive serious accidents and disasters:

many of the disaster survivors he studied weren't the most skilled, the strongest or the most experienced in their group. Those who seemed best suited for survival — the strongest or most skilled — were often the first to die off in life-or-death struggles, he says. Experience and physical strength can lead to carelessness. The Rambo types, a Navy SEAL tells Gonzales, are often the first to go.

Steven Scoles adds:

I read Gonzales book "Deep Survival" a couple of years ago and found it full of intriguing stories like the one noted in the article. I would highly recomend it. I do fair bit of mountain hiking and river kayaking and it made me realize how my experience has made me complacent in those activites (e.g. more willing to go off on my own in unknown territory)… not unlike bull markets make people complacent about risk.

Gibbons Burke preaches:

Faith in a G_d who promises life everlasting to those who believe and follow Him gives the faithful believer a great deal of peace of mind in the face of dire circumstances.

Kim Zussman replies:

Kim ZWhat then is one to do when faced by (the all too frequent) dire circumstances in a world without objective evidence of supernatural benevolence? Do you become forced to take up formerly illogical beliefs, and with that admitting your weakness and defining your faith?

Many traders share the experience of putting on a well-reasoned position which turns around to crush you. During the decision to fold or not (or G_d forbid, Martingale), does your internal voice change from "T=3.2!" to "WTF do I really know?" and if it doesn't, how is this not faith which transcends scientific self-doubt?

Gibbons Burke persists:

Gib BurkeWe're speculating with regards to the true meal of a lifetime and beyond — or eternal barbeque, depending on your freedom to choose outcome you will. Seems perfectly on topic, no?

With apologies to Blaise Pascal for mangling his famous wager… the gaming odds for the prudent eternal investor favor belief, without even considering the utility of belief:

= A believer, if wrong, will never realize his error: he will be dead and to dust. Poof! His upside is limited to the benefits of that belief - peace, joy, happiness, fortitude, patience, courage, etc. (so-called fruits of the Holy Spirit) and perhaps the blessings of a life well lived, depending on the breaks.

= For the same reason, a non-believer, if right, will never realize any returns from his correct bet, so the upside on this option is capped at his expiration date (death). He, too, may have lived a seemingly good life, relatively uninhibited by the constraints of the believer's conscience and avoidance of sin.

Advantage: subjectively neither at this point.


+ A believer, if right, will enjoy the eternal and infinite upside alpha of his investment in belief: life everlasting in communion with God, who is Himself Truth, Beauty, Virtue and all good things - to behold him face to face, for eternity, as well as the benefits which accrue to a life lived on earth in faith - even perhaps suffering for that faith. What a small premium to pay, relative to the potential reward, no?

- The non-believer, if wrong, will bear the eternal and ultimate lock-limit drawdown, with no stop loss in place. A literal margin call from Hell. Separation from God the Father. He will know he was wrong - for ever, and ever, world without end.

So, to put this into option terms:

The risk profile for investing in the LEAP of faith — a 'call' option of belief in the Underlying Security — is unlimited upside if he's right; limited down side if he's wrong.

The 'naked put' option of the who doesn't believe in the value of the Underlying Security, is a limited upside if he's right; unlimited downside risk if he's wrong. He may end up with a debt he can never repay. (Paging Dr. Faustus…)

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever. [1 John 2:16-17]

Stefan Jovanovich  generalizes:

One of my favorite pulp fiction moments is in Joss Whedon's Serenity. The preacher, who like many godly men has had a great deal of experience with his own capacity for evil, is dying. Mal, the atheist hero, calls for medical help and tries to reassure the preacher that he will live to preach many more sermons to Mal's skeptical ears. The preacher is having none of it; with his dying breath he replies, "Don't matter what you believe. Just believe in something." I am afraid I share the preacher's hopelessly ecumenical notions of gospel. Belief in the magic of markets, chess, checkers, one's friends, something is the necessary precondition for humility and humility (not passivity) is the necessary precondition for wisdom. The survivors I have known do not necessarily believe in God but they do believe in "something" greater than themselves. They did their best and kept at it - all the while accepting that what happened to them was never entirely under their own control. Or, as the philosopher said after banging his thumb with the hammer, "it happens."

Nigel Davies tries to get back on subject:

GM Nigel DaviesThis got me thinking about how one should survive in chess and markets. I'm not sure these should be treated in quite the same way as both stakes and sample size are very different. In Gonzales's examples there is a sample of one person in a one-off situation, so luck will be at a premium. As such it may be difficult to separate this out from genuine skills.

In markets too there is a lot of luck.

Turning to chess one can find excellent advise on 'defending difficult positons' from both Lasker ('Lasker's Manual of Chess') and Keres ('The Art of the Middlegame'). Very briefly, Lasker suggests having no weakest point in one's position whilst Keres advises that one should make the opponent's win as hard as possible rather than focusing on counterattack. I think these are both very useful, but there is another dimension which I think is important.

The ability to keep one's position afloat when things go wrong is a function of the earlier disposition of one's forces. So players who proceed in an aggressive and taut style find it very difficult to change this disposition when things start to go wrong. Firstly their forces may be committed to attack, and secondly they may have compromised other parts of their position in a belief that the attack will win.

It's noteworthy that many of the greatest master's of defence (for example Lasker, Capablanca, Korchnoi, Karpov, Kramnik) haven't usually played for the maximum in the opening, looking instead for a certain harmony and balance in their positions. Their games have an unpretentious feel, very few weaknesses and balanced forces.

Chess masters are not noted for their humility but years of experience can teach them how to create balance intuitively. Will reading about it help? I don't think so. And it may even be damaging by providing false confidence or theories which haven't been tested by pain.


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