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An Empty Forest Full of Trees

Stock-Markets / Financial Markets 2013 Oct 23, 2013 - 11:29 AM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Stock-Markets

By Grant Williams  

ca·tas·tro·phe

n.

1. A great, often sudden calamity.

2. A complete failure; a fiasco.

3. The concluding action of a drama, especially a classical tragedy, following the climax and containing a resolution of the plot.


In 1710, philosopher George Berkeley formulated a proposition in his work "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge," which would inspire a philosophical discussion that continues to this day — three centuries later.

Berkeley wrote:

But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park ... and nobody by to perceive them.... The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden ... no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them.

Twenty years later, William Fossett took Berkeley's baton and ran with it:

Tease apart the threads [of the natural world] and the pattern vanishes. The design is in how the cloth-maker arranges the threads: this way and that, as fashion dictates.... To say something is meaningful is to say that that is how we arrange it so; how we comprehend it to be, and what is comprehended by you or I may not be by a cat, for example. If a tree falls in a park and there is no-one to hand, it is silent and invisible and nameless. And if we were to vanish, there would be no tree at all; any meaning would vanish along with us. Other than what the cats make of it all, of course.

But it wasn't until June 1883 that the magazine The Chautauquan posed the question more or less in the familiar form we know today:

If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?

The Chautauqaun answered — rather too emphatically, I thought — "No. Sound is the sensation excited in the ear when the air or other medium is set in motion." But that implies a more scientific perception of the question than the philosophical one which has intrigued thinkers through the centuries.

It was from that example that the modern-day form of the question was finally settled upon:

"If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Now, rather than take the path followed by a million tortured souls and try to answer the question, I am going to pose my own question of a similar nature and see if I can stimulate a philosophical debate that will endure through the centuries, as George Berkeley did way back in the 18th century.

If "through the centuries" is reaching a little, would you all mind doing me a favour and just pretending to discuss it until I've left the room?

Much obliged.

OK... so all that remains is for you to click here for some appropriate mood music, and off we jolly well go...

"If something bad happens but nobody reacts badly to it, did nothing bad happen?"

Deep, huh? Not what you come here for, I know, but bear with me for a moment.

I recently read an article that bemoaned the level of volatility that besets the modern world, and the piece got me thinking: how volatile is the investment world, really?

To continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore – please click here.

John Mauldin

subscribers@MauldinEconomics.com

Outside the Box is a free weekly economic e-letter by best-selling author and renowned financial expert, John Mauldin. You can learn more and get your free subscription by visiting www.JohnMauldin.com.

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Copyright 2013 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved
Note: John Mauldin is the President of Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC (MWA), which is an investment advisory firm registered with multiple states. John Mauldin is a registered representative of Millennium Wave Securities, LLC, (MWS), an FINRA registered broker-dealer. MWS is also a Commodity Pool Operator (CPO) and a Commodity Trading Advisor (CTA) registered with the CFTC, as well as an Introducing Broker (IB). Millennium Wave Investments is a dba of MWA LLC and MWS LLC. Millennium Wave Investments cooperates in the consulting on and marketing of private investment offerings with other independent firms such as Altegris Investments; Absolute Return Partners, LLP; Plexus Asset Management; Fynn Capital; and Nicola Wealth Management. Funds recommended by Mauldin may pay a portion of their fees to these independent firms, who will share 1/3 of those fees with MWS and thus with Mauldin. Any views expressed herein are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed in any way as an offer, an endorsement, or inducement to invest with any CTA, fund, or program mentioned here or elsewhere. Before seeking any advisor's services or making an investment in a fund, investors must read and examine thoroughly the respective disclosure document or offering memorandum. Since these firms and Mauldin receive fees from the funds they recommend/market, they only recommend/market products with which they have been able to negotiate fee arrangements.

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