Tuesday, February 2, 2010

“I trade, therefore I am”—I hope not!

As part of my casting time (think fishing, not Hollywood) I looked at Edward Toppel’s little e-book Zen in the Markets: Confessions of a Samurai Trader. It’s not especially enlightening for anyone who has read the basic trading literature. He rails against chartists, saying that since history doesn’t repeat itself we must focus on the present and “listen to the voice of the market.” He advocates an egoless view of the market, “a view that is free of personality needs.” But what stopped me in my tracks was the so-called Samurai trader’s philosophy: “I trade, therefore I am.” (p. 12)

Here’s a man who claims that we have to say goodbye to Aristotle. Aristotle and Aristotelian logic, Toppel announces, belong “in universities and not in markets.” (p. 20) Yet he lifts and twists the famous pronouncement of Descartes, not exactly known as a Zen philosopher, to draw some kind of relationship between trading and being.

I am certain that Toppel is not making a fundamental epistemological point, so we need not retrace Descartes’ argument. He might simply be saying, “I trade, therefore I am vitalized.” As long as it’s not a prescription for overtrading, I don’t have a problem with the Cartesian knock-off. But he might also be saying something very dangerous: trading defines my very being, if I’m not trading I lose my sense of self. (And please don’t tell me I should go back to Logic 101; I’m describing what I suspect is a definition, not an “if . . . then” statement or a truncated syllogism.)

Here’s my point. Trading cannot define who we are. If it did, we could not be egoless traders (if that is even a worthy goal). More important, we would be impossible to live with; I can’t see how we could even live with ourselves. Trading is a business. It’s more than a job, much less than a life. I am, and am glad to be a trader, a reader, and a lot of other things that are peripheral to this blog. (Though, since I believe in working around the edges, I’m sure that sooner or later you’ll be introduced to Delta the geriatric basset hound and will hear about the progress of new varieties in the vegetable garden.) Trading is only part of a whole, however passionate a person may be about it; it cannot consume us to the point of taking over our lives, our very being.


  1. Brenda,

    Totally agree with you point. While I find value in Zen, I'm under the impression that many of the writers of these books simply jump in the wagon of whatever is (or was) in vogue at the moment, relate it vaguely to their supposed field of expertise, put together a few aphorisms and call it a day (or a book).

    Coincidentally, I just read The Tao of Trading by Robert Koppel, which closes with the following gem:

    "Now greet the market in the spirit of the words of the 18th-century Zen master Hakuin: 'So happy to see you. I have nothing to say!'"

    True Zen masters indeed!

    Best trading,


  2. sounds like the book captured nihlism well. On a continuum of descriptors, trading sits between risk management and gambling. Nowhere on this behaviour continuum, should one percieve they have found a higher state of being or personal development.