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Monday, July 23, 2007

Of Pendulums, Fads, and Extremes

Fads and extremes are part of human nature.

There is no logic in our emotional excesses, in fact logic itself falls prey to fads and extremes. There have been times when sound logic has been ridiculed and the mystical reigned, and times when a current logic ruled supreme and the miracle of life was purposely scoffed at or
ignored.

The most observant of the human race may fail to notice when society is on a binge; if everyone is delusional, delusion is normal. As a pendulum swings back and forth on a pivot, accelerating through equilibrium to extremes, so the human herd spends little time properly centered in reality but is always rushing past to some new excess.

In defining these extremes we have a historical viewpoint from Charles MacKay's classic book first published in 1841 -- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Writing of manias , mass anger, and overwhelming greed MacKay allows us to observe from a safe distance how extreme all of society can become. We still have our tulip manias and witch hunts, but they seem reasonable to those of us now caught up in them.

Even when we recognize that society is at an extreme, the emotional pressure to join in and rush forward with the mass of humanity is almost impossible to over come. We are reversing from several extremes right now, lets look at some of these ended cycles so as to illuminate what will happen with others that have not yet reached their end.

As the pendulum reaches the full extent of its journey it slows down, stops, and then accelerates toward the equilibrium point passing through it quickly on the way to the opposite end of its path. During this process it passes through the same points it traversed on its journey to the extreme.

Look at technology stocks or the real estate markets. They not only reached ridiculous extremes from historic valuation models, they pulled in even rational people to believe that "this time its different." When the crowd reaches madness they always perceive that they are now more wise than prior generations and know how to overcome problems that accompanied previous excesses. The pendulum reaches the end and on its, slowly at first, accelerating descent it passes through those same vestiges of irrationality that had impelled it to the top. At the far extreme to be reached years or even decades latter everyone will know that it is better to rent than buy real estate and that tech stocks are too dangerous to own. The pendulum will then reverse and start traveling down the path to equilibrium once more.

What makes the observation of these swings difficult is the simultaneous activity of a multitude of cycles having different durations and importance all happening at once. It is like walking into a gigantic clock store just as all the alarms ring. The noise is so deafening that conscious thought as to meaning is almost impossible.

We can observe historical large degree cycles, such as the swing of nations from freedom and abundance to totalitarian regimes and scarcity; but few apply such images to the day we live in. The repetition of the ending of one epoch and the entering into another is replete with examples of overextended cycles As we enter what some have called the information or communication age, many cycles of the prior age are on their last powerful accent. Many new cycles are just about to start their first journey.

This is an interesting time to be alive.


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1 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan Gallardo said...

This is very, very interesting and exciting. How can I find out what the next big cycle is... what are the signs. Thank you for the info.

2:22 AM  

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