Fight or flight?

Late one night, on August 15th, 1977, the Big Ear radio telescope in the USA picked up a strong narrowband radio signal on the frequency of 1420 megahertz. Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later while reviewing the recorded data. He was so impressed by the result that he circled on the computer printout the reading of the signal’s intensity, “6EQUJ5”, and wrote the comment “Wow!” beside it, leading to the event’s widely used name. The signal appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and bore the expected hallmarks of extraterrestrial origin.

The two most common instincts for humans and most animals when they encounter something unusual are to fight or to run away. It turned out that the “Wow!” signal made people run away and buy extra toilet paper.

It was a calm night on October 19th, 2017, when Robert Weryk, using the Pan-STARRS telescope at Haleakalā Observatory, Hawaii, observed a small object estimated to be between 100 and 1 000 metres long, with its width and thickness both estimated between 35 and 167 metres, enter our solar system from beyond the stars. It was the first interstellar object ever detected passing through the Solar System, and when the news exploded on the airwaves, people rushed out to buy extra toilet paper. This object was later called “Oumuamua”.

On 5th March 2020, it was reported in South African news that a traveller returning from Italy tested positive for Covid-19. Within a space of 18 days, 402 cases were detected among people with no travel history. So naturally people rushed out to buy extra toilet paper.

The moral of these stories is that when something unusual happens, human beings tend to panic first and then ask some questions later. It is very important for us as investors to know this, because in most cases, when people panic and sell every single share they own, it creates a buying opportunity for those people who choose to stand and fight rather than run away!

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