“With Sufism, once you get through all of the wonderful rituals that surround it, if you get to its core, it basically says that you set out on a journey, an endless journey, and you try to travel, except that, that journey takes place in you, and the destination is you, but you have to travel that long road, which is you.”
- Farid Moslehi
Arts Letters & Numbers, July 14, 2012
Our Original ‘Bahr Al Oloom’
For nearly 30 years Farid was my dearest friend, teacher, mentor and confidante. There has not been a thought, idea, hope, possibility, question, project or decision, large or small, that I have made without Farid’s direct input, guidance, wisdom, and encouragement, all matched by his grace, patience and generosity.
Farid’s intellect was a force of nature, shining light on everything he encountered. He had a boundless curiosity, a demanding precision and shared ideas with an astonishing joy. There was no question too large, or detail too small, for Farid and when a subject had the potential to open up new perceptions Farid would slow down to carefully consider how we could handle the moment. With a twinkle in his eye he would say: “this one is actually interesting” and we would enter a kind of timelessness and gently move through the unfolding questions with the creative urgency and precision of astronauts, surgeons, mountain climbers and bridge builders, all in one. Ideas were treated as living geographies to be explored and built at the same time. If approached from the right direction, entered carefully, inhabited, and explored with the greatest respect, the experience of moving within these territories always proved transformative. I can hear Farid, right now, as we sat in the middle of the night in a Texas hotel room and he explained in great detail how the optic nerve grew from the brain to become the eye. Paraphrasing, Farid said: Looking back from here (and he pointed at his eye), looking back down that worm hole in time to the brain, it seems that there is nothing else that could have happened, no other way it could have gone, that the perfect ‘design' of the optic nerve linking the eye and mind was built over time and is now complete. But the astonishing thing is that there are billions of ways it could have gone! Our optic nerves are the result of the particular proximities, interactions and transformations that occurred during this particular 50-100 million years! But there are literally an infinite number of other ways it could have turned out, any number of things along the way could have inflected it, and a different set of pathways between light and our brain could have come into existence. Each of those would have their own impacts on our conscious visual experience and our forms of imagination, thought processes etc. So what is perhaps most astonishing is the realization that this particular outcome, and its impact on how we experience the world today, folds back onto this very conversation we are having. Literally how we ‘see’ and understand our eyes themselves, as we try to ‘picture’ the optic nerve in our imagination as we are discussing it right now is linked to the evolutionary legacy that created the linkages. And the process is not complete; the 50 million years of evolutionary work that went into these linkages continues today. As they function in the present tense, they are still transforming in a longer evolutionary duration, there may be thousands more versions of our optic nerves to come, each with their consequent impact on our forms of vision, imagination and understandings. We then spoke about the difference between blinking and winking.
Avicenna, Charles Darwin, Richard Feynman, Molana… these were among Farid’s colleagues in the project of constructing vast geographies of knowledge; he worked with an astonishing clarity and precision that at once registered and created transformation. Perhaps equally astonishing was Farid’s grace: the wisdom and ease with which he invited curious fellow travelers into his seas to visit various archipelagos of ideas. Looking back, on our many journeys, the places we most often visited involved questions of transformation, we would move together through questions of movement itself: How smoke moves, liquid moves, sharks move, in water and in time, through their 450 million years of evolution. The movement of waves, rolling waves, standing waves, light waves, stars, stardust, planets, clouds, the organs of the body, enzymes, endocrine systems, market systems, financial instruments, bid and ask, price discovery, buoyancies, time, value, and deferred consumption, debt, equity, compound interest, market depth, market cap, credit and credibility, dark pools and dark matter, exoplanets and bitcoins. The movements of ships, risks, opportunities, insurance, interest rates, paradigm shifts, living systems, walls, weapons and debts, disciplines, turtles, children, songs, jokes, chess moves, institutions, nature, the nature of human nature, the moves we make in life’s choices, loves and losses, the tremor in the voice of a young Molana (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī), the tension in the string of Rostam’s bow, all in an endless storm of relational, ineffable motion.
‘Bahr Al Oloom’ is a Persian phrase that can be translated as ‘Sea of Sciences’ but it also has another meaning, which is someone who contains an enormous knowledge and wisdom. The ‘journey takes place in you, and the destination is you, but you have to travel that long road, which is you’. The incredible thing in this understanding of the journey is that we do not travel this inner road alone, but with others. For those of us who had the great good odds, to discover our journey with, and within, the Sea of Farid, nothing could compare to his depth and breath. Farid our greatest teacher; he was, and remains, our original Bahr Al Oloom.
