Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

In 1942, fresh from reading Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 22 year-old Isaac Asimov published the first short story in what would become the most famous and influential science fiction series of his or your lifetime – the Foundation Trilogy. In these books, Asimov invented the fictional science of psychohistory, a combination of history, sociology and mathematics that could make accurate predictions about the behavior of crowds.

The scientists who developed psychohistory called themselves the Foundation, and they wrote down their research and principles on a giant screen called the Prime Radiant. The Radiant displayed the Plan, a path forward that recognized how we humans are hard-wired and soft-wired to respond to Narrative and other invisible social interactions in estimatable ways. It was a path to be followed – not to prevent the inexorable and inevitable Dark Age – but to reduce its length from an unimpeded 30,000 years to “only” 1,000 years. All the wisdom in the world is insufficient to stop the great cycles of human history. We do what we can.

The Plan goes awry only a few centuries into its efforts, thrown askew by a unique mutant psychic named the Mule, a force totally unforeseen by the Plan. The Mule’s great power is the ability to manipulate the emotions of any human, a power he first uses to make a planet’s population fearful, then, once conquered, to make them intensely loyal. First the Mule takes over the machinery of Empire, turning the supposed leaders into his puppets. Then he diminishes the Foundation into near irrelevance. And so the galaxy descends into a 30,000 year Dark Age.

But the Radiant survives, kept alive by a small band of psychohistorians determined to get humanity back on the right path, no matter how long of a game they must play. This is the Second Foundation, established at the same time as the highly public Foundation, working in anonymity and behind the scenes. Hunted by both the Mule’s Empire and the still powerful Foundation, it is the Second Foundation, using similar mental powers as those of the Mule, that ultimately prevails.

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  1. Just wanted to say thank you. Grew up dirt poor but smart as shit and got sucked into the worst of our narrative-driven ‘elite’ institutions (Ben Bernake was my econ professor - vomit).

    Went to actual war a few times in the interim for my troubles. I remember being on a patrol base in Iraq, late 2008, a few random explosions here and there to punctuate the discussion of the US economy falling apart. Telling my soldiers (a bunch of 18-year-old kids from shithole places in the south and midwest like me) how those guys knew what they were doing, necessary to save the economy, yadda yadda yadda. They called bullshit, I disagreed at the time. They were right. Heaps and heaps of bullshit.

    Wife has a similar story. Both of us spent the better part of a decade wasting our lives ‘changing the world’ for big tech and big law. We lit it all on fire a few years ago and haven’t looked back. Have a three-year-old daughter now and have tried to live something close to what you have here since she came around. Couldn’t put it into words as well as you have. Godspeed.

    P.S. You should read the Stormlight Archive if you can spare time for a fantasy epic- best encapsulation of how to be a decent human in a fallen world I’ve read in a very very long time.

  2. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:


  3. I consider myself very well read. You sir, are a struggle to read; and I mean that as a compliment.

  4. I’ve enjoyed Epsilon Theory for the past 2 years and it’s been a wonderful source of education and it goes beyond finance. I find myself drawn to this type of discussion and world view and subscribe to several people with similar styles and perspectives.

    However, it dawned on me that my desire for intellectual contrarian financial discussions might be a narrative I’m biased to accepting. The narrative is as follows: Someone on the outside like myself who doesn’t want to be “scammed by the financial system” will use his intelligence and true grit to persevere above the financial charlatans who are currently making money through ignorance. My biggest concern is that this narrative isn’t true and these intellectual discussions of human nature mapped to financial markets with $10 words thrown in is just an illusion to hide the simple fact that…I’m really an idiot. Is it possible that in the pursuit of understanding how foolish others are, we simply just constructed our own narrative and abstractions that commit very same sins as those of who look down upon?

    Hope no one is offended. Still love Epsilon Theory though! I just wanted to pose to the community to see if anyone had similar concerns.

