Well, it certainly has a unique selling point.A quixotic quest, you would think: rendering the world of quantum physics understandable for the layman - approached quixotically: by fabricating a dialogue between the author, a physics professor, and his rabbit-chasing, treat-loving Alsatian dog.There is something oddly Socratic about Orzal's interlocutions with Emmy the Alsatian. Only in the Dialogues, no-one says "that sounds ridiculous, Socrates". Emmy has no such qualms.As a conceptual device it works as well as it can be expected to, though at times both Chad and Emmy expect too much of their readers. That is one smart dog.Over the years I've read plenty of popular science treatments of quantum physics (more than your average bear, I dare say, but of course that's not to say I necessarily understood them), and I still found my eyes glazing over at some of the depth to which Orzal was obliged (or at any rate inclined) to descend in expounding quantum theory. Emmy stays with him throughout, and eggs him on.I have always harboured suspicions about the scientific inviolability claimed of this sort of physics. Real, falsifiable empirical evidence seems in short supply (often being suspiciously forbidden by the very terms of the theory, or at least buried under many sedimentary layers of mathematical assumption) and quantum effects have a habit of conveniently being unobservable in any dimension meaningful to everyday life. Or vanishing (er, I mean, collapsing the wave function) when you try to measure them.Which, to this old sceptic, gives them a religious sort of disposition - true by definition; true because smart men learned in arcane lore say so. (I should say I'm not alone in this view: properly credentialised physicists like Peter Woit and Lee Smolin have also expressed it).That said, Orzal is no (ahem) dogmatist (indeed, trying to de-mystify the scriptures as he does makes him more like a sort of Lutheran reformer), and I think is prepared to admit of some missing links in the overall theory (I couldn't work out whether quantum entanglement, which is "non local", falsifies relativity or not).Then again, the only practical upshot I could derive of all this colossally brain-contorting discipline is the possibility of "quantum computing" - apparently faster and cheaper than boring old silicon.Orzal's main objective, finally arrived at in the closing chapter, is to debunk phoney new age baloney which purports to trade on quantum underpinnings - quantum healing, and that kind of thing. This is done effectively, but at some cost: by underlining the singular uselessness of quantum theory in every day volumes, velocities and quantities. Whenever it would come in handy (often, when chasing squirrels, as Emmy astutely observes), by its own theory, quantum effects would be unobservably minuscule.Which makes this old goat wonder why we bother digging up the Swiss countryside and dropping trillions of dollars of supercooled electromagnets into it just to find another unobservable subatomic particle. Surely we can figure out whether quantum computing works by trying to building a quantum computer?In the final analysis, and as other reviewers have said, I put this book down having a better general understanding of the gist of a number of really quite difficult concepts - enough to keep my end of the conversation up if sat next to a physicist at dinner - even if the details and implications below that remain entirely murky - and so in that regard, it is a tough job imaginatively and successfully done.And, now matter how cute the device seems, you can't help but like the irrepressible Emmy, even if she does understand Schrodinger's indeterminacy better than I do.
