Q&A 021

Published on:
February 10, 2021

Hi All,

This edition is all about zooming out (not related to the feeling you have when you mentally shut off during a video conference). Seeing a bigger picture brings perspective, like taking a few steps back for a photograph. The perspective can bring optimism, but also anxiety. Either way, it leaves us transformed, as we cannot unsee. Enjoy!

🎰 Speculation

The topic of most financial news today is whether the stock market is overvalued. One analysis after the other tells most of the times a balanced story in which the end-conclusion is: we don't know.

In its recent letter to investors, fund manager Saga Partners, stood out from the crowd by stating:

"However, the human mind—which is what the market reflects—is wired in a way that makes bubbles and crashes an inevitability from time-to-time."

It resonated with me as it points to different themes we've covered across several episodes of our newsletter: herd behaviour, echo chambers and the impact of stress and uncertainty on the ability to think independently. Might the answer be that simple?

Take for instance the graph below in which the investment bank Goldman Sachs tracks a basket of non-profitable US-listed technology companies. Their share performance have almost quadrupled in 2020.

This graph does not necessarily prove that (part of) the market is overvalued. We may speculate what's happening here, which is exactly what a lot of people do. Whilst doing so, many suffer from 'fear of missing out' or 'FOMO'. I leave the interpretation for everyone self to make. I'd only like to suggest to think independently.

🌋 Carbon

Sometimes, taking a longer view may not help you be more optimistic. Seeing things in perspective can help with concocting a worldview that is more robust.

In the March issue of The Atlantic, Peter Brannen writes about the Earth's history, the tiny blip that is humanity and the wild swings that carbon dioxide content in our atmosphere has seen in the past.

"During the entire half-billion-year Phanerozoic eon of animal life, CO2 has been the primary driver of the Earth’s climate."

Although his exploration of our planet's history is proof that we have been here before, describing the consequences this has had in the past is not the good news we might hope for.

“The climate system is an angry beast,” the late Columbia climate scientist Wally Broecker was fond of saying, “and we are poking it with sticks.”

Like seeing a tiny person in an overwhelming landscape, the story Brannen tells makes me feel in awe of the grand scale of our planet's past. The timeframe we consider to be 'our history' and the definition of what we see as 'normal' vanish at this scale. It makes me realise the absurdity of claims that we are 'killing the planet'. Our planet and its lifeforms are way too robust to be killed in its entirety. We're just creating something inhabitable for us humans.

For me, the good part is seeing the challenge. The sheer arrogance, thinking humanity can engineer our long term climate, feels ludicrous and audacious at the same time. I love it.

🐥 Mood

We've written before about the potential use speech and text analysis. Here's a recent application. Analysis of English-language contributions on social-media platform Twitter, so-called 'tweets', shows that 2020 was for most people more miserable than other years. Not a surprising outcome, but still evidence that what we communicate reveals something about how we feel.

The graph below shows the analysis (courtesy of Marine Wagner who collects on a quarterly basis the -according to her- most interesting graphs and quotes). There is, of course, the benefit of hindsight and whether the dips are really associated with the explanations given cannot be proven. Still, the overall trend is clearly visible and English-speaking (writing) people used less happy words than before. The influence of Brexiteers might have lost out to people writing about the impact of the pandemic. 😀

On a positive note, I do see an upward trend in the dark-blue line. I wonder: if analysis of tweets can show the mood of people, would we also be able to find out what birds have to say and what the impact is of less air traffic on their happiness?

⻌ Move

If ever there is a need for walking, it's during this pandemic. Walking is one of the best recipes against the ails caused by our mostly sedentary state, it's a hobby you do not need much tools for, gives you a jolt of fresh air and the only sport you can confidently combine with having a meeting or making a phone call (try other sports and end up at James Bond-villain-style-situations at your own peril).

Dan Pallotta makes the case for not labelling your walks as 'leisure' or 'luxury'. He feels that walks can lead to the most important work you can do. He explains the process of rehearsing for a TED Talk while doing his daily walks:

"Had I stayed home, chained to my desk, where most of us are taught that real serious work happens, the work would have been easier—but far less productive. I’d have gone online every few minutes to check a favorite news site. Grabbed a chocolate chip cookie or a glass of water. Checked my e-mail. Walking affords no such distractions. It’s just you and the work."

He goes on to point at research from Leiden University, proving people who walk at least 4 times per week are able to think more creatively, confirming benefits that artists have been touting for millennia:

Henry David Thoreau said famously, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, click here to sign up. You can browse earlier editions in our archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons