Zemblanity and Serendipity in Guardian and Trader Narratives


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Zemblanity and Serendipity in Guardian and Trader Narratives

  1. 1. Zemblanity and Serendipity in Narrative Rationality Venkatesh Rao vgr@ribbonfarm.com Refactor Camp, March 7, 2015
  2. 2. No tension Start tension Rising tension Peak tension Falling tension Tension resolved ?
  3. 3. ? What made the protagonist NOTICE the bomb? Take a moment to imagine a fill-in-the-blank event
  4. 4. Basic question Can narratives uncover new truths? OR Are they instrumental mnemonic structures at best? (Taleb) Narrative Rationality (model developed in Tempo) OR Calculative Rationality (Behavioral Economics)
  5. 5. Narrative tension: audience torn between two or more possible emotional states corresponding to two or more possible outcomes (S)he lives, we’re happy (S)he dies, we’re sad Hero(ine)
  6. 6. Increasing number of possible outcomes Decreasing number of possible outcomes
  7. 7. Notices with p1 <p <p2 chance of escaping Delay T Boom …but has no chance anyway, no time to act Notices surprisingly early, with p>p2 chance of escaping … plenty of options, time to behave optimally …Notices too late, with p<p1 chance of escaping Act of nature E1: Bomb Planted E2: ? Random Universe (no meaningful agency) Causal Universe (no meaningful agency) Real life (fair fighting chance) Serendipity (surprisingly lucky) Zemblanity (unsurprisingly unlucky)
  8. 8. NATURE of assumed universe in a narrative is implied by … 1. Delays between successive salient events 2. Causal link between successive salient events Delay T E1: Bomb planted E2: ? ? Behavioral economics concerns live here: Confirmation bias, survivorship bias, attribution error, analogical thinking, overfit patterns, just-so stories, rationalization E3: Bomb discovered
  9. 9. Delay T E1 E2 This is causation, no problem. What about this? Is 𝑷(𝑬𝟐|𝑬𝟏) within the realm of “normal”? E2 ? E3 ?
  10. 10. Surprise (play) Unsurprise (taxes) Pleasant (life) Unpleasant (death) Serendipity Zemblanity Bahramdipity* Bahramdipity Extraordinary sense of certain doom, beyond data Extraordinary sense of certain luck, beyond data * Bahramdipity: when a force suppresses serendipity Thanks Morgan Sutherland for suggesting this 2x2 Winning side (Eg. Crony capitalism) Losing side (startup killed by crony regulators) Feel of a post product-market-fit startup On the way to deadpool
  11. 11. Certainty Surpluses Subjective belief stronger than justified by known facts, analysis and probabilities. • Serendipity is a positive certainty surplus (“I am charmed”) • Zemblanity is a negative certainty surplus (“I am doomed”)
  12. 12. Null Hypothesis There is no such thing as serendipity or zemblanity Certainty surpluses are entirely in our heads
  13. 13. Eight Non-Mutually-Exclusive Accounts of Certainty Surpluses 1. False confidence: You’re an idiot (Dunning-Kruger effect) 2. Black Swan: Your expectations are too narrowly calibrated 3. Hidden Agency: Somebody really is conspiring for/against you 4. Metis: Your behavior embodies existing tacit knowledge 5. Causal illiteracy: You’re rediscovering known phenomena 6. Comfort seeking: We like to feel certain of our beliefs 7. Self-fulfilling prophecy: Belief creates serendipity/zemblanity 8. Computation: You are discovering and using new things in real time through storytelling before understanding them “More than trial-and-error” hypothesis. Let’s explore this possibility
  14. 14. Certainty Surplus: Subjective belief stronger than justified by known facts, analysis and probabilities. Competence Surplus: Luck-wrangling capabilities greater than accounted for by conscious and unconscious skills
  15. 15. Defensible data Leap-of-faith pseudo-data Occam’s Razor Inspired abductive* reasoning OR “Overfit” Ugly fact ignored in favor of beautiful theory * Neither deductive, nor inductive; what Sherlock Holmes does
  16. 16. Hypothesis: Serendipity depends on using open-world opportunity to create salience
  17. 17. http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/highly-distractible-people-have-more-creative-success
  18. 18. COMEDY Monty Python and the Holy Grail Black Knight Sketch TRAGEDY/DRAMA Cool Hand Luke Fight Scene Zemblanity: Hopelessness of a Closed World Two examples: what’s the difference?
