Author Archives: nogre

Charity and OOPs

Given an Object Oriented Ontology ethics can present a problem.*  It is not obvious how to fit ethics into an object oriented view: even if objects have ethical properties, ethics itself has to be considered just as arbitrary as any other property.  One could, of course, hold some Deontological, Consequentialist or other ethical viewpoint, but this position would have to be justified on other grounds, since O.O.O. is silent on the matter.  Hence having ethics as an ad hoc ontological addition is a problem because it shows that Object Oriented Philosophy is inherently lacking an important part of human experience.

To achieve a more comprehensive viewpoint, while still being object oriented, a different ethical strategy must be taken.

Consider that the objects of our reality are both overdetermined and underdetermined (overmined/ undermined in Harman-y terms).  This means that no matter how we think about our reality, there are multiple underlying phenomena and multiple overarching phenomena that can be understood to govern every part of our world.  Often this is used to develop an argument supporting O.O.O., but I want to develop a different consequence.

By permanently securing multiple fundamental reasons for every phenomenon, no single reason has ultimate sway.  We must, in principle, be ontologically humble.

This means that however much we learn about ourselves, there will always be more, multiple explanations, theories, and phenomena; we are forever interesting to ourselves.

To live with the expanding enormity of human experience, while never being able to fully come to terms with it, then we must forever re-explain and rediscover those unknown parts of ourselves.  To do this we need charity.  Charity for others, charity for ourselves, and charity for that which we do not understand, because we already know we do not fully understand. Having charity — extra time, patience and effort — when we explore (speculate on?) our reality lets us extend our experience into the unknown (the chaos, if you will), even in the face of theories that should completely determine phenomena.  This gives us the opportunity to explore ourselves, others and other ways of life, to find new objects and phenomena, and new ways to be charitable, ad infinitum.

Therefore the same dilemma that Object Oriented Philosophy presents as its ontological support, also yields support for a concept of charity.

Charity, as described, has ethical teeth.  Determining the charitable thing to do in a given situation tracks, at least to my mind, a typical normative ethical stance.  Like deontology it can be seen as having space for moral indifference and praiseworthiness: not all acts are governed by charity, though certain actions can be seen as especially charitable.  Also it has built in brakes.  The principle of ontological humility prevents us from naively applying our personal understanding of charity to others, which means it would be wrong, for example, to donate one person’s organs (without their permission) to save others.

Granted, more work will have to be done to flesh out these ideas, but my hope is that this outline shows that charity can provide a promising start to an integrated ethics within Object Oriented Philosophy.

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* I’m not sure how it happened, but my metaphysics has lead me to a similar position as the Object Oriented Philosophers, at least ontologically.  So for the course of this post, I’m wearing my Object Oriented Philosopher Hat.  My apologies if the arguments above are unique to my theories and not OOP in general, though this post makes me suspect I am not that far off.

Posted in ethics, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Aether Discontinuity

Assume space-time is quantized.  This would mean that space-time is broken up into discrete bits.  It then follows that time is broken up into discrete bits.

This disagrees with basic experience: we can start counting time at any arbitrary point.  “Now” could be any time whatsoever.  Moreover, we run our physical experiments at any given point; we don’t have to wait to start our clocks.

But what if our ability to run experiments at any given point is just an illusion of our universe being broken up into such tiny bits that we just don’t notice the breaks?

Could we design an experiment to test when we can run experiments?

If time is continuous, we would never find any point at which we could not run an experiment.  If time is not continuous, though, we would likewise never find any point at which we could not run an experiment, since all experiments would use clocks that start within that lockstep quantized time.

Hence we are unable to tell the difference between quantized and continuous time such that it always appears continuous.

However, even if time is continuous in this fashion, measurement of time is not.  Since there is a lower limit to what we can distinguish between two different times, even if we are free to start measuring whenever we want, all subsequent measurements are physically dependent upon that initial fixed point.  The second measurement must be outside the uncertainty associated with the initial measurement (the clock start) and the third must be outside the second, etc.  Therefore all physically useful measurements of time (counting past zero, that is) are inherently physically quantized by their dependence upon the instantiation of measurement and limits of uncertainty.

If time is both continuous and discontinuous in this fashion, then so is all space-time.

This leads to the question of which is ontologically prior: if you hold that our reality is defined by what we can measure, then the universe is quantized and our experience pigeonholed; if you hold that our reality is defined by our phenomenal experience, then the universe is continuous and measurement is pigeonholing.

Either way it is a question of the metaphysics — not physics —  of space-time.  And without a way to distinguish between these options, no physical experiment will be able to settle the debate either, since we could always be chasing our metaphysical tails.


