Life and investing in a lot of ways is like origami.
I first read this comparison in Richard Dawkins’, The Greatest Show on Earth: Evidence for Evolution. The origami motif is used to help breakdown misconceptions about DNA as 1:1, information that pairs with a specific physical feature. DNA does not directly correlate to our biology as machinist constructs a car out of independent parts and instructions: we cannot look at a gene sequence and say “Aha! Here is the human arm sequence. I know exactly how this child’s arm will look.”
Biological development is a process linked with natures memory of survival, and our morphology exhibits that memory. Humans in womb first appear reptile-like, even exhibiting a tail which is most prominent around 31-35 days. Slowly as our development unfurls we grow, much like origami, in a process in which the final design is not initially apparent but each individual fold has a final consequence on the overall design of the organism. A fold to the left here inevitably leads to specific outcomes that sacrifice opportunities a fold to the right would have produced. Life is dependent on the whole system, and unlike a car we can’t interchangeably swap out parts without consequence to the whole organism.
Life achieves its final design by focusing to gain advantages in competition, or reduce specific risks to increase its probability of survival. Predators are uniquely designed to attack specific game, and the prey is uniquely designed to survive attacks from specific predators. Despite the ultimate survival technique of having every advantage of a predator/prey relationship nature has not produced an omnivore that can “do it all,” due to the evolutionary constraint on development. Life is about specialization and finding a unique niche for survival: each strength correlating with a weakness that emerges somewhere else, each weakness balanced by the correlating strength.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
For example, thoroughbred horses bred for speed have consequences which include extremely thin and fragile leg bones that become prone to breaking. A horse that breaks its leg on a racetrack is routinely euthanized because the chances of survival after a break are small. Thoroughbred horses would not survive in nature due to the imbalance and sacrifices made for speed.
“It is possible to spend too much on one department of life, thereby taking resources away from some other department of life…Nature gets the balance right. The world is full of genes for getting the balance right: that is why they are there.” – Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: Evidence for Evolution
The opening of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey shows a quick glimpse of human evolution from ape to man with the invention and utilization of tools. Tools enabled humans to survive outside of our environment. By using tools to hunt wild game; build fires to cook food to make nutrient absorption easier; and build housing to survive in harsh environmental conditions, humans were able to cheat evolutionary constraints and so our survival now depends less on physical competition and more upon our intelligence, habits, skills and culture.
The burden humans bear for this is that we have objectively removed ourselves from mother-nature. In order to mentally construct tools, we must first think of ourselves independently from the environment and to think in abstractions, which ultimately allows us to become self-aware and foresee our own death. It is a sad irony that by being removed from the natural competitive field of evolutionary survival, we have become the creature that is the most psychologically burdened and stressed about survival due to that awareness.
“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” – Ernest Becker
If a human either through trauma or spiritual desire wishes to re-integrate with nature the likely outcome is death, either from harsh environmental conditions or being eaten by a wild animal. This is a sad lesson and a story which was vividly portrayed in the novel Into the Wild. Our primal memories and innate forces that yearn for re-integration are strong and pull against our memory of what it is to be human.
A satirical show on the Tech Industry featured on HBO, Silicon Valley, highlights this clearly when one of the billionaires suddenly and unexpectedly dies while simply trying to “run” on an African Safari trip. For all the billionaires intelligence, the evolutionary cost was extreme physical vulnerability. Biologically, he required very safe and specific conditions for his personal survival which was eventually exploited on a routine vacation.
“How long, baby, have I been away?
Oh, it feels like ages though you say it’s only days
There ain’t language for the things I’ve seen, yeah
And the truth is stranger than my own worst dreams
The truth is stranger than all my dreams” – Lord Huron, Meet Me in the Woods
Financial markets exhibit natural forces: bulls and bears are the most frequently cited metaphors describing market conditions. Bulls are farmed animals that exhibit strength, resilience and persistence. Bears are intelligent animals that survive through dormant winter periods and short explosions of extreme feasting. In the same way, bull markets exhibit slow, steady growth over a 5-10 year period, whereas bear markets are fast, abrupt and generally last 1-3 years.
An investor should stand outside of the natural market forces with human intelligence, and avoid giving way to forces between bulls and bears to navigate conditions effectively. This is what it means to be human, and perhaps why mastering investing can be an extremely addictive and rewarding pursuit in human experience.
“Most life lives in the moment, with fear born of immediate perception. It is only you and I and the rest of our lot that can reflect on the distant past, imagine the future and grasp the darkness that awaits…We have developed strategies to contend with knowledge of our impermanence and often with hope, sometimes resignation, to gesture toward eternity…and with that the narratives proliferate: myth to religion, literature to philosophy, art to music, telling humankind’s struggle for survival, will to understand, urge for expression, and search for meaning.” – Brian Greene, Until the End of Time
There is a scene in the movie Happy Gilmore where Happy refuses to acknowledge his greatest gift: the ability to hit long drives in golf. He stubbornly continues to believe in his childhood dream of becoming a professional hockey player, despite his achilles heel of not being able to skate – a hockey fundamental. Along the way he meets Chubbs Peterson, a former professional golfer who tragically lost the ability to compete after an alligator ‘bit his hand off.’ Under Chubbs guidance, Happy learns to accept the gift he has and harness that strength to achieve meaning and purpose despite it being a life he wouldn’t have initially chosen.
“So you’re a hockey player, huh? … You’re gunna give that shit up and concentrate on golf.” – Chubbs Peterson