This is a monster book packed with fascinating insights about how our cognitive systems process and render information. Its starting premise is that we have two discrete "systems" for mental processing. Daniel Kahneman, a cognitive psychologist who transformed himself into a Nobel Prize-winning behavioural economist, gives these the Dr. Seussian labels "System 1 and System 2".System 1 is fast. It makes snap judgments on limited information: it manifests itelf in the "fight or flight" reflex. System 2 is more deliberative: courtesy of this, one meditates on eternal verities, solves quadratic equations and engages in subtle moral argument. Though this is interesting enough, their interaction is more fascinating still. System 1 is lightweight, efficient and self-initiates without invitation; bringing System 2 to bear on a conundrum requires effort and concentration.This talk of snap judgments calls to mind Malcolm Gladwell's popular but disappointing "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking". Kahneman's account, rooted in decades of controlled experiment, is a far more rigorous explanation of what is going on, and is able to explain why some snap judgments are good, and others are bad. This conundrum, unanswered in Gladwell's book, is Daniel Kahneman's main focus of enquiry.It also invokes another popular science classic: Julian Jaynes' idea of the "Bicameral Mind" - wherein there are large aspects of our daily existence, which we consider them conscious, really are not - driving by rote to the office, playing a musical instrument - these are also mental processes, I imagine Kahneman would say, undertaken by System 1. Jaynes was widely viewed as a bit of an eccentric: Kahneman's work suggests he may have been right on the money.It gets interesting for Kahneman where the division of labour between the systems isn't clear cut. System 1 can and does make quick evaluations even where system 2's systematic analysis would provide a better result (these are broadly the "bad" snap judgments of Gladwell's Blink). But System 2 requires dedicated mental resource (in Kahneman ugly expression, it is "effortful"), and our lazy tendency is to substitute (or, at any rate, stick with) those "cheaper" preliminary judgments where it is not obviously erroneous to do so (and by and large, it won't be, as System 1 will have done its work). Kahneman's shorthand for this effect is WYSIATI: What You See Is All There Is.Kahneman invites the reader to try plenty of experiments aimed at illustrating his fecklessness, and these hit their mark: it is distressing to repeatedly discover you have made a howling error of judgment, especially when you knew you were being tested for it. This has massive implications for those who claim group psychology can be predicted on narrow logical grounds. The latter half of Thinking Fast and Slow focusses more on our constitutional inability to rationally adapt to probabilities and soundly wallops the notion of Homo Economicus, the rational chooser each of us imagine ourselves to be. This is where Kahneman's Nobel Prize-winning Prospect Theory and gets full run of the paddock.Kahneman draws many lessons (which, by his own theory, doubtless will go unheeded) for scientists, economists, politicians, traders and business managers: "theory-induced blindness"; how we become (irrationally) risk tolerant when all our options are bad and risk averse when all our options are good, and how we systematically underweight high probability outcomes relative to actual certainty. For those with nerves of steel there's a real arbitrage to be exploited here.This long book is a rich (if "effortful") store of information and perspective: it is not news that our fellow man tends not to be as rational as we like to think he is, but we are inclined strongly exclude present company from such judgments. Kahneman is compelling that we are foolish to do so: this is a physiological "feature" of our constitution: the "enlightened" are no more immune. This is a valuable and sobering perspective.
Viktor Frankl was, as he put it, "a professor in two fields, but a survivor of four camps - concentration camps, that is". Already a renowned psychotherapist, Frankl's experiences at Auschwitz and other concentration camps provided him profound and striking insights into human psychology. He sets them out in this brief and elegant book. Firstly, when put in a situation of extreme adversity or deprivation human personalities do not blur into one "uniform expression of the unstilled urge", as Sigmund Freud had supposed they would but, on the contrary, true personalities are accentuated. Secondly, despair and depression are not at all correlated with the experience of adversity, but if anything inversely so: in our modern, plentiful and comfortable times, neuroses are legion. By contrast, on the whole they weren't in Nazi death camps. Frankl was uniquely placed and qualified to comment on this; Freud was not: "Thank heaven," Frankl remarks dryly, "Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside". This seems right: I dare say you don't see much neuroticism in modern day Somalia either (though I do quite like the idea of obsessive-compulsive Mogadishan parents pushing their kids into extra cello lessons.) Frankl uses his anecdotal observations to propose what was in its day a revolutionary psychology: it isn't our primal physical urges which determine our behaviour, with intellectual constructions being mere epiphenomenal by-products (Freud would have it that love, for example, was a spin-off of the deeper primal sexual urge), but the other way round: it is the intellectual content - the *meaning* of our lives that shapes and drives our behaviour and, crucially, our happiness. The more profound and compelling you find the meaning in your own life, the less neurotic you're likely to be. This leaves open the question of what "meaning" might be, and what might make a profound and compelling one. This question Frankl doesn't answer, rightly I think, other in rather an airy fashion. Anecdotally, meanings are more likely to count as profound and compelling the more gravely connected with the "tragic triad" of pain, guilt and death they are (no shortage, therefore, at Auschwitz). But beyond those axes, the implication will be that we, the users, determine our own meaning. This may perhaps be a little self-fulfilling, and neurosis may be a product of existential frustration (in other words the confounding of one's own quest for meaning through preoccupation with things you don't truly value): Frankl cites a senior American diplomat who sought treatment from depression arising from discontent with his working life. Frankl's advice was not undergo psychotherapy, but to change his job to something he cared more about! But all the same this seems to me a plausible explanation for modern melancholy: who, these days, isn't continually and forcibly preoccupied with things he or she doesn't truly value? That seems to perfectly capture the "asset rich, time poor" existence. This is a short book, but it's a gem: the message of plurality and self-determination are ones which should strike harmonious chords in the ears of those, like this reviewer, who are nudging into middle age and wondering if it is quite all what it cracked up to be.