  5. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    For what it’s worth, neither I nor Ben would take any offense at this line of thinking, because…well, because we wonder about the same thing. It was what I had in mind just last week when I was writing Deadly. Holy. Rough. Immediate. ( The basic issue you’ve got your finger on, I think, is that we are all constantly telling each other stories. All communication is passed through a filter of “how I want this person to think,” and “I want all these people to see that finance is full of abstractions and Narrative” is absolutely a story we are telling you.

    The question - in my opinion, anyway - is (1) who we will trust, knowing that they will be telling us stories (and we them), and (2) who will work with us in good faith to cut through abstractions in our communication with each other to be more real, tangible, authentic and direct. It’s hard for us, too.

  6. That really helps a lot. Much appreciated :slight_smile:

  7. People just love stories don’t they? As a kid “once upon a time” was a magic attention grabber. Very little changes so as you say always ask why you are being told what you are being told.
    Ben - the idea of having a process was there in plain sight all the time! I do so enjoy your writings You have helped me to understand why I feel the way I do and feel a lot less “helpless” into the bargain.
    I am really looking forward to following your new adventure as well as being a part of it in any way I can. Do let us know when you are going to be in the UK ???
    All the best Clive

  8. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Thanks, Clive! Will definitely keep the Pack up to date on travel plans and speaking engagements.

  9. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    I just became a Member of the Pack, and I wanted to comment on this piece as I found it very beautiful and profound, and I believe Ben described it as sort of a new manifesto. I’m firmly ensconced in BigLaw but I’m not an attorney, I work in accounting.

    Ironically as I was hemming and hawing over subscribing here, and whether I should do the monthly vs. annual subscription (yup, accounting!), my company announced a bonus due to the end of our (successful) fiscal year which made it very easy to say, “Yes, annual subscription please!”.

    I love the thoughtful posts that make me realize things that would never have occurred to me otherwise. I try to surround myself with many different voices so I have a less narrow perspective, and Epsilon Theory has become a huge part of that.

    Ok have to bring this home, but one quick shout-out to Andrew Horowitz’s Disciplined Investor podcast (NOT sponsored), because that is where I first came across Ben. He was describing a financial concept using the work of Eadweard Muybridge. Mind. Blown.

  10. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    Just to be clear, I was going to subscribe regardless – but the bonus made it much easier to choose the annual subscription.

  11. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Thank you, Tanya, and delighted to have you in the Pack.

    You’re right about Andrew Horowitz’s podcast … it’s top-notch, and I’ve always enjoyed my time there. Time for another go, Andrew?

  12. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    I recommended it to him!

  13. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Taken as such, Robert! Thanks.

  14. As a kid and again more recently I read the Foundation series and was also taken by the idea of psychohistory - I think calling the publishing house Second Foundation Partners is an inspired choice.

    There were two other ideas that came out of those books - the impact of geography (specifically the center vs the periphery) and technology (particularly the distribution of the diffusion of technology as it impacts on the evolution of the overall picture). Along with narratives + abstractions + metagames + estimates (the NAME factors as a proxy for psychohistory) is there a place in the thinking and discussion for how geography and technology as broad concepts can influence the evolution of the overall picture we are seeing? Or is this out of scope from the discussion?

    Finally the idea of process is a good one - being part of a conversation (a good example of one kind of process) - is heartening and I look forward to making my own small contribution to that conversation with you all. Thank you for making this space possible.

    Cordially from Sydney Australia

  15. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    The roles of geography and technology are not out of place here at all, Russell, and I’m really glad you’ve raised them! Both will be at the core of my next big note … what-to-do in politics … especially geography, which gets so much less attention than technology.

    The teaser on this is that there’s a reason that St. Augustine, who was the keenest eye in history for how to think about a declining empire, was known for centuries as St. Augustine of Hippo. It makes a difference - a BIG difference - that he’s watching Rome decline from his perch in North Africa. Much more to come on this. Thanks again for raising the topic, Russell.