Farid served as a founding Member of the Board of Directors of Arts Letters & Numbers. His constant support and belief in this project is essential to all we do. Arts Letters & Numbers emerged from over a decade of conversations with Farid on the meaning and possibilities of such a project, on the deep value of education, and the transformative potentials of direct interaction among diverse forms of knowledge and ways of knowing. Included here is a text titled ‘Arts Letters & Numbers’ that Farid and I wrote together in 2010, as well as, a short film of one of Farid’s visits to Arts Letters & Numbers. Also included is a selection of short fragments from some of our exchanges over the years. This is to share with Farid’s family, friends and our broader Arts Letters & Numbers community a glimpse of his knowledge and depth of humanity in his own remarkable voice.
Farid’s impact on myself, my family and everyone who knew and loved him is immeasurable. The entire Arts Letters & Numbers community has been touched by Farid and we are sending our love and light to our dearest Homa Shojaie and their shining son, Sohrob. “The Greeks used to say that there is not a short life or a long life. There’s only the life you have, and the life you have is the life that you’re given, the life you work with. It has its own shape, describes its own arc, and it is perfect.” There is something undeniably true and in-fact beautiful in this sentiment of the Greeks, and it no doubt describes the perfect arc of Farid’s life. For those of us who knew and loved Farid, looking back from here, we cannot help but sense an infinite number of other ways it could have turned out. As we continue on our inner journeys together, we will honor, celebrate and love our dear Farid through our questions, ideas, conversations, and works.
Director, Arts Letters & Numbers
“You know, if we had thought about it 4 or 5 years ago, maybe we would have called it ALNO for Arts, Letters, Numbers and Odds! It’s all about odds, from the very subatomic particles coming and going out of existence to who are parents are, who we marry, how long we live, it’s all about odds. I’d love to give a talk at ALN on Odds someday!”
“Generally speaking I'm doing OK, both physically and psychologically I'm holding up well. I still manage to go to work everyday and make all my meetings. I'm productive and engaged. I'm positive and genuinely at peace and even happy. In my own highly twisted and macabre way I'm treating cancer as a unique experience that is bound to be enriching and an experience to be devoured and turned into something worthwhile. These lemons come with one hell of a price tag so we better make one hell of a lemonade!”
“I thought of you and our late night conversations the other night, as Sohrob and I took off on one of those excellent conversations that covered the big bang, string theory, dark matter and energy, multiverse and its implications on ethics and the fact that all of this takes place in 900 grams of grey matter that has never 'really' seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled anything outside of itself.”
“In moments of existential crisis, time has a tendency to collapse, whole chains of events that may usually require years and decades to unfold, suddenly happen overnight.”
“Finally, here's a treat I found the other day:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RiKnLzXAOQ I play and study chess on the bus/taxi to avoid boredom. This is a chess match played in the 30s between Oppenheimer and Einstein. It's such a joy to watch! Despite a couple of poor moves, Einstein simply skewers Oppenheimer repeatedly until he resigns! Not sure if you have much of an interest in Chess, but if you do, you'd get a kick out of this one.”
“I think going along the lines of ALN (arts letters and numbers) for this one makes a lot of sense and fits in well. Just about every recent (last few years) proposal on education that I have seen tries to play on the idea of technology as the great enabler. It is almost over done and seen as a sort of panacea. In fact so much so that many fundamental ideas as well as potential innovations are often overlooked. Nothing wrong with the digital village and the $100 computer and all of that. However, developing a line of thought along the lines that we've been discussing for years may be fresh and alternative new look at the problem. I think this can be developed into a powerful message. I'm not referring to simply the upcoming speech. I'm thinking a little beyond that. UN (and its many organizations) may be particularly well positioned to serve as a platform to deliver this message on a global scale.”
“Well, he is playing a fairly transparent game here. The fact that a Cooper Union education is not a "god given right" does not automatically allow the stewards of that institution to alter and renegotiate its relationship with the society in arbitrary ways. Central park is not a right, so why didn't the city sell it to developers to make condos back in the 70s when the city was completely broke? Felix Rohatyn, the man who dealt with and ultimately solved NY City's fiscal problems did not for one moment consider selling the met or the central park, and he was the ultimate SOB! He did not for a single moment contemplate abandoning the institutions that make up what is NYC, though none of them are a "right". Jamshed should spend a little time reading about how leaders have "saved" institutions through hard times and spend less time figuring out how to surrender and throw over board the most defining and valuable assets of the institution for which he has been given the privilege of stewardship. In my estimate he fails to grasp and understand the meaning of stewardship. Stewards preserve what has been entrusted to their care. He fails that test the moment he asks:" is a Cooper Union education a right?"