You're either an Apple Fan boy or you're not (I'm not, as a rule). I suspect many of the reviews of this book are, therefore, proxy votes not on Walter Isaacson's talent, but Steve Jobs'. Isaacson has, as the heart of his book, the Steve Jobs business philosophy. It is this, as much as jobs' unnatural flair for design, which separates him from his peers: most of the rest of the founding fathers and prophets of the tech revolution - Hewlett, Packard, Grove, Gates, Brin and Page, Fanning, Lessig, Zitrain - even Apple's own Wozniak - are united by the same insight: that modular components which put the decision in the hands of the user make for a tremendously powerful thing. This is the genuinely revolutionary, anarchic disposition which has shocked the political, corporate and social order over the last 20 years. It's a revolution of which Steve Jobs, and his beloved Apple, wanted no part.It is difficult to conceive of how different the world now is - hard to remember how rigid and immovable was the social architecture which the internet blew away (but which, if Zitrain is to be believed are regrouping forces). Flying in the face of the Web 2.0 dogma, Steve Jobs, virtually alone, believed in closed, tightly integrated, designed, controlled products. This remains a profoundly old-fashioned outlook for a tech company to adopt. Isaacson does an excellent job of highlighting a colossal *conceptual* chasm between Apple and the rest that most users simply won't credit. An iPhone is, philosophically a very different thing to an android smartphone. An iMac is a profoundly different thing to a PC. Your preference between them still comes down to an instinct: as between closed and open; tight and loose; predictable and flexible; probable and possible; centrally planned and laissez faire; design and fiat and even, melodramatically, God and evolution. These days most folks seem to prefer centrally planned, at any rate inasmuch as they buy Apple's articulation of it.Apple's articulation of it, of course, has been incredible. Even Bill Gates acknowledges that Apple has made some really cool stuff. (I'm hacking this review out on a dented Blackberry Curve, but coveting the iPad on the lap next to me. It irks me, but I really want one). And Steve Jobs accomplished this in a way that illustrates the validity of his model, however awkward that might be for the political orthodoxy. And he was a beastly bit of work while he was at it.Walter Isaacson gives the most sullen Googlista reason to respect Steve Jobs' achievement, and the most fawning mac apologist reason to abhor him. Jobs was a difficult individual with little of the grace and style of his products. He was prone to angry tirades, and was often instantly dismissive of what turned out to be excellent suggestions. He was similar with his family. Those who stayed close enough, personally or professionally, to understand how he ticked (notably Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, wife Laurene Powell, chief Apple designer Jony Ive and Isaacson himself) learned to accommodate his foibles remarkably effectively, ignored the histrionics and did what they felt was the right thing anyway. Which, as Isaacson makes clear, is what Jobs expected anyway.This is a well told story about the singular vision of a remarkable man.Olly Buxton
This book is custom made for people like me. I'm a decade too young to have copped David Bowie first time round (still in nappies when Ziggy played his farewell gig at Hammersmith) but discovered the whole back catalog, in one fell swoop, in about 1984 courtesy of K-Tel's The Best Of Bowie cassette, which I still maintain is the best Bowie compilation there is.Thereafter, painstakingly, I acquired every Long Player that Bowie ever released. I learned every word and every chord. Convention wisdom, and I, will tell you the most fertile period in David Bowie's career was the "RCA" period from Space Oddity in 1969 to Scary Monsters in 1980. And that period is what this new book is mostly about.Peter Doggett has done us aficionados the service of biographing that period through the lens of every song Bowie wrote and recorded in it. Lyrics and song composition are analysed and contextualised. It's a smart way to ensure Doggett's subject's history is integrated with its creative output: an important job many biographies fail manifestly to do.That said, it's a fraught one: we all have our own Bowies, and it isn't edifying to encounter a radically different interpretation. Nor is lyrical over-analysis in vogue these days and nor, specifically in Bowie's case, did it ever pay dividends anyway (Not The Nine o'Clock News once lampooned his approach with its "Sing along with David Bowie" feature, whose method was: "rearrange the following words in any order and sing them to any tune in a silly voice and you'll have your very own Bowie classic").And, lastly, the job was comprehensively done anyway in 1986 in the form of Peter and Leni Gillman's masterly "Alias David Bowie", which gently deconstructed and then rethreaded Bowie's material through the lens of a family history of insanity and alienation.Doggett's book is less gentle in its deconstruction and (whether he intends it or not) markedly less flattering: the Bowie that emerges from close analysis is a superficial, opportunist whose great talent is that of reinvention. On Doggett's reading there's no great personal insight to be derived from Bowie's material, his value as a social commentator is limited (much is made of a couple of ill-judged remarks hinting at pseudo fascism dating from the Station to Station era) and much of his material is ill-judged or hastily conceived. Young Americans is given a bath, as is conventional, but so to are Hunky Dory, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, and poor old Lodger gets an absolute pasting.I was mostly persuaded that Bowie's persona had more substance than form, and I suppose that is really the point: in the final analysis Bowie's legacy hasn't been the material itself so much as the doors it opened: the medium - the form, if you like - being the message - and I imagine this book will appeal to diehard fans and even those relative new-comers fancying immersion therapy as a way to get into the World of David Bowie - which is a world like few others out there.Still, for me Alias David Bowie remains the definitive biography.
When I've had too much coffee by brain starts spinning out and I can't get to sleep: thoughts belt around like I'm watching five films simultaneously, all on fast forward. Nothing stays in focus for long, but thoughts - some profound, some funny, some scary and some downright weird ricochet off each other like superheated pool balls - often, I've thought, illustrating Chomsky's famously unintelligible sentence "colourless green ideas sleep furiously". The wife calls it my buzzy brain phase. Why do I tell you this? Because reading The Quantum Thief is a bit like having buzzy brain, or at any rate being hotwired into someone else's, and listening to it through a blanket. Hannu Rajaniemi is fiercely intelligent (I read somewhere he's an actual quantum physicist) and he has some powerful ideas. But from the outset, you're expected already to be familiar with them (game theory and the prisoner's dilemma starts, without exposition, on page 1), and then to be nimble enough to follow Rajaniemi's fictional assemblages without any real help from the author. True, he's thereby refraining insulting his readers' intelligence, but at the same time parading his own, and I dare say it is only the most energetic, talented or disingenuous reader who claims to keep up. Many do. One thing to draw from these confections: this isn't hard sci-fi, no matter how many name-checks there may be to Robert Axelrod or nanotechnolegy. I suspect Rajuaniemi is throwing round concepts and hoping they stick, and readers are blustered into pretending they do. Personally I don't think hannu's impish ingenuity - and there is plenty of it, to be sure, is nearly enough to carry the day. I don't think he defies conventional narrative archetypes so much as is completely ignorant of them: Billy Sheehan once said, you have to know the rules before you can break 'em. This is a poorly plotted novel - there are far too many characters, significant ones are under-explained, and the characterisation is wafer thin across the board. Science Fiction can do one of two things: either present a plausible alternative universe based on credibly worked out science (or alternative science) - this is "hard sci fi"; a spod's paradise, but has at least the merit of theoretical integrity - or it can function as a metaphor for an exploration of recognisably human dilemmas (as, for example, Philip K Dick's extraordinary body of work did). Or, optimally, both. The Quantum Thief is neither: the "science" is way too airily thrown about (and under-explained) and the narrative is so confusing (and the baloney science too intrusive) for the story to have significant resonance as a morality tale. What's left - all that's left, I think - is a buzzy brain. Now my own buzzy brain is exasperating enough; having a ringside seat at someone else's is a mite more than this koala can bear.
