Biggs constant

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Financial cosmology

The JC’s guide to theoretical physics in the markets.™

A Biggs hoson, captured by Voyager 1 in 1991.


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The Biggs constant (also known as the “Biggs threshold”, the “Biggs minimum”, and the “Biggs point”, after British financial naturalist John Meriwether Fortescue “Jack” Biggs) is the point at which incremental legal mark-up can not make less of a difference to the juridical content of a passage without making none at all.

It is the moment just before one’s last guttering flicker of plausible contribution to the forward momentum of a transaction is snuffed into a curlicue of waxen smoke; the instant before the tiny pale blue dot of one’s personal justification for even bothering to show up is finally, utterly, subsumed into the awesome grandeur of the negotiational cosmos.

Relevance in contemporary theoretical finance

Any Legal markup can be situated somewhere on a “utility continuum”, between the deal-killing blockbuster, whereby a legal eagle saves her client from certain ruin, at one end, and guileless frippery, by dint of which she scrapes over her billable threshold for the month, at the other. The median point is, we need hardly say, nearer the fripperous end, but if you venture a few standard deviations past that, you approach an absolute theoretical minimum, beyond which the utility of any legal mark-up is utterly nil. That final, infinitesimal point, past which the thinnest atomic strand of half-hearted value can be no further reduced — the so-called “Biggs constant” — was first isolated in 1997 when, either by deliberate design or happy accident, a gentleman from the in-house team at a leading financial services institution found it while marking up a pricing supplement he had received by fax. From me. Despite the Byzantine complexity of the document, his only comment was a direction to his diligent counsel — yours truly — to remove the bold formatting from a full stop. This he communicated, also by fax, at 2:35 in the morning. In the kind of irony that accompanies so many of the world’s most momentous occasions, it turned out upon inspection that the full stop wasn’t bold in the first place, but was a printed artefact from the low resolution of the fax.

Biggs hoson

Since 1997, any legal mark-up that reaches the Biggs threshold exactly, but does not exceed it for meaningfulness — the smallest possible size for a forensically significant jurisprudential particle — has been known as a “Biggs hoson”. Being highly unstable, the hoson is rarely seen outside laboratory conditions and will quickly decay into levity, giving off copious quantities of entropic gas in the process.

The self-referential definition as an example of a Biggs hoson

A “Dilbert definition”, in which referential expression == referent, is a frequently claimed example of a relatively stable Biggs hoson, though its status as such is hotly contested at certain sorts of dinner table.

See also