“Hello David, Obviously you've been on my mind more than usual these past few days. I was saddened though not surprised to hear of your mother's passing. Yet death, that most assured of expectations always appears so unexpected when it actually happens. I know this is all somewhat of a whirlwind right now with all the things that simply need to be done, and in a few days after the rituals are out of the way it'll be time to sit back and really contemplate it all. In a way, life is like a game of chess, in the sense that the longer it goes on the emptier the board gets and losing a mother is having a major piece leave the board. The board looks somewhat bigger with more empty squares and more puzzling than ever before.”
“However, make no mistakes about it: my life may be very hard but at the same time it is incredibly sweet and wonderful. I suffer through my happiness and I rejoice through slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!”
“OK, I like your definition and I think it’s complete. What I think is missing is a bit of reasoning regarding why this program actually works. So, before getting to examples we need to make sure the idea has been supported by reasoning and if possible evidence. The central tenet of your idea, as I understand it, is that “an exchange among different disciplines leads to the emergence of an amplified voice which in its content is richer and more nuanced than the sum of the individual voices. It also contains greater possibilities of exploration and discovery.” Let’s consider that to be a theorem. Now we need to argue its validity. The arguments should come from 3 potential sources: (1) Logical arguments motivated by deductive reasoning, (2) Historical precedents and (3) Evidence in the form of examples. I believe you offer examples and anecdotal evidence. I would like to see the logical arguments and historical reasoning’s before we get to the examples.”
“I can think of several potential examples:
1. Paris in the 1920s. A confluence of writers, artists, musicians, etc. (interestingly with a large percentage of Americans) laid the foundation of what arts and letters evolved into during the rest of the century. Just think of the prominent characters of that era and how 1950s is as different from the 1900.
2. Another example (one of my favorites) is the period around the American Revolution. A group of thinkers from a wide range of disciplines came together and pretty much revolutionized history. This is a group that has Franklin (inventor, scientist, printer, politician, diplomat, businessman, etc.), Jefferson (historian, architect, horticulturist, writer, archeologist, paleontologist, etc.), Hamilton (soldier, financial expert, writer, political theorist) , Adams (teacher, lawyer, philosopher, etc.), Hancock (merchant, politician, shipping tycoon, etc.) and all the rest, all coming together and the result is one of the miracles of history.
3. and as a third historical example, consider the grand daddy of them all, renaissance, which uses "enlightenment" as its synonym!”
“Here's a little something you might enjoy. It's an 11-minute recording of the plunge and recovery from last thursday as squawked by Ben Lichtenstein from the s&p trading pit in chicago. what you should keep in mind is that the action ben is describing is thousands of times slower than the electronic version that was actually happening away from the pit; nevertheless, the action that he describes is dizzying enough!”
“Time for an anecdote: One of the most interesting college presidents in the world is Leon Botstein of Bard College. Certainly one of the most interesting aspects of him is how he got his job. He became president of Bard in 1975 when he was just 28 years old! The office had just become vacant and the board was meeting to decide on how to conduct a search to bring in a major figure to run Bard. Botstein who had recently joined the faculty, and was just a young new person on campus went to the meeting (very unusual in itself) and asked to be heard and delivered such a riveting articulation of his vision for Bard and how he was going to get there that he was unanimously appointed the president by the board!”
“The technical term would be "anesthesia", which could be either regional or general. "general anesthesia" refers to the complete loss of consciousness, but for your purposes you can take "anesthesia" to mean the same thing. The colloquial term for it would be "under" as is "while the patient was under", where "under" refers to being "under the influence of anesthesia". To get a bit more technical about it: "analgesia" is the state of being immune to pain but maintaining consciousness, "sedation" is having one's consciousness impaired so that one can endure great discomfort and pain and "anesthesia" is loss of consciousness so no pain is felt and surgery and other extreme procedures can be performed. In actual practice, any patient who undergoes anesthesia will at some point before/during/after also be given sedatives and analgesic medication.”