" This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force. "- Dorothy ParkerHaving been doggedly customer reviewing for over a decade, I've received my fair share of solicitations to review terrible self-published novels.It takes unquestionable intellectual ability and focus to turn out 200 pages of uninterrupted prose (it is certainly beyond me: I've tried on many occasions and always given up, hence I stick to a length - book reviewing - I can cope with), and frequently these books are imaginative in scope. But from the first page, you just know they're no good, purely from the prose style.This book is one I would commend to all those authors: it addresses the most common categories of prose misjudgement that amateur writers make. Many of them are eminently correctable. Much boils down to "if in doubt, and frequently, even when not in doubt, leave it out". I have heard this expressed in the aphorism "murder your darlings". Amateur novels tend to be colossally over-written. A confident writer will not need to over-woo his audience, and is secure enough to leave the "world-building" to his reader.Lukeman does the great service of going, systematically and thoroughly, through the ways you might do weed out overwriting. He supposes (correctly) that you'll already have a manuscript, and that the job is thus one of editing rather that prospective composition.The first part of this book is first rate on why adverbs and adjectives should *generally* be avoided like the plague. First timers tend to ladle them on. (The need for a modifier implies weakness in the selection of a noun or verb. So choose better nouns and verbs).His discussion of dialogue, characterisation, and setting - and critically, their interaction with the plot - is also enlightening.The book does tail off in enthusiasm towards the end (despite discussing it Lukeman hasn't any practical advice for how to deal with pacing or tone, although it's hard to think what such advice might be) and his text is blighted by his own use of obviously made-up, exaggerated examples of "bad" writing: presumably Lukeman has waste-takers full of real examples, and these would ring more truly for his target audience and better emphasise his point.Nevertheless, this quick book really ought to be a compulsory read for an aspiring novelist, ideally before he seals and addresses his A4 envelopes.
Bob Lutz belongs to a dying breed, which will be missed when it's gone. Garrulous, opinionated, politically incorrect and unstintingly frank, it's hard to see how he ever made it in corporate America, and harder yet to see how his like will ever make it again.More is the pity is my assessment and, for that matter, his too.Over a long career Lutz has held senior position at all the big US automobile manufacturers and at least one European one. The closest he came to outright CEO was an eight year spell as Vice Chairman at General Motors from 2000 until its filing for Bankruptcy Protection in 2008. This book - Lutz' second - entertainingly recounts that period and GM's corporate history leading up to it; a history, in Lutz' telling, organised around the theory that GM was, from its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, laid low by the cult of Total Quality Management. I must declare something of an interest: I work in an industry, and for an organisation, suffering a similar blight. Lutz' passionate peroration rang resonantly with me.Now, of course, everyone believes things aren't quite what they used to be. But even without knowing much about cars it's hard to argue that any vehicle in GM's 1998 fleet could bear favourable comparison with a '57 Chevvy, a '65 GTO or a '68 Camaro. By 1998 the fall from grace was complete. Lutz identifies a number of factors at work. Some have the air of hobby horses (environmental skepticism) and bete noires (Toyota, and the "left wing" media's love affair with it); many go against the political grain and are expressed indelicately (if entertainingly) enough to prompt those who wish to, to write the book off altogether: pooh-poohing concerns about the melting ice cap, Lutz remarks "Hello! Polar Bears can