For those who have little if any interest in professional golf and the bi-annual Ryder Cup competition between the U.S. and Europe, the European team won by two points. It all came down to the final match between Hunter Mahan and Graeme McDowell (from Northern Ireland). Had Mahan won, the U.S. would have retained the cup. He was defeated by his worthy opponent who, earier this year, won the U.S. Open championship.
As I discuss in another blog post, Mahan was disconsolate at the press conference later, apparently convinced that he had lost the Ryder Cup.
My assertion is this: Individuals on teams do not win or lose games (especially championships), their teams do.
However, I think Mahan “won” a great deal during the recent competition.
He knew that the competition would be very close and could well come down to the final match. (It did.) In that event, all eyes would be on the two opponents. Their teammates, family members would accompany them on the course to the ultimate resolution.
Before the matches began, Mahan asked team captain Corey Pavin to select him to play in the last match in the final round. Pavin later agreed. So what did Mahan “win”?
1. The respect of his team captain, the “gritty Bruin” from U.C.L.A. and one of the most competitive athletes ever, whatever the given sport may be. Pavin can still hold his own on the regular PGA tour.
2. The respect of his teammates who knew (and know) that there is no greater pressure in professional golf than being one of the two who conclude Ruyder Cup competition when team victory has not as yet been determined.
3. The respect of those on the European team who also appreciate why a ferocious competitor such as Mahan could be reduced to tears of frustration and disappointment, once the match ended.
Jack Dempsey once observed, “Champions get up when they can’t.”
I expect Hunter Mahan to do precisely that because he has the skills, the maturity, and especially the courage.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Robert Lee Hotz that appeared in the Wall Street Journal (June 16, 2009). To read the complete article, please click here.
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A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight: Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain’s Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming
It happened to Archimedes in the bath. To Descartes it took place in bed while watching flies on his ceiling. And to Newton it occurred in an orchard, when he saw an apple fall. Each had a moment of insight. To Archimedes came a way to calculate density and volume; to Descartes, the idea of coordinate geometry; and to Newton, the law of universal gravity.
Five light-bulb moments of understanding that revolutionized science.
In our fables of science and discovery, the crucial role of insight is a cherished theme. To these epiphanies, we owe the concept of alternating electrical current, the discovery of penicillin, and on a less lofty note, the invention of Post-its, ice-cream cones, and Velcro. The burst of mental clarity can be so powerful that, as legend would have it, Archimedes jumped out of his tub and ran naked through the streets, shouting to his startled neighbors: “Eureka! I’ve got it.”
In today’s innovation economy, engineers, economists and policy makers are eager to foster creative thinking among knowledge workers. Until recently, these sorts of revelations were too elusive for serious scientific study. Scholars suspect the story of Archimedes isn’t even entirely true. Lately, though, researchers have been able to document the brain’s behavior during Eureka moments by recording brain-wave patterns and imaging the neural circuits that become active as volunteers struggle to solve anagrams, riddles and other brain teasers.
Following the brain as it rises to a mental challenge, scientists are seeking their own insights into these light-bulb flashes of understanding, but they are as hard to define clinically as they are to study in a lab.
To be sure, we’ve all had our “Aha” moments. They materialize without warning, often through an unconscious shift in mental perspective that can abruptly alter how we perceive a problem. “An ‘aha’ moment is any sudden comprehension that allows you to see something in a different light,” says psychologist John Kounios at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It could be the solution to a problem; it could be getting a joke; or suddenly recognizing a face. It could be realizing that a friend of yours is not really a friend.”
These sudden insights, they found, are the culmination of an intense and complex series of brain states that require more neural resources than methodical reasoning. People who solve problems through insight generate different patterns of brain waves than those who solve problems analytically. “Your brain is really working quite hard before this moment of insight,” says psychologist Mark Wheeler at the University of Pittsburgh. “There is a lot going on behind the scenes.”
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Daydreaming is more demanding than it seems, researchers reported in “Experience Sampling During fMRI Reveals Default Network and Executive System Contributions to Mind Wandering” in Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences.
A positive mood makes an insight more likely, Northwestern University researchers reported in “A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect” in the March edition of Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
In the journal Neuropsychologia, Drexel University scientists reported on “The Origins of Insight in Resting State Brain Activity.”
Together, the two research teams reported that people who solved problems through insight had different brain wave patterns than people who don’t. In PLoS Biology, they documented “Neural Activity When People Solve Verbal Problems with Insight” and the “Neural Basis of Solving Problems with Insight.”
