Saturday, 3 May 2014

Game Theory - Heather Dyer

Copyright Levente Fulop
Game theory must be the epitome of Western faith in logic. We think that if we plug in some variables and press a button we can predict the future. Apparently, we apply it to all sorts of things: economics, war… It’s founded on our belief that if we know enough facts we’ll be in control. But do we really think that we can ever come close to factoring everything in? Isn’t it a bit like trying to predict exactly how the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Tokyo will affect the time that Mrs Morgan arrives at work in Sheffield?

And yet, perhaps those game theorists have a point. If, as quantum physicists now seem to believe, "we are one", the flap of a butterfly’s wings will affect the time that Mrs Morgan gets to work. Nothing acts in isolation. Every event, every movement, every action, every thought is affected by everything that has come before it and in turn affects everything that comes afterwards. So there is, in fact, a formula connecting Tokyo and Sheffield – and if we could plug in every variable we could calculate the outcome.

In order to predict such complex causality with any certainty, however, our equation would have to take everything into account. The result would be that it wouldn’t just predict one outcome, it would predict every outcome. It would be huge. It would be a mathematical equation that would incorporate the entire world. No - the universe! Wait a minute – this equation would be the universe. Our primitive little left brains, which like to quantify and categorize, simply aren’t sophisticated enough for this sort of maths.

Our right brains, however, would seem to be designed to compute exactly this sort of all-encompassing complexity. Not logically – but intuitively. In the creative and scientific disciplines, tiny portions of the Great Equation tend to reveal themselves in brief, bright flashes of insight, during which we shout ‘eureka!’ In fact, David Bohm, quantum physicist and author of On Creativity, believes that the intrinsic appeal of all artistic or creative endeavour is this moment of satisfaction, in which we perceive what he describes as ‘a certain oneness and totality or wholeness, constituting a kind of harmony that is felt to be beautiful’.

The truth, in other words.

Writing fiction involves exactly these sorts of flashes of insight. They’re like lightning strikes, illuminating the way. Flash by flash we find our way through the forest, and step by step the narrative unfolds. Every step must link logically – truthfully – to the one before it and the one that comes after it. One false note and the chain is broken and the mathematics goes awry.

If we try and predict a plot logically, using a pre-arranged formula – the way that game theory seems to – it tends to feel ‘wrong’. It never quite rings true in a way that makes you want to shout ‘eureka!’ What a novelist wants is for the causality of events to be so sophisticated and yet so flawlessly logical that afterwards the reader thinks, “I didn’t see that coming – but in retrospect, of-course it was inevitable.” This sort of integrity is rarely achieved by the logical mind; it has to be intuited.

So, step by step we intuit the way. We draw on all the powers of our unconscious to intuit exactly what a certain character will do and what will happen as a consequence. Intuition is about widening our perspective, holding the whole world of our novel in the periphery of our vision in order to feel the pattern.

The end result is a plot: a linked sequence of cause and effect that has an almost scientific integrity to it. The plot reveals the underlying pattern, the mathematical formula that underpins our novel’s ‘reality’. How do we know if we’ve got it right? Because it feels right. It clicks.

Sometimes people assume that writing fiction must be easier than non-fiction. They assume that because you can make it up as you go along, you can write whatever you want. But nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t just write whatever you want. You have to write exactly what would happen. No wonder writing fiction is so difficult. We are trying to predict the future.


Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting exploration of the workings of intuition - and I love the picture of the lady in the red dress!

John Dougherty said...

Finding your way between the lightning strikes! What a great metaphor. That's it.

Andrew Preston said...

Seems to me, it's the daily plod in some form that usually lays the foundation for so-called lightning strikes, and sudden intuitions.

Heather Dyer said...

I suppose the lightning strikes are our reward for doing the daily plod...

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jeanpwebster said...

Thank you for this, Heather.