swim!"Many, however, are insightful and benefit greatly in their expression from Lutz' direct approach. Lutz writes simply, clearly, and with great humour.Chief among his targets, as the book's title suggests, is the cult of the management consultancy which has swept the world since the summer of love. The relentless drive towards cost cutting, commoditisation, brand segmentation and regularisation - all things, Lutz concedes, which have their place in a well-run organisation - at the expense of product excellence, instead of in support of it (a component of product excellence is reliability and value for money, after all) is the operating cause of GM's long decline and fall. Lutz' anecdotes are never less than hilarious as they illustrate how process and efficiency was allowed to drown out all other components, including not just design and style but product quality itself. A $25,000 investment cannot be branded and flogged the same way a toothpaste can, and as long as the predominant management ethos is that it can (for decades GM assumed their customers chiefly wanted a low-cost means of conveyance from points A to B, and that anything more was a nice-to-have), the management strategy is bound to fail. For in that scenario GM is competing with the second hand car market, a fight it simply cannot win. And nor did it. Product excellence, Lutz argues compellingly, must be the overriding goal to which all other endeavours are aligned. Product line rationalisation is always justified if it permits greater focus of resources on better quality product. This is no more than a codification of the 80:20 rule. Somehow, with TQM, this truism of capital production was lost in the PowerPoint miasma.Lutz is equally perspicacious on the subject of regulation, and he isn't quite the gas-guzzling scorched earther you might expect. the sine qua non of GM's trouble was Government political weakness in response to the 1970s fuel crisis. Instead of doing what every other developed nation had long since done, and imposing taxes at the pumps to constrain demand, congress took the politically convenient measure of constraining supply, by imposing draconian constraints on engine capacity and configuration. Having for a generation enjoyed pump prices a quarter of those anywhere else in the world, US manufacturers suddenly found themselves having to drastically retool, redesign and reconfigure their entire fleets, by regulatory fiat, whereas their European and Japanese competitors, long used to higher fuel prices in their domestic markets,were able to flood the US market with well developed, tested and compliant vehicles. Needless to say the new range of four cylinder American cars were beset with teething and performance problems, and as Lutz would have it, the US manufacturers have been on the back foot ever since. Lutz' view is that pump taxes would have given GM the breathing room to modify its fleet over a sensible period of time.That complete revision of the product range unhappily coincided with a period where the Bean Counters were allowed the run of the ranch, and a catalogue of disasters, all briliiantly recounted by Lutz, ensues. I had to wipe away tears of laughter on the tube - never a good look - at Lutz description of the GM ash tray that worked at 40 degrees below zero. There are great lessons to be learned in this candid, entertaining book, and I dare say Mr Lutz would be an excellent raconteur. Car-making, in essence, is a simple, if difficult business which requires the instinct of product experts - "car guys" - to be successful. The drive to manage away the idiosyncrasies of these very individuals in the name of consistency and process misses the stark fact that often times it is precisely that idiosyncrasy that generates the spark of excellence in the first place. In the final analysis Lutz is grudgingly respectful even of Toyota: still a privately held business, with excellent processes and systems but still subject to an imperial will that Lutz found sorely lacking at GM.A hymn to all those at the peril of management consultants and other well-intentioned parasites, this book is well recommended.
