Saturday, 15 August 2015

Give your ideas a Proust

15:08 Posted by The Thalesians (@thalesians) No comments

I've started reading Proust's epic In Search of Lost Time. It's my project to try to finish reading it by the end of this year. The work consists of 7 volumes and 1,267,069 words when written in the original French. In an age, where messages consist of 140 characters and words stream at us from every which direction, on the web, on Twitter, on our phones, it can sometimes seem quaint, the notion of spending months on end, reading a substantial work of literature. In the modern day, I'd argue the rationale for reading longer pieces of literature is even stronger, to contrast with the usual diet of abbreviated English, which we are often exposed to on the web.

Of course, it seems hopelessly optimistic that I'll finish reading this epic, in such a short time (or whether I'll even finish it at all). Whilst reading it, what becomes quickly apparent to the reader, is that very little appears to happen. Yet despite this, it is peculiarly engrossing. There's a certain deliciousness in revelling in the way, Proust is able to envelope the reader in layers of description. The act of sleeping, could just be described in a single sentence. Instead, Proust engages the reader for pages upon pages of prose, to engage the reader in the most visual way possible. That is the power of language when used properly. Writing is not simply a way to furnish a reader with facts, but a way to make the reader view the world differently.

In finance, the importance of writing is sometimes overlooked. If an article makes a good point about the market, yet is written sloppily, readers will simply turn off. I'm not saying, we should spend hundreds of words engaging in prose like Proust to describe something. It is just that having clear and entertaining language, can aid a reader to see your viewpoint, as opposed to have dry monotonous language, which sends them to sleep. 

We can also learn from Proust, if we think about the way he visualised his thoughts. I love maths. At the same time, I recognise that bombarding people with tables filled with numbers, is not going prove my point, about a trading strategy or a certain idea I have about the market. Having a well thought out visual way to present your thoughts can be extremely powerful. Furthermore, it can encapsulate a very complicated market dataset in one single chart. In my open source Python library, PyThalesians, I have spent quite a bit of time building easy to use wrappers for a number of visualisation libraries (which I'd encourage you to check it out on GitHub here) for this very reason. A picture really does say a thousand words, plus a picture is quick to interpret! Just like the picture which gives you a sense of the landscape immediately, in a way, that would be more difficult when simply relying on a few words.

Will I finish reading Proust, I don't really know.. what I do know, is that I've learnt a lot from starting on this journey. What will you learn from Proust? Hopefully he'll give your ideas a Proust...

If you're on the US East Coast, I'll be in Washington DC 27 Sep, NYC 29 Sep-3 Oct and Boston 5 Oct if you'd like to meet me and hear more about systematic trading! If you're in mainland Europe, I'll be in Frankfurt 7 Sep and Zurich 8 Sep.

Like my writing? Have a look at my book Trading Thalesians - What the ancient world can teach us about trading today is on Palgrave Macmillan. You can order the book on Amazon. Drop me a message if you're interested in me writing something for you or creating a systematic trading strategy for you! Please also come to our regular finance talks in London, New York, Budapest, Prague, Frankfurt & Zurich- join our group for more details here (Thalesians calendar below)

07 Sep - Frankfurt - Saeed Amen/Yves Hilpisch (tbc)/Thomas Wiecki/Jochen Papenbrock/Miguel Vaz/Adrian Zymolka - Quant Evening (Thalesians/Quant Finance Group Germany)
08 Sep - Zurich - Saeed Amen - How to build a CTA? / interactive Python demo
23 Sep - London - Stephen Pulman - Multi-Dimensional Sentiment Analysis
01 Oct - New York - Saeed Amen - How to build a CTA? / interactive Python demo
21 Oct - London - Robert Carver - Lessons from systematic trading


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