“In a sense, for the most part, electronic (algorithmic) trading has side stepped both traditions of "fundamental" and "technical" trading and has opened up the world of trading to a wide range of far more powerful ideas borrowed from math, computer science, genetics, physics, logic, etc. which make the old "fundamental" and "technical" trading paradigms appear truly limited in their scope and applicability. Even the thought process has experienced an evolutionary leap in a revolutionary time frame. We now talk about "trade mutation", "survival bias", "order semantics", "echo minimization", "dark pool", "jack knifed solution", "agnostic logic", "prisoner's dilemma" and terms like that which would have absolutely no meaning to even the most experienced traders at any investment bank, hedge fund or NYSE floor unless they are deeply involved in electronic trading. Notice you don't see this "language" in the pages of the Wall Street Journal or on Bloomberg or any published book on trading (not yet at least.) In some sense, this sort of integration of otherwise orthogonal ideas into a single practice might be telling us something about globalization (not in its specific econo-political meaning, rather in its grander philosophical interpretation) as a reaction/answer to postmodernism. You see it in finance, environmental ecology and information technology based media.”
“These are a few observations and notes on your second question. Before I get started with expressing views and opinions, it is instructive to realize how wrong we often are when we engage in such an exercise. As an example, read the attachment "BWGSTopTenSum.pdf" to this email. It's a conference summary from a 2005 conference comprised of the likes of Goldman Sachs, Wharton School, Brookings Institute and other "best and brightest" types who attempted to identify the top 10 risks to the global economy. As you read it, you realize that as late as 3 years ago, the best and the brightest had no idea what was to hit them a few months later. So with that bit of disclaimer let's see what we can get wrong this time around:
“Oh, I've been dancing alright! Not so easy either. I think it was Nietzsche who said: "I would only believe in a god who knows how to dance!" Your description of the seminar on light is wonderful and the idea of doing a talk as part of your seminar series is very appealing. Who knows, maybe we can come up with something to talk about..”
“One of my early fascinations with physics came about in 10th grade when my physics teacher described the dual nature of light (wave-particle duality) and de Broglie's hypothesis. De Broglie, a French aristocrat who volunteered to fight in the trenches during WWI is one of the biggies. He claimed that in those awful and endless days of trench warfare stalemate that was much of WWI, he kept thinking about light and ultimately came up with his hypothesis that the motion of any object implies the existence of an associated wave, which forms the foundation of a major effort to reintroduce causality into quantum mechanics. His work laid the foundation of David Bohm's later attempts at introducing very deep philosophical notions that were summed up in Bohm's masterpiece "wholeness and the implicate order" which I literally carried on my person for a few months when I was in grad school. In that book Bohm talks about motion, light, cognition, alternatives to quantum theory and more or less what Douglas Adams would refer to as "life, universe and everything else" in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! Maybe, that's what we should call the lecture: life, universe and everything else;-)”
“I'm not sure if you are putting me on or if you really mean to ask a question of such a huge scope. I'll make the assumption that you are serious.
“I certainly hope for cooler heads prevailing in the India-Pakistan situation. There are plenty of crazy people on both sides to start something terrible, I just hope for an outbreak of sanity! “
“A far more interesting historical discussion is in fact Japan, nuclear devices and debt! Atomic bombs were used to bring Japan to its knees. After the emperor, who had been viewed as deity until then, surrendered to the allied forces, McArthur, the supreme commander of the allied forces in the pacific, forgave the emperor and left him as the emperor. The debt of gratitude created by this strategy, coupled with the by then extremely credible collateral of nuclear annihilation were so powerful that Japan switched to the western value system, the western economic system, and the western cultural icons almost over night! The debt that was created was so overwhelming, and the collateral so credible that it led to an immediate foreclosure! Japan became part of the western alliance and in fact has been the second largest western economy for a few decades. Interestingly enough, in the final showdown between the United States and the former Soviet Union, as US outspent the USSR by vast amounts in military spending, it was in no small part due to the ability of the Japanese investors to buy the obligations of the US government.”
