Econophysics
and
Phynance


    Obnoxious Liberals by Jean Michel Basquiat (1982)

"If I had my life to live over again, I would elect to be a trader of goods rather than a student of science. I think barter is a noble thing."
- Albert Einstein.

"How could one describe and understand the movement of prices? Physics has always been concerned with dynamics, the way things change with time. It was the tried-and-true exemplar of successful theories and models. And physicists and engineers were jacks-of-all-trades, simultaneously skilled mathematicians, modelers, and computer programmers who prided themselves on their ability to adapt to new fields and put their knowledge into practice. Wall Street began to beckon them. In the 1980's, so many physicists flocked to investment banks that one headhunter I know referred to them as POW's - Physicists On Wall Street."
- Emanuel Derman from My Life as a Quant - Reflections on Physics and Finance. Also check out his blog which has many interesting observations on physics and finance.

"... the ownership of personal or material productive capacity is based upon a complex mixture of interitance, luck, and effort, probably in that order of relative importance. What is the ideal distribution from the standpoint of absolute ethics may be disputed, but of the three considerations named certainly none but the effort can have ethical validity. From the standpoint of absolute ethics most persons will probably agree that inherited capacity represents an obligation to the world rather than a claim on it."
- from The Ethics of Competition (1923) by Frank Knight

The narrative ends with the author leaving Wall St. after realising that "everyone I knew who had been an investment banker for a few years, including me, was an asshole."
- Frank Portnoy from F.I.A.S.C.O


It seems that econophysics can't get no respect ... or can it? There was a June, 2013 article in nature physics entitled What has econophysics ever done for us? which argues that the answer to the title question is, well, quite a bit.

See the reviews from Physics Today, The New York Times, Enterprising Investor, Minyanville's Wall Street, and Seeking Alpha of The Physics of Wall Street: A Brief History of Predicting the Unpredictable (2013) by James Owen Weatherall. The book Physicists on Wall Street and Other Essays on Science and Society by Jeremy Bernstein (2008) includes an essay on physicists and Wall Street. Neither the reviewer from Nature - "The two cultures of Wall Street" - nor the one from The Times Higher Education was particularly impressed with Bernstein's musings on physicists and high finance. Bernstein wrote an earlier (2004) essay on the topic for Commentary magazine called The Einsteins of Wall Street. There are a couple of interesting reader letters responding to the piece. One was from the above quoted Emanuel Derman. He was a theoretical physicist who switched to the financial world and wrote the wonderful book about it - My Life as a Quant - Reflections on Physics and Finance. Finally, while on the topic of books, I believe the 1999 classic The Predictors: How a Band of Maverick Physicists Used Chaos Theory to Trade Their Way to a Fortune on Wall Street is still relevant. See also some reviews of the book such as Vanishing Crystal Ball Gives Way to the Best Black Box in the Industry and Using Chaos to Make a Bundle.

An article about time (in the physics sense) and money (clearly in the "econo" sense) seems to fit as an econophysics article! Check out Einstein on Wall Street, a Time-Money Continuum by Mark Buchanan. All of his writings can be found at Mark Buchanan: Articles & Columns.

See in Einstein and The Great Fed Robbery how you can use the constancy of the speed of light to show that some Wall Street traders cheated!

Commentaries by Paul Krugman on economics and mathematical modeling include 'Deconstructing' Hostility to Economic Ideas and Ricardo's Difficult Idea.

For physicists interested in moving into finance there is Finance for Physicists, a website set up and maintained by Nigel Goldenfeld a physics professor at the University of Illinois. From the 2000 Times Higher Education magazine there's the story First year's salary: Pounds 23m.

For what it's worth here is the "official" site for the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.


Econophysics websites:
Econophysics Academic Programs and Groups:
The Econophysics Colloquium series is named after a famous conference held in Berlin in 1920, attended only by young physicists. Among them, there were Niels Bohr, Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn, who played an important role in the development of quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. The first Econophysics Colloquium was held in Canberra in 2005 and it has been held every year since. Note that there was also a conference Econophysics: Trends & Challenges that was held at the Neils Bohr Institute (!) in May of 2008. See Econophysics: Historical Perspectives (February, 2008) for more details on the "continuous cross-fertilization between economics and physics that has been active in the last centuries." (I didn't find this link all that informative but keep it here for completeness.) There was also a dedicated Computing for Finance conference held at CERN on November 21, 2007, which was specifically aimed at how to use the Grid for financial computing.

Here are some articles on Econophysics and Phynance from the popular to the scientific press.


The following is a sampling of "web-accessable" papers from the arXiv e-print archive on Econophysics and Phynance. There is also the Quantitative Finance (q-fin) archive. Some of these papers are more pure mathematics (but I included them anyway) and some are presumably utter nonsense since they are not refereed.


[Scott Menary] [High Energy Physics] [Physics & Astronomy] [Graduate Program] [York University]
menary@yorku.ca