“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
— Albert Einstein

Imagination: Freedman vs. Einstein

I don’t know if Einstein said or wrote those words. The internet attributes that quotation to him, so it probably belongs to someone like Kurt Cobain or Roman Polanski. Maybe Benito Mussolini. I read somewhere — maybe the internet — that he once spoke highly of the power of the imagination and fine Italian footwear.

My last Labyrinthian was on truth, facts, and data. Essentially my assertion is that facts are superior to truth. Whereas truth can sometimes be idealistic, subjective, and unverifiable, facts are grounded in data. Of course this analysis is based on the simple assumption that having data is preferable to not having data.

And yet the quotation from Einstein — a guy who liked numbers — seems to suggest that truth is better than facts. To me, the problem with truth is that it often is too imaginative. It inherently can have limited regard for what’s actually true. But facts appeal to me because they are more than just substantial. They are substantiated. They collectively constitute the edifice of knowledge.

So who’s right? Einstein? — or Freedman?

“Divide the Living Child in Two”

I’m humble enough to cut the baby in half and say that we’re both right.

In fact, I think the story of King Solomon and the baby could be illustrative. Here’s the outline of the story from 1 Kings 3:16-28:

Two women live in a house together. They both give birth to baby boys. During the night, one of the babies dies, and the mother replaces the other woman’s living son with her own deceased infant. In the morning, the other woman wakes up and finds that ‘her’ baby is dead — and then she recognizes that the baby isn’t hers. She realizes that the housemate stole her child. Both women go to King Solomon’s court and tell him their version of the ‘truth.’

To discover the facts, Solomon imaginatively calls for a sword and orders that the baby be cut in half, with the two halves to be given to the women. The mother of the baby asks that the boy be allowed to live and given to the other woman, who in turn says that the baby should be cut in half. With this new information, Solomon determines that the woman who wants the baby to live is the mother, and she is granted custody of her son. Everyone in Solomon’s kingdom appreciates the abundance of his wisdom.

In the best of worlds truth and fact — imagination and knowledge — work together and reinforce each other. Solomon used his imagination to discover an unanchored truth — that the mother would rather lose the baby than see it die — and then he used that truth to find new information (or data) with which he could establish the fact of maternity.

In my last piece, when I said that “the difference between truth and fact is that truth is the result of interpretation while fact is the outcome of verification,” I didn’t mean to imply that truth has no purpose. Rather, I wanted to highlight that, in a world that seemingly values truth (and often half-truth) above facts, the solidity of reality is a worthwhile comfort.

But philosophical truth is still important. It possesses the spirit of inquiry and the wonder of exploration. The quest for truth is the journey to discover whether the monsters we’ve seen in dreams in fact exist. Truth is the consequence of imagination.

An Etymological Consideration

I’m willing to bet a six-pack of Coors Lite that this is the first fantasy sports article to use the word ‘etymological’ — or at least the first one not written by Matt Waldman.

Have you ever thought about what the word ‘imagination’ actually means? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a.k.a. word porn digest, ‘imagination’ comes from Middle English via Old French.

Two quick asides:

  1. Geoffrey Chaucer is Middle English, not Old English. If you ever have a conversation with a nerd who brings up Chaucer, you’ll be prepared.
  2. I once knew a guy getting a Ph.D. in Old French. I don’t know what one does with that degree. Worst-case scenario, he could maybe write for a DFS site.

Ultimately ‘imagination’ comes from the Latin verb imaginari: ‘To picture to oneself.’

That root is helpful. To imagine something is not ‘just’ to think of it or discover it. Through imagination, one transforms a thought into a mental image that can be seen and considered, an image that resembles the real.

Imagination is the process through which ideas take form, literally.

What is DFS Wisdom?

Let’s return to Solomon. What made his subjects realize that he was wise was not that he discovered the truth. It was how he discovered it, the imaginative scientific method he brought to bear and the mental acuity with which he interpreted the information he collected. Solomon was wise because he knew how to leverage his imagination to create fact.

I often write about ideas outside of daily fantasy sports because it’s possible that DFS wisdom resides not so much in the knowledge of particular professional sports but in the way that people use their imaginations to discover new insights.