At the University of London’s Goldsmith College, researchers reported in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that brain waves heralding an insight can be detected 8 seconds before we become conscious of it.
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In fact, our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests. “Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically,” Dr. Kounios says. “There really are different brain mechanisms involved.”
By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.
People assumed that when your mind wandered it was empty,” says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who reported the findings last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As measured by brain activity, however, “mind wandering is a much more active state than we ever imagined, much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem.”
She suspects that the flypaper of an unfocused mind may trap new ideas and unexpected associations more effectively than methodical reasoning. That may create the mental framework for new ideas. “You can see regions of these networks becoming active just prior to people arriving at an insight,” she says.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
I watch each Ryder Cup competition from start to finish and this year’s matches, especially those delayed until Monday, were among the best I’ve seen thus far. For those who do not know, the U.S. team lost to the European team 15-13 but could have retained the cup had Hunter Mahan not lost in the final match, playing Graeme McDowell (from Northern Ireland) who won the U.S. Open earlier this year.
Later, at the press conference, Mahan was disconsolate. He had played brilliantly throughout the three-day competition (win or lose) but stumbled near the end of the final match. Later, his teammates tried to comfort him but, clearly, he was (and perhaps remains) convinced that he had lost the Ryder Cup.
My initial reaction was sympathy, as was Mahan’s teammates’, but then I had second thoughts.
What if Mahan had defeated McDowell? At the press conference later, would he have then claimed that he had won the Ryder Cup? Of course not.
Individuals on teams do not win or lose games (especially championships), their teams do.
That was true when Bobby Thompson hit a homerun off Ralph Branch of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Giants won the World Series in 1951, and when Bill Buckner was unable to field a ground ball and his team, the Boston Red Sox, lost to the New York Mets in the World Series (1986), and when Scott Norwood of the Buffalo Bills missed a field goal wide right in Super Bowl XXV (1991) in a game won by the New York Giants, and when (closer to home) tight end Jackie Smith of the Dallas Cowboys dropped a pass in the end zone from Roger Staubach in Super Bowl XIII (1979) in a game that the Pittsburgh Steelers eventually won by four points.
Note: By the way, Smith was later voted into the NFL Hall of Fame…and deservedly so.
I urge those who have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or know someone else involved in team sports to help them understand that, to repeat, individuals on teams do not win or lose games (especially championships), their teams do.
And whatever the final result may be, I hope they enjoy the participation.
Here is a brief excerpt from the first chapter of a book, Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation, that was published in 1999 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Its author, Edward Chancellor, makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the current global recession, depression, disruption, reset, etc.
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“And when dreams deceive our wandering eyes in the heavy slumber of night, and under the spade the earth yields gold to the light of day: our greedy hands finger the spoil and snatch at the treasure, sweat too runs down our face, and a deep fear grips our heart that maybe someone will shake out our laden bosom, where he knows the gold is hid: soon, when these pleasures flee from the brain they mocked, and the true shape of things comes back, our mind is eager for what is lost, and moves with all its force among the shadows of the past….”
Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter, circa A.D. 50
The propensity to barter and exchange is an innate human characteristic. An inclination to divine the future is another deeply ingrained trait. Together they comprise the act of financial speculation. “All life is speculation,” declared the celebrated nineteenth-century American trader James R. Keene, “the spirit of speculation is born with men.” For the earliest known historical cases of speculation we must turn to ancient Rome during the Republic of the second century B.C. By this date, the Roman financial system had developed many of the characteristics of modern capitalism: markets flourished because Roman law allowed the free transfer of property, money was lent out at interest, money changers dealt in foreign currencies, and payments across the Roman territories could be made by bankers’ draft. Capital concentrated in Rome, as it later did in Amsterdam, London, and New York. The idea of credit had also developed, along with a primitive form of insurance for ships and other forms of property. The people of Rome exhibited a passion for the accumulation of wealth, matched by an extravagance in its display and consumption. Gaming was common.
