A quote being attributed to someone famous for being smart is supposed to make us think it is profound. The juxtaposition of rhyming opposites – such as in the Einstein quote – has been found to increase our feeling that it is true. Thus, the replacement over time of a rhyming misquote for the original. Authority, poetry: no need to engage any critical faculties. Except its assertion – “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible” – is utterly wrong.
Any life forms that evolved in this world had to make ongoing sense of some portion of it. As our ancestors evolved over the millennia in this world, they had to comprehend some portion of it in order for us to be here now. The life forms that found it incomprehensible are extinct. (Or there is the divine argument; the Creator would not deceive his most favored creation.)
Which still begs an unexamined assumption. In what sense does our knowing/comprehension correspond with this world?
“It is even a difficult thing for him to admit to himself that the insect or the bird perceives an entirely different world from the one that man does, and that the question of which of these perceptions of the world is the more correct one is quite meaningless, for this would have to have been decided previously in accordance with the criterion of the correct perception, which means, in accordance with a criterion which is not available.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1873) On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense
I am not actually a fan of Nietzsche. (This is the Availability bias. So far, you have only seen quotes from Einstein and Nietzsche, and depending on your motivated reasoning are inclined to opinions of me on this matter.) Except I quoted this essay because it is 140 years old. My point is that these are not new ideas. I could have used other examples. Even the Behavioral Economics research which substantiates and elaborates (considerably on) these earlier insights dates back as much as 50 years. So, why is it most of us don’t know about it?
And your likely answer is the answer. It might be, “I don’t care about philosophy or physics, or what a bird sees, I’ve got trades to make/investments to manage.“ True enough. And who are you making those trades?
Here is a more recent version of the above paraphrased from the work early systems thinker C. West Churchman.
A modern organization is a hierarchical system made up of several levels with different forms of inquiry and rationality. Solving problems (which involves comprehending them) requires knowledge of these levels and their methods. These are likely to include: workers, managers, engineers, scientists, economists, lawyers, (formal or informal) politicians, and more.
Again, you might ask, “How does that relate to me?” For trading and investing, the financial systems (for there are more than a few) are made up of participants and perspectives that include: banks, brokerage, insurance, businesses, funds of every kind, financial instruments and products of every kind, analysts of every kind, advisors of every kind, lawyers, salesmen, accountants, and oh yes, individual traders and investors on this incomplete list. What is your role as a market participant and what perspective does that offer you? Whatever it is, it is as limited as in the man, insect, bird example, or the worker, manager, engineer example. Or to put it another way, any trader or investor who thinks his brokerage firm is looking at the market the same way he is doesn’t understand the business he is in.
So, we know what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know, and that’s the way it will always be. Except that does not excuse not wanting, even needing, to know more, while at the same time holding what we know as lightly as we can. How can we do that? An actual beginning would involve questioning the authority-based true sounding givens, getting a perspective on where you are in the overall system, and increasing the kinds of (real and imagined) experiences you have – as you have just done while reading this.