Emanuel Derman is a "quant" of illustrious pedigree: not only a 20-year veteran of Goldman Sachs (say what you like about the Vampire Squid but over the last couple of decades Goldman's financial analysts have consistently been the smartest guys in the room), but also a close colleague of nobel laureate Fischer Black, co-inventor with Myron Scholes of the (in)famous Black Scholes option pricing model.Given that the motion before the house concerns misbehaving financial models you might expect some fairly keen insights on this topic: It has already been well documented that Black Scholes doesn't work awfully well when the market is in a state of extreme stress - that is, precisely when you want it working awfully well. In fact, in those situations Black Scholes can create havoc, and memorably did during the Russian Crisis of 1998, during which Myron Scholes' pioneering hedge fund Long Term Capital Management catastrophically failed.But this isn't Emanuel Derman's interest: the specific inadequacy of Black-Scholes (that it assumes that market events occur in isolation of each other and are therefore arranged according to a "normal" probability distribution) rates barely a mention. Derman's view is that reliance on *any* financial model will end in tears, simply because models are poor metaphors which are not grounded in the same reality as the sciences whose language they mimic.Hmm.Benoit Mandelbrot, whose excellent book The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets clearly outlines the "tail risk" inadequacy of Black Scholes, recognises that it is the market, not the model, that tends to misbehave. A model can't be blamed for failing to work when misapplied. Guns don't kill; the people holding them do.This is a narrow example of a broader principle which (counterintuitively) is true of all scientific theories: they only work within pre-defined conditions in carefully controlled experimental environments. Even Newton's basic laws of mechanics only hold true where there is zero friction, zero gravity, infinite elasticity, infinite regularity and a total vacuum, conditions that in real life never prevail. "Real life" experiments are thus indulged with a margin of error: that a heartily-struck cricket ball does not prescribe precisely the trajectory Newton says it ought is not evidence that his fundamental laws are wrong, but the simply that the pure experimental requirements for its true operation are not present.All scientific - and, for that matter, any other linguistic - theories benefit from this "get out of jail" card: they are what philosopher Nancy Cartwright calls "nomological machines", explicitly pre-defined to be "true" only in tightly circumscribed (and often practically impossible) conditions. The looseness or tightness of those constraining conditions and the consequences of marginal variations to them determine how useful the theory, or metaphor, is in practice. F=MA will be a better guide for a flying cricket ball than for the proverbial crisp packet blowing across St. Mark's Square.Emanuel Derman thinks science really speaks truths, while models peddle something less worthwhile. He sees a qualitative difference and not merely one of degree. Models he treats as broadly analogous with metaphors, which he says depend for their validity on comparison with an unrelated scenario. Theorems and laws, on the other hand, need empirical validation but once they have it stand rooted to the ground of reality by their own two feet.I'm not sure the distinction is as sharp as Derman thinks it is. Nevertheless, this talk of metaphors cheered me because the vital role of metaphor in constructing meaning is overlooked even by linguists, and is completely ignored by most scientists and mathematicians. But Derman makes less of it that I hoped he might.What Derman means by metaphor is really a simile: the ability to reason by analogy with something already well understood. A model, under this reading, makes its prediction by reference to what would happen in an analogous situation. "Resemblance is always partial, and so models necessarily simplify things and reduce the dimensions of the world". But metaphors are far more powerful, expansionary operators in scientfic and literal discourse than that.In Derman's world there is a clear line between fact and metaphor and he has trouble being patient with people who confuse it. That would include me, because I have trouble seeing the boundary between metaphorical models and theoretical (or even literal) reality: each is an abstraction, each a simplification, each a "nomological machine" which only has value within a set of parameters. Literal meaning is really a species of metaphor. The difference between a model and a theory is one of scope and degree: a model is a heuristic; a theory more of an algorithm. Models are less worked out; more rules of thumb. If so treated, both have reat practical uses provided their output is treated with an appropriately sized pinch of salt. LTCM's folly was to suppose their model could solve for something it manifestly could not. Scientists in recent times have been just as guilty of ontological overreach, so I'm not enormously sympathetic with the bee in Derman's bonnet.There are plenty of better grounds to take umbrage at Investment Bankers at the moment, in other words.What we are left with is really a low level, idiosyncratic grumble. There are better books written on this and similar subjects: Mandelbrot's The (Mis)behaviour of Markets remains the technical classic, and Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable a more entertaining popular entry. Not quite sure where this fits between.