Lecture twenty-three of first period of the last semester:
Today’s topic – “What went wrong with Wall Street”
The professor’s trying to connect with the class. He’s trying to have us look past
Sagan-like hair, black pants poorly paired with brown shoes, sleeves stained with chalk, an undeniable excitement in his voice when he says the word “canonical”.
He’s trying to get us to see a forty-four year old father who watches The Daily Show before bed, someone that’s hip with the times. He says something about Twitter and that singer in the meat dress. He references Charlie Sheen.
He draws a graph on the board with three lines
And we’re all thinking it- What the **** is that green line.
fully defined by two parameters;
graphs drawn in green have fat tails
a summation of green graphs with fat tails- a summation of par bonds will default with some non-zero probability
Lehman Brothers should have taken statistical physics
That is his joke for the day. Only students paying attention and students who bother with current events and students with a sense of humor laugh. It’s a small subset.
The kids in the sixth row aren’t listening, the ones in the Greek lettered shirts with their pledge names on the back and their laptops open. Sixth row is just close enough to look like they give a **** but far enough in the back so the TA’s can’t tell they’re checking their fantasy football teams. The TA’s sit in rows one through four.
The joke is for the kids in the sixth row. Anyone in the first through fourth, the ones considering graduate school in higher dimensional theory or quantum chromodynamics, doesn’t know what Lehman Brothers is, least of all a par bond. A joke about spherical cows? Laughter from rows one through four would interfere constructively off the chalkboards, but that is not who Sagan-wannabe is talking to, and the kids in row six aren’t listening.
They are watching Sunday night highlights, ignoring green lines and fat tails because, let’s be honest, they’re only here to get the answer to the question on the homework that they couldn’t find online.
The sixth row has taken what they learned in the lectures before this, the semesters before this one, the first days of classical mechanics, where they learned the universe is governed by predictable and definable laws, and given a set of initial conditions one can determine an outcome.
fully defined by one parameter;
The sixth row Facebook’ed their way through the undeterminableness of quantum, the green lines on the board now. Their laptop screens hide the fat tails describing the bundles of par bonds they will be selling upon the completion of this semester.