2012 : WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?

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Professor, Financial Engineering, Columbia University; Principal, Prisma Capital Partners; Former Head, Quantitative Strategies Group, Equities Division, Goldman Sachs & Co.; Author, Models.Behaving.Badly

Sleep Is the Interest We Have to Pay on the Capital Which is Called In at Death

Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate
of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.

So wrote Arthur Schopenhauer, comparing life to finance in a universe that must keep its books balanced. At birth you receive a loan, consciousness and light borrowed from the void, leaving a hole in the emptiness. The hole will grow bigger each day. Nightly, by yielding temporarily to the darkness of sleep, you restore some of the emptiness and keep the hole from growing limitlessly. In the end you must pay back the principal, complete the void, and return the life originally lent you.

By focusing on the common periodic nature of sleep and interest payments, Schopenhauer extends the metaphor of borrowing to life itself. Life and consciousness are the principal, death is the final repayment, and sleep is la petite mort, the periodic little death that renews.