In Latin, the word speculator describes a sentry whose job it was to “look out” (speculare) for trouble. The financial speculator in ancient Rome, however, was called quaestor, which means a seeker. Collectively, speculators were sometimes referred to as Graeci or Greeks. Their meeting place was the Forum, near the Temple of Castor, where “crowds of men bought and sold shares and bonds of tax-farming companies, various goods for cash and on credit, farms and estates in Italy and in the provinces, houses and shops in Rome and elsewhere, ships and storehouses, slaves and cattle.” The Roman comic playwright Plautus describes the Forum as peopled with whores, shopkeepers, moneylenders, and wealthy men. He identifies specifically two unsavoury groups; the first lot he describes as “mere puffers” and the second as “impudent, talkative, and malevolent fellows, who boldly, without reason, utter calumnies about one another.” In this description, we find the originals of the bulls and bears of later stock markets.
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To read my review of Devil Take the Hindmost, please click here.
Edward Chancellor is a member of GMO’s asset allocation team and focuses on capital market research. (GMO is a global investment management firm, with offices in North America, Europe, and Asia.) Chancellor has worked as a financial commentator and consultant and has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, and Institutional Investor, among others. He is the recipient of the 2007 George Polk Award for financial journalism. Mr. Chancellor is the author of several books including Crunch Time for Credit (2005) and Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation (1999), a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year.” Prior to joining GMO, he worked as deputy U.S. editor for Breakingviews.com in New York and for Lazard Brothers. Mr. Chancellor earned his B.A. in history from Trinity College and his Masters of Philosophy in Modern History from Oxford University.
Note: The following review was written in 2000 and as I recently re-read it, I was reminded of Heraclitus’ observation that “everything changes, nothing changes.” So much of Chancellor’s analysis is relevant to the current global depression, repression, disruption, reset, etc.
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It is helpful to our understanding of financial speculation early in the 21st century to view it within an historical framework. Chancellor provides such a framework and more…much more. In the initial chapter (“The Bubble World”), he explains the origins of financial speculation and then shifts his attention to a series of famous (sometimes infamous) situations throughout three centuries. As Chancellor explains, “I concentrate on occurrences of speculation in the leading economic powers of the day, from the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century to Japan in the 1980s, interspersed with the occasional look at speculation in the present day. I believe that speculation can only be understood within a social context and that a history of speculation cannot simply be a description of economic affairs but must also be something of a social history.” Joel Mokyr has a similar objective in The Lever of Riches (1990) in which he examines various interrelationships between technological creativity and economic progress since classical antiquity. Both he and Chancellor present information and develop their ideas within what could be called an “historical infrastructure.” They succeed admirably.
In Chapter 7, as Chancellor concludes his examination of “The Gilded Age,” he quotes the American economist H.C. Emory who wrote that “whereas gambling consists in placing money on artificially created risks of some fortuitous event, speculation consists in assuming the inevitable risks of changes in value.” For Chancellor, speculation in the late-nineteenth century “brought more harm than good and transferred property from the hands of the many into the pockets of the few.” This is also a useful perspective on the subsequent “Crash” of 1929 and thereafter, a volatile period that Chancellor also analyzes with eloquence as well as insight.
It is an even more useful perspective on the economy of a country such as Russia in the early-21st century. As Chancellor correctly points out in the Epilogue, “The issue of speculation in emerging markets and the unfettered trade in foreign currencies is the most immediate and vexing problem faced by policymakers.” For me, Devil Take the Hindmost is an absolutely indispensable guide to more than three centuries of stock market speculation. It is certainly a worthy companion to Charles Kindelberger’s classic, Manias, Panics, and Crashes (1978). Chancellor focuses on a broad range of speculators (e.g. Daniel Defoe, Benjamin Disraeli, Jay Gould, Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, and Hilary Rodham Clinton); in process, he suggests that the primary motives which drive these and other speculators are far more complicated than many of us had assumed…and, as often as not, these motives reflect “the national character” of country at the given time when a speculator succeeds or fails.
In a review that appeared in BusinessWeek magazine (September 13, 1999), Gary Silverman observes, “Chancellor’s book is strongest where the literature is richest; he is more a reader than a reporter. As a result, chapters on recent events, and those outside Britain, are rendered with less flair. At times, he tends to simplify. ”The American,” he writes, ”is equipped with more than just a hopeful vision of the future and a drive for self-improvement. He is prepared to take enormous risks to attain his ends.” If that’s the case, why does Fidelity Investments still offer money-market funds?
“In the end, however, Chancellor is effective. He leaves readers facing unavoidable if unanswerable questions. What lessons can we draw from past manias? Are we in a bubble? Is a crash about to come? Reading Devil Take the Hindmost may make you feel smarter than the other folks on the train. But it won’t make you feel more secure.”
Pete Seeger wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and the final line is, “When will we ever learn?” When indeed….