Wisdom is less about knowledge and more about the ability to learn, which is why the most important resource on this site (arguably) is not our Player Models, Trends, or any of our other Tools but rather our Support Center, where our library of tutorial videos is housed.

In my opinion, the No. 1 mistake that most new users make is the failure to watch as many tutorial videos as possible right after they subscribe to FantasyLabs. This is the opinion of a guy who once read the instruction manual to a toaster — so it’s not surprising that I believe in ‘full knowledge’ — but that doesn’t mean this opinion is any less true.

Solomon was wise because he was willing to do anything — no matter how unorthodox it seemed — to learn. Wisdom is the desire to master a subset of knowledge and the wherewithal to do so.

The DFS Use of Imagination

Solomon used his imagination in two ways that are applicable to DFS.

Also, as an aside, I should say that perhaps I should change the title of this piece to something like “King Solomon’s Wisdom and Daily Fantasy Sports,” but I’ve already selected the photo of Einstein and I don’t want to take the extra 120 seconds it would take for me to find a pictorial representation of King Solomon and switch it in, so we’re stuck with Einstein. Anyway . . .

Solomon’s imagination:

  1. It led him to a contrarian tactic.
  2. It led him to consider the valuations people make.

Without question Solomon was a contrarian. In DFS, contrarianism is essentially imagination in action. Stripped down of all the theorizing and posturing that surrounds it, contrarianism — at least in practice — might be nothing more than the willingness to let the imagination wander the oceans of possibility long enough to land on shores of foreign thought.

Contrarianism is the imagination’s brainchild.

No one should be contrarian just for the fun of it, but instances always exist in which contrarianism is warranted, and it’s almost impossible to be contrarian if one has not cultivated the imagination. I have thoughts on how to cultivate the imagination that I’ll probably share in a future Labyrinthian. Right now it’s enough to say that far too many DFS lineups fail because they lack imagination.

Let’s think about how Solomon determined the truth. He did it not by asking the two women nuanced and parsing questions. Rather, he acted. He commanded. At its best, the applied imagination is not passive but active.

But most importantly Solomon discovered facts not by looking for the facts per se but by considering the way the women valued what they believed. It was proxy investigation. Solomon’s inventive method sought not to discover truth in the women’s testimonies but to reveal through their actions the extent to which they valued the infant.

Solomon made a judgment based on the value that the ‘market of mothers’ placed on the baby. Metaphorically, Solomon saw that the mother had an ownership percentage of 100 percent while the pretender had no investment. He was wise in sensing that he had a better chance of being a successful judge if he sought to determine first not the underlying facts but the way that the women acted based on their perspectives.

DFS Ownership

Solomon was considered the wisest person of his day, and he was basically Balesian in his applied approach to knowledge.

FantasyLabs co-founder Jonathan Bales has said in a number of places that, because DFS investment is easier to predict than the production of professional athletes, he prioritizes ownership when he’s using our Lineup Builder to construct rosters.

DFS operates in what might be thought of as a three-dimensional space:

  1. Inherent value
  2. Primary market value
  3. Secondary market value

The inherent value is the production (or ‘worth’) of the professional athletes in a given slate. The primary market value is represented by the salaries that DFS sites have assigned to players in a given slate.

Lots of people understand those two dimensions. It’s easy to think on one plane. But that third dimension is important. It’s the difference between simple geometry and astrophysics.

The secondary market value is represented by the ownership percentages — the degree of investment — of DFS players across their contests. The contrarian tactic is to focus more on the secondary market of DFS investors and less on the intrinsic worth of the underlying assets and the primary market of the DFS platforms.

We think that the doorway to the mansion of DFS success is the third dimension of participant investment, which is why we are meticulous with and proud of our ownership projections. The edge they provide is unrivaled in the industry.

People rely too much on the DFS/stock market analogy, but when day traders buy and sell stocks in a matter of seconds they’re never making decisions based on the underlying worth of the companies represented by the shares. Rather, they’re reacting to the market’s valuations of those shares.

Focusing on ownership is an imaginative approach to DFS. It sometimes feels wrong because it calculatedly (though not actually) ignores the dynamics of the professional sports on which DFS is based. Building a strategy around ownership feels suboptimal.

And it is. Often the profitable strategy is to attempt not to be optimal.


The Labyrinthian: 2017.8, 103

This is the 103rd installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation. Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page.