“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”- a quote from the upcoming movie ‘Tenet’
“Prediction, not narration, is the real test of our understanding of the world.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
In the natural world, it’s not the ability of a being to narrate its understanding of a system or a phenomenon that is of any use; but the ability of a being to predict the next state or outcome of a system that is of any substance.
What matters to a tiger is its ability to predict the presence of a herd of deer every morning at sunrise by the lake.
Building a narrative around the causes of — 1) why a herd of deer is driven to a lake; 2) why they are driven to a particular lake and not another; 3) why a few deer miss out on a few visits to the lake while others don’t; or 4) why no deer turn up on a few days; will ensure that the tiger goes hungry.
It’s the ability to predict (especially in complex systems like the wild) that has helped in gaining an understanding of a system, and then build a narrative of the phenomena governing it.
It is prediction, understanding, narration and not narration and understanding followed by prediction. This is very counter-intuitive to the processes we follow today.
All of us as kids, and today’s kids too are tested on their ability to narrate a phenomenon. Many of us, as professionals build models that narrate the story of systems (markets, human body, human brain, diet, politics, society etc). Most times, these stories are not used to predict outcomes in these systems, but to explain or fit past outcomes of the system into a coherent play. Very little we gain in way of understanding from this exercise. By this approach, our ability to predict the play in each of these systems is meagre at best. An understanding without the ability to predict is no understanding.
Many may wonder if prediction is possible before gaining an understanding. Indeed, it is and we do this very frequently all through our life.
The answer is ‘Feel’. (Note — ‘Feel’, I refer here has nothing to do with the heart-mind dichotomy that many people quote in decisions. On the contrary, our neurology and physiology is one strong unified entity; and the ‘Feel’ is the ability of this unified entity to self-reference and respond.)
Every single skill we have picked up is by a deep ‘Feel’ for the system. Cycling, swimming, walking, surfing etc are all skills that we pick up by soaking ourselves in it. Our ability to catch a frisbee is in our ability to predict the place of its grounding. This ability is gained by days and days of practice; not by studying the thousands of variables at play on the frisbee.
The best musicians in the world didn’t learn music consciously with a computing mind; but by immersing themselves and getting lost in the notes of a veena string, or in the fluidic streams of a flute or by sinking into the depths of their own voice.
Let us take the field of mathematics. Srinivasa Ramanujan has always attributed his crazy formulas to being revealed by his family Goddess Namagiri Thayar. Very frequently, it is the case in mathematics that the conjecture comes first and their proofs later. It is the ‘Feel’ for the subject; the feeling of being one with the subject that gives the mathematicians an innate ability to predict numbers and forms, and come up with conjectures. It has taken centuries for many of these conjectures to be proved (or disproved); but a significant number of these conjectures turned true. A ‘Feel’ for a subject/system is critical to predicting outcomes and patterns. The understanding and narration is consequence of the accuracy of these predictions.
The key here is to get a ‘Feel’ for the subject in hand or the system in play. This is not something that can be gained in a classroom, or a university or a boardroom. This comes from losing oneself to the gravitational pulls of the system that one is looking to understand or one is looking to play in.
One common feature among all successful founders is a crazy obsession with the pursuit. Many won’t be able to rationalise their decisions; but many of their decisions that turn out to be right are decisions that are borne from a mere strong ‘Feel’. Reasoning is almost always in retrospect.
The most successful traders in the market are not analysts, economists or strategists. The successful traders hardly make their play on analysis, or models or strategies. They almost always base their play on their gut. I have had chance to interact with many; and the most accepted reason for putting up a trade is — ‘I feel so.’
Inverse this process by trying to gain an understanding of a system, without being in it, without a ‘Feel’ for it; one gains only a limited to no understanding of it, resulting in anything between harm to ruin with that chanced success too happening many a time.
‘Feel’ for a system doesn’t come very easy. It is very much like learning swimming, or surfing or cycling. Jump in, play in it, immerse yourself, embrace it, be one with it; then slowly the system reveals itself to you.