“Where you mention the earth as a closed system, and talk about the sun and nuclear weapons, I have a bit of difficulty with your choice of words. I don’t think they are precise enough. I’d write more along the following lines: any physically closed system must obey conservation principles, a balance between the state of the system and the addition and removal of resources to and from the system. If the closed system is expanded to include the planet in its entirety, then there are no addition or removal of any resources into and out of the system, with one exception: the energy from the sun. This external input is fundamental to virtually every form of life on the planet. This gigantic nuclear fusion event is ultimately the only external input that continually adds to the resources of the planet, and is absolutely fundamental to any economic system, so much so, that it is always taken for granted. At the other end of the macro economic spectrum is the debt burden, the cost of carrying debt, the interest. Where as the sun is a source, the interest on debt is a sink. It takes the fruits of productive enterprise and makes them vanish. However, debt requires security, individual debt, credit and collateral is aggregated into institutional debt credit and collateral, and in turn into larger units of aggregation until we consider central banks and governments and their debt, credit and collateral. Ultimately the full faith and credit of a sovereign state is backed by its military might and military alliances formed to protect it. Behind the banks are the tanks, and behind them bigger weapons, and ultimately the most powerful weapons: nuclear fusion devices, or devices that are created to duplicate what goes on in the stars such as our sun. In a chilling symmetry these technological fragments of the sun are the ultimate collateral used to secure debt, and to give meaning to the phrase full faith and credit of nations and economic systems. Of course the debt itself, or the desire to collect the debt, is ultimately the chief deterrent that has kept these weapons from being used frequently.”
“Shah-Nameh translates directly into (Shah=king, Nameh=book) the book of kings and was composed by Ferdowsi about 3 centuries after the Persian empire fell to Arab invaders. That event changed not only the religion but culture and most importantly language. In its content it is a book that tells of a mythology that is loosely based on history and scholars keep going back and forth on just which history is Ferdowsi trying to mix with mythology! In one camp are those who believe he is trying to retell the struggle of the "noble Persians" against the “powerful Arabs" and another camp believes that it is the struggle of the same Persians against the Turkic invaders (Turkic tribes of Central Asia that for centuries had caused problems for the Persians) and incidentally at the time of its composition Iran was ruled by Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi, who was a Turk and he left plenty of reasons for people to think of him as an evil ruler! And yet there is a third camp that think he is retelling a very ancient history from centuries earlier. And the most interesting theory claims that he is telling the epic battle of Farsi as a language against Arabic, so it is a linguistic battle!! The other point about Shah-Nameh as the quintessential mythology of the Farsi speaking people is its contrast with the Western mythologies. In the Farsi version the eventual confrontation between the father and son (new and old ideologies) happens without their knowledge of the existence of each other! Rostam doesn't know Sohrob is his son and Sohrob has no idea he is taking on his father in battle! And at the end it is the Father (old, tradition, status quo) that prevails! In the Western versions of this type of mythological confrontation such as Oedipus, at the end, it is the son (new, non-traditional, etc.) who knows from birth (by prophesy) that he will kill his own father and eventually does! Hope this helps and yes, choose your children's names wisely!”
“I just got through reading your piece (several versions since last night actually) and I think it is coming together very nicely. In the interest of time I'd like to save my comments for one last round. I'll wait until your last version today and then see if there's anything that can really be added or changed for tomorrow and send them to you. I think it is more important at this point to solidify what's there than add to it. We did a lot of trying new ideas over the last few days already. The ending is getting much stronger. Hammer away at it and I'll do a final pass over it by tomorrow morning. I think you're about to make them sit up!”
“This last part takes all the charm of the story away. Let’s not include it. They undoubtedly get it. The way, I would carry on with that opening would be to bring “transformation” and “discipline” together and from that juxtaposition arrive at education and school. Something like this: The ubiquitous observation of our time is transformation: cultural, technological, social, and economical. Transformation rearticulates the familiar, the prosaic, the presumed known, in a new articulation, in an attempt to address new and as yet unmet needs and desires. Often risky, always challenging and occasionally perilous, transformation relies on discipline to manage and mitigate the inherent risks and challenges. It looks to discipline to discover and find its guiding principles. Institutions, the creators and stewards of disciplines, are the crucibles in which the many elements, disciplines, come together to experience and produce the alchemy of transforming ‘how we see today’ into ‘how we will see tomorrow’. “
Farid Moslehi is KCG’s Head of Asia responsible for operations in the region. He has wide experience in risk management and trading.
Farid was Head of Asia for GETCO from 2012 until the company’s merger with Knight Capital Group to form KCG in July 2013. He joined GETCO in 2005 and has served in a variety of capacities, including Chief Risk Officer, trader and team leader in both data services and risk management.
Before GETCO, Farid was was an independent trader for 6 years. Prior to that he was a fixed income derivatives trader with Bank One and First Chicago. Earlier in his career he held positions in technology, quantitative research and risk management at Lehman Brothers, CIBC and First Chicago
Farid has a B.S. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.