  16. Avatar for ianfvr ianfvr says:

    Just joined up w/ the Premium subscription and catching up on your notes. I was thinking about indebtedness and identity and how those of us who haven’t made it yet, like you have, pay the bills; it reminds of the movie Gladiator - an obscure part of the movie is when Maximus asks his servant “Do you find it hard to do your duty?” to which the servant answers, “Sometimes, I do what want to do, the rest of the time, I do what I have to.” I sacrifice what I think is right all the time; but it’s because I blew my savings on prior (ad)ventures I tried - it’s fine but I am “captured” again, back in corporate life;l it’s nothing unethical but I do go along with things that are irksome yet it pays me and I can easily pay the $200 for your subscription - the hope being I am moving ahead long-term towards more and more freedom, autonomy,…liberation; which is why I find it interesting that there’s prohibitions against “debt” in Islamic religion, though I don’t know the whole religious underpinning, but it makes sense - right? Freedom and debt are seemingly obviously at odds yet debt is so prevalent and some benefit from it’s broader and broader use - and I work for a consumer company, we make more money this year if people over extend and buy more than they should; in my race to more autonomy it would sure help if some others gave up some - I don’t know we are all so interdependent; my wife and I just sat down and tried to plan out our finances next 10 years and specifically to save a lot more going forward, too bad for the high end coffee shops, real vision think tank, the apparel companies we love, the wine shop downstairs… if credit/debt isn’t growing on the whole, aren’t we all just either losing or hoarding?

  17. Ben, enjoyed this piece very much. Without meaning to offend, I would note that Ayn Rand (who draws a lot of hate, some of it justifiable, much of it not) said this very loudly… And unfortunately, rather pedantically. She was, however, an Aristotelian and influenced greatly by the Stoics. So, if my mention of Rand puts some off, I suspect citing the Greeks won’t.

    The Stoics are certainly smiling from somewhere at your point about “doing the right thing” - without compromise. Utilitarianism is, at its heart, the road to hell; paved with all of the possible good intentions, it begins at Evil because it treats people as some kind of collective. At the heart of being Good - with no quotation marks - is treating no one as a means to an end. All human beings are imbued with a unique moral dignity by virtue of being human. Full stop.

    It is amazing how much of the Good follows from that simple proposition; Contrariwise, it is amazing how much bad follows from a rejection of that proposition.

    There is no amount of Evil that can’t be justified - twisted into “good” - by a reference to a “collective,” no matter how seemingly well-meaning. Make it Team Red, or Team Blue, or Marxism, Catholicism, Nazism, Maoism, or any other collective identity, and it follows ("…as the night does the day") that you wind up with gas chambers, or some post-modern equivalent.

    About the only good news in any of this is that somehow, in spite of our natural tendency to tribalism, human beings retain an ability to reach beyond this for transcendence. We’re going the wrong direction in this country, but people seem to sense it. That’s good news, to my mind, or at least reason for hope. Most folks can’t quite articulate why or what with all of the Narrative being crammed down their throats from government-controlled education, the idiot box, and social media, but there’s at least an awareness…

    I hope your pack continues to grow as the people take your proffered red pill, but I would also hope that people never misapprehend the point that Penn made: we should be a pack that seeks to exclude no one, offers a hand up to all, and remains humble to our own limits and possible errors. Looking forward to more in 2019; this is a wonderful place to read something outside of the dreck that clogs the airwaves and Net.

    (Joseph, thank you for your service.)

    Semper Fidelis,


  18. Another quote that agrees.

    Soren Kierkegaard proposed that each individual - not society or religion - is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or authentically.

    Thank you Ben for what you do for us.

    Jim Handshaw

  19. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    Eric, this was my first concern as well after reading about half the site. I appreciate you bringing this up in this summary post and definitely appreciate Rusty’s link to a reply.

    The coyote in my and Eric’s position will note another trick: just pay $20 once for a 1-month subscription and then read the whole site really fast…

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