All the world is a stage

Schopenhauer claims that modern education is crap because it teaches formulas and frameworks first, and then expects students to apply them to reality. This they naturally cannot do (which is why everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to Peter Theil dumps on MBA). We are oppositely constructed: to intuitively understand first and then abstract these intuitions later. Two entities who have understood this nature of the human mind thoroughly are Munger and the Mathematicians.

One of Munger’s most enduring papers is his list of 25 misjudgments. You can memorize his list, but you will still fail utterly in real life. It’s because Munger didn’t begin with his list. He gained real intuitive understanding of how he works, an understanding hard won through extended self-reflection, and then abstracted his intuitions into his list. This is why his lollapalooza is so hard to get, for most people.

Many great mathematicians have also recognized this. Atiyah says: In the day mathematicians prove, but at night they dream. Stellar math texts use exceptional motivating examples to pave the way to abstractions. Bill Thurston says that the purpose of math is not proofs, but understanding. A proof could be correct, but if people don’t “get it,” it will go nowhere. Thurston also asked people how they dream and visualize math. The answers show how astute Schopenhauer was.

When it comes to human affairs, however, nothing can rival theater for the purpose of understanding. Which is why I love plays in plays. What can be more fun than The Mousetrap Murder of Gonzaga in Hamlet? Or the Mechanical’s Play Pyramus and Thisbe inside the Midsummer Night’s Dream? The characters in the play are gaining understanding from the play in the play. And we spectators are getting a double dip along the way.

All social sciences, because they pertain to human behavior, can be taught through impromptu plays in the class enacted by students. The Merchant of Venice is a phenomenal primer of financial markets. Elasticity of demand, etc., can all be illustrated by having a desperate buyer in love buy a rose from a sole seller, and then having another seller show up on stage and upstage the first seller with a competing orchid.

It is a crime not to stage our own The Mousetrap Murder of Gonzaga and the Mechanicals in our classrooms to explain everything from the liquidity trap to the theory of comparative advantage.


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