I’ve mulled over this issue concerning the logical limits of what can be measured by physics for years, but I never developed any conclusions.  However, there has recently been discussion of the feasibility of a tabletop search for Planck scale signals.  This nifty experiment seems deviously simple with the potential for novel results, so go check it out if you haven’t heard of it yet, for example in this discussion.  One issue that the experiment bears upon is the continuity of space-time at the Planck Scale.  My worry is that the above metaphysical distinction between counting zero and counting past zero may trip up the physicists’ search for the continuity or discontinuity at the fundamental levels of matter.

Posted in measurement, metaphysics, philosophy, physics, Relativity, science, time.

Reflections on Frankenstorm

drugs

I don’t normally see cops smoke on duty, but lots of cops were smoking last week.

Beer was being sold for up to $30 a six pack.  Not good beer either.

I overheard a barista at Verb Cafe in Williamsburg say that Tuesday had been their best day ever.  They did twice their sales of a busy Saturday and closed early because they ran out of everything.  He also said he saw a lot more Nouveau Yorkers than normal.

I smelled no more weed on the street than I normally do.  Stoners are consistent.

zombie apocalypse

The Brooklyn half of the Williamsburg bridge had power, but crossing into downtown Manhattan was like regressing into a time before electricity, or more accurately, a time after electricity.  When it got dark at night, it actually got dark.  Anyone who has been to lower Manhattan knows there is a limit to how dark it actually gets: the sheer amount of ambient light prevents real darkness, even in places without street lights.  This no longer held for the few days after Sandy.  Walking the city was passing through endless empty black canyons, devoid of life and filled with remnants of once useful technology.

Every so often I’d come upon a person sitting on a stoop, looking haggard and sucking hard on a cigarette.  When this happened I wouldn’t notice the person till I was already upon them and walking by.  I couldn’t even muster a head nod, not that New Yorkers would be looking for the social interaction, and it was inevitably too late to bother anyway.

My mom called while I was walking back to the bridge a few blocks south of Delancey.  Surprisingly the cell phone coverage held for the duration of the call.  I could hear her voice drop as I described the situation:   The windows are empty and lifeless for blocks, and I can barely make out the sidewalk.  There are no people, or none that I can see.  Sometimes they would show up, but as I said, they were the strays, and would disappear just as quickly.  The cops, wherever they were, were just as cut off as everyone else.  She ended the call quickly.

They eventually got the power down to 14th street and east of Broadway back on.  This returned some of the ambient light to lower Manhattan, but not like normal.  Instead of the sad darkness, a weak, insubstantial haze took over.  It was like being in an old video game where they just colored everything dark, but there were no actual light sources.  You could see things, but it wasn’t like things were lit or had shadows; it was all shadows.  Unlike the previous nights, which hurt in its collapse of basic New York reality, this haze provided an unreality to the situation. It was a transient state, a purgatory, one where you could feel civilization trying to leech its way back.

My friends who live and work uptown were barely inconvenienced by the storm.

banks and power

A bank was robbed clean by Upright Citizens entering the building’s basement and then breaking up through the floor.

I told everyone that if I had a truck I would have ripped up and ripped off those ubiquitous street ATMs that charge $4 a transaction.  I’m actually surprised I didn’t see any of this.

Goldman Sachs had barricades of sandbags around their entrance ways.  Not sure if they were trying to stem the barrage of water only.

They moved the power lines in the city under ground after the 1888 blizzard, which was the last time the stock exchange had been closed for 2 days due to weather.  This was to prevent wind and snow from affecting the power supply.  So maybe the banks will ‘encourage’ our utilities to make the power supply more water resistant.  Cuomo (NY State Governor)  is threatening to revoke the electricity monopolies of ConEd and LIPA due to the power failures.  Floodproofing New York City would be an unimaginably huge project.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a proposal to actually raise the entire island of Manhattan.  If the banks don’t have battery backup security cameras in a few weeks, though, I will be shocked.

the birds

Fauna in New York is sophisticated.  The animals that live here are either well adapted to living with humans or well adapted to getting out of our way.  However, when I saw a pigeon standing very still near the curb in the street, I felt something was wrong.  A van pulled up and the front wheel missed the pigeon by not even a finger’s width, but the pigeon didn’t move at all.  Then the rear wheel ran directly over the stationary pigeon with muffled bone crunches.

I walked into Washington Square Park and a very obese man followed me in.  I sat on one side of the pathway and he sat across from me.  Often, though not generally, people hanging around in public parks who don’t take care of themselves have mental problems.  Then a large flock of pigeons, which is strange in itself, all descended upon this man.  Standing on him, walking up and down his arms, crowding as close as possible to his body. I saw his face, he looked confused, which I took to confirm my suspicion about him.  He noticed me looking and he spoke, completely lucidly:  “I don’t even have food. What’s going on?  I guess the birds are just as stir crazy as the rest of us…”  He wasn’t crazy at all: the birds went Hitchcock on him, and he was trapped.  I left Washington Square Park.

candles

I only type up my philosophy writing when it is being prepared for general consumption, that is, no longer my own notes.  Otherwise I write with a fountain pen, which I find to be the least intrusive and most versatile writing implement.