  19. 19. Classical Tragedy and Comedy are both Zemblanity • Difference #1: tragic hero is more skilled* than non-hero • Difference #2: tragic hero knows he is doomed, comedic non-hero does not (see: Steve Kaplan, The Hidden Tools of Comedy)
  20. 20. "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.“ -- Heinlein *Competent Man trope
  21. 21. Noble character plus fatal flaw (hamartia) Tryst with destiny arrives False hope False hope dashed Face to face with death RIP, zemblanity validated Tragedy Hopeless, dignified struggle
  22. 22. Happy go lucky fool thinks he’s blessed Unexpected luck False hope Realization of other side of bargain Undignified struggle to prevail Realizes it’s over, rationalizes back to cheer Back to old life or worse, zemblanity validated Comedy
  23. 23. Key Classical Distinction: Dignity of Struggle, not Outcome Roll the dice after skill exhausted: Cut the green wire: Dignified skilled gamble that goes wrong Do something wild, like throwing bomb in ketchup: Undignified, unskilled, not-even-wrong action Roll the dice after skill exhausted; cut the blue wire: Dignified skilled gamble that goes right Meditatively accept death: Dignified non-action Scream: Undignified non-action Figure out that the blue wire must be cut: Dignified skilled, correct action
  24. 24. But what if it works? Do something wild, like throwing bomb in ketchup: Undignified, unskilled, not-even-wrong action “Wild, not-even-wrong” is not “Random”
  25. 25. Right Wrong Not even wrong Right Wrong Not even wrong A tessellation metaphor: traveling from red to green
  26. 26. Sidebar for Deleuze and Guattari fans (can safely ignore): • Right and wrong actions are striated with respect to a mental model • Not-even-wrong actions are smooth with respect to a mental model Sidebar for John Boyd fans (can safely ignore): • Right and wrong actions operate within an orientation • Not-even-wrong actions reorient to get inside the decision cycle of an orientation
  27. 27. Portals: where not-even-wrong actions in one world are deterministically meaningful in another Serendipity/Zemblanity zones: where not-even-wrong actions in one world are unpredictably meaningful in another What if two tessellations are partially co-extensive?
  28. 28. The Freytag Triangle is an approximation of this… Middle Earth Rules Sauron-Ascendant Rules Age-of-Man Rules Shared notion of “Sacred” Profane/Opposed notion of “Sacred”
  29. 29. WHY are classical narratives zemblanitous?
  30. 30. • change-is-profane mental models and… • … a restoration-of-sacredness imperative Sacred Sacred Increasing Profanity Restoration Peak Transient Profanity
  31. 31. 1. Classical narratives are GUARDIAN (Jane Jacobs) narratives 2. They are about restoring a sacred social order 3. About cherished values prevailing, not new discoveries Expanding possibilities MUST be followed by shrinking possibilities Shrinking possibilities feel ZEMBLANITOUS
  32. 32. What makes non-classical narratives exceptional?
  33. 33. Serendipity requires continuously expanding universe of possibilities You can get luckier than you think through dynamics you have encountered but not grokked yet
  34. 34. Side view: the Freytag staircase (see Tempo) 1. “To infinity and beyond!” feel 2. Endless adventures, no return 3. Like science/technology/innovation 4. COMMERCE narratives (Jane Jacobs)
  35. 35. In the tessellation metaphor… Increasing complexity, variety, aperiodicity, randomness of tessellation Progressively less “escaped” realities* *See: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2015/01/16/on-the-design-of-escaped-realities/ Technical bunnytrail: 2013 PhD thesis, “Computational Complexity and Decidability of Tileability”, Jed Yang, UCLA. http://www.math.ucla.edu/~pak/papers/Yang-thesis.pdf
  36. 36. Are there such narratives?
  37. 37. https://vimeo.com/2113477 Yes!
  38. 38. Adult “Restoration of Sacredness” Skills Classical storytelling
  39. 39. What might non-classical storytelling skills look like? • Necessarily more comic than tragic • “Unreasonable effectiveness of wild actions” • Hitchhiker’s Guide
  40. 40. Comic Book Exercise 1. We will use a template based on bomb example 2. Self-identify as artist or scriptwriter and pair up 3. Decide broad story parameters a) Serendipity or Zemblanity for hero/heroine (or villain)? b) Are characters Guardian or Trader? c) Comic or Tragic? (right/wrong/not-even-wrong action?) 4. Brainstorm an inspired, abductive overfit to filled-in frames 5. Storyboard till you get a story you like 6. Draw, letter and ink the final version like a stick-figure pro 7. Turn in to a facilitator for inclusion in Refactor Camp 2015 comicbook