Cogs in the machine

society, autism, stem

Quite some ex-fellow students of physics and math have gone into finance. In Amsterdam it’s one of the few areas outside of academia where such skills are in demand. Some of those businesses engage in high frequency trading, on which the American Securities Exchange Commission published a study (even smaller ticks?). I of course expected this: the first post immediately goes into technical detail, and the responses to it even further. Higher level critiques are at this time absent from the discussion. Critiques that HFT does not help productive business, is a form of casino trading, ghost liquidity, you’re actually trading rich peoples money and making the market harder for smaller investors, and so on. The pattern is: HFT traders discuss the mechanics of it in great detail.

The second post is about the question of why object oriented programming still so widespread is. Fortunately, a meta-comment is currently leading there, explaining how it takes some experience to know when to use OOP and when not, what the pitfalls are and where its application best fits. Less experienced people who hear of such discussions then ’take sides’ without really grasping the essence of the discussion. A few responses is the key comment:

My favourite HN stereotype is that every comment chain involves the next poster correcting the last poster over a tiny detail, and then descending into long threads arguing minute details of no consequence.

I think this forum attracts a non-trivial number of people who have a hyperfocus issue beginning with the letter A.

Hyperfocus. As in: unable to not focus, unable to see/work big picture. Needing thought-drugs to satisfy the need to focus. Well, yeah, these types are the norm in physics, in STEM in general I suppose. If you had a mountain of money, what types would you want to hire to grow your mountain? Hyperfocussed types that can’t help themselves but to wade into details, and a salary to help quench any big picture thoughts should they pop up. Also other big picture thoughts that most of this salary is eaten up in housing cost by the same class of people that pays them. It painful to realize it’s still quite straightforward to co-opt smart people (maybe especially smart people) into making the rich richer and thus the world poorer in exchange for coin and thought-drugs such as technically involved topics (e.g. HFT).

We should not segregate (higher) education (STEM seperate from humanities) and we should not forget what universities are for: producing well-rounded, mentally trained individuals, ready to take on issues coming their way and coming our way, with the capacity to balance and integrate concerns. We should not produce mono-skilled tradespeople in universities, but thinkers and tinkerers. A succesful outcome of a university system would be to produce human beings able to resist petty comforts like salary and intellectual self-gratification but people that are able and have the drive to produce a better world, and the skills to discern what ‘better’ actually means.