So I am at my brother’s place in Williamsburg as Sandy shakes the windows, hoping the power doesn’t go out — the internet and cable TV had failed, but not before we saw the footage of the 14th street power station explosion and cars floating on C.  I lit a candle just in case.

As I am getting ready to go to sleep on his shockingly ludicrous couch (not his fault) I turn off the standing lamp, leaving the candle the only source of light.  I think, “Hey, this is how people wrote in the past.  Every philosopher up till just recent has sat hunkered over a notebook with a bottle of ink, a pen and a candle.  Let’s see if there is anything to it…”

OH MY GAWD.

It is fantastic.  Modern lighting is excellent, but it sprays light everywhere.  Normally this is a good thing: one or two lamps can light an entire room easily.  But for focused concentration, the single flickering point light of a candle melts everything else away.  Romance is good for philosophy.

Posted in news, NYC, random idiocy, technology.

EIFL (Domainless Logic)

I saw this post by Mark Lance over at New APPS and he brought up one of the issues that I have recently been concerned with: What is a logical domain?  He said:

So our ignorance of our domain has implications for which sentences are true.  And if a sentence is true under one interpretation and false under another, it has different meanings under them.  And if we don’t know which of these interpretations we intend, then we don’t know what we mean.

I am inclined to think that this is a really serious issue…

When we don’t know what we, ourselves, mean, I regard this as THE_PHILOSOPHICAL_BAD, the place you never want to be in, the position where you can’t even speak.  Any issue that generates this sort of problem I regard as a Major Problem of Philosophy — philosophy in general, not just of its particular subject.

A little over a year ago I was trying to integrate probability and logic in a new way.  I developed indexed domains in order that different quantifications ranged over different values.  But then I said:

(aside:
I prefer to use an artifact of Independence Friendly logic, the dependence indicator: a forward slash, /. The dependence indicator means that the quantifier only depends on those objects, variables, quantifiers or formulas specified. Hence

Яx/(Heads, Tails)

means that the variable x is randomly instantiated to Heads or Tails, since the only things that Яx is logically aware of are Heads and Tails. Therefore this too represents a coin flip, without having multiple domains.)

I used the dependence slash to indicate the exact domain that a specific quantification ranged over.  This localized the domain to the quantifier.  About a week after publishing this I realized that the structure of this pseudo-domain ought to be logically structured: (Heads, Tails) became (Heads OR Tails).  The logical or mathematical domain, as an independent structure, can therefore be completely done away with.  Instead a pseudo-domain must be specified by a set of logical or mathematical statements given by a dependence (or independence) relation attached to every quantifier.

For example:

∀x/((a or b or c) & (p → q))…

This means that instantiating x depends upon the individuals a, b or c, that is, x can only be a, b or c, and it also can only be instantiated if (p → q) already has a truth value.  If  ((p → q) → d) was in the pseudo-domain, then x could be instantiated to d if (p → q) was true; if ¬d was implied, then it would be impossible to instantiate x to d, even if d was implied in some other part of the pseudo-domain.  Hence the pseudo-domain is the result of a logical process.

The benefit of this approach is that it better represents the changing state of epistemic access that a logical game player has at different times.  You can have a general domain for things that exist across all game players and times that would be added to all the quantifier dependencies (Platonism, if you will), but localized pseudo-domains for how the situation changes relative to each individual quantification.

Moreover, the domain has become part of the logical argument structure and does not have an independent existence, meaning fewer ontological denizens.  And, to answer the main question of this post, every domain is completely specified, both in content and structure.

I’m inclined to call this logic Domainless Independence Friendly logic, or DIF logic, but I really also like EIFL, like the French Tower: Epistemic Independence Friendly Logic.  Calling this logic epistemic emphasizes the relative epistemic access each player has during the logical game that comes with the elimination of the logical domain.

Posted in epistemology, game theory, independence friendly logic, logic, philosophy.

The Carnival is Dead. Long Live The Carnival.

I have almost no philosophical associations at this point. I have been out of school for years and my philosophical interests have little impact on how I feel about philosophies and philosophers on which I don’t work. One of the things I have tried to live by is that I don’t know where the next interesting thought will come from.

Of course, if I have experience with individuals or philosophies then I can make determinations about their worth.

I run this philosophy blog which has a very limited readership. It is always fun to host a philