[UC San Diego psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt] ran three experiments with a total of 12 short stories. Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story—classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver—was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.
Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.
The same held true for mysteries. Knowing ahead of time that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is, in fact, the perpetrator not only didn’t hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it.
Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.
The point is that 60% of stock trades are being done by machines, operating according to a set of algorithms and inputs, which (I’m pretty sure) do not include natural language parsing of the news.
Yet whenever the stock market makes a move, the financial press constructs post hoc narratives that explain what’s happened as a reaction to the news of the day, as if the news is what was was motivating the trades. For example, here’s Reuters confidently explaining today’s nose-dive in terms of various events that made headlines, none of which are a computer glitch. (15 minutes later, Reuters tweeted the alternate explanation.)
This fascinates me. Most stock market trading is being done by machines, but the stories we tell ourselves are about humans responding to new information. You can’t interview an algorithm about why it made a certain choice. In the absence of that knowledge, it seems clear that the financial press just makes educated guesses and acts as if correlation is causation. It’s speculative fiction.
This afternoon I had the great pleasure of interviewing Carey Wallace and Jill Lamar, two remarkably creative women with deep insight into creativity, faith, and the world of publishing. Carey’s first novel, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, will be released by Viking Penguin this summer. Jill is a senior executive at Barnes & Noble who directs their Discover Great New Writers program.
We had a fabulous conversation about fiction, story, what helps artists create (hint: too much money is actually a bad idea), and how Christians can create excellent art of all kinds. Fortunately the conference call, sponsored by Wedgwood Circle, was recorded. If you care about art, writing, and faith, it’s absolutely worth an hour of your time. You can listen here (free registration is required). Enjoy. (I’m sure of one thing: by the end, you will want to read Carey’s new book when it comes out in July.)
Pixar is also unique because of its origins. Today’s studios are four generations removed from their original immigrant entrepreneurs. They’re more like banks than movie companies, made up of employees all surrounded by constant reminders that they work for a mega-conglomerate always worried about making back its investment. Though owned by Disney, Pixar is still, creatively, the construct of Steve Jobs, a first-generation technological entrepreneur and visionary.
“We’re a studio of pioneers who, if you look at it technically, were the ones who invented much of computer animation” says Lasseter. “Everything we’ve done no one had done before—it was all new. So that creates a group of people who strive to break new ground. It’s addicting. When someone comes in and says, ‘This is something no one has ever done before,’ we all get excited. We have a company culture that celebrates being pioneers.”
He adds: “Because we’re a culture of inventors, nothing is standard operating procedure for us. We constantly reevaluate and reexamine everything we do. We go back and study what works and what didn’t work and we get excited about what didn’t work because, for us, that’s a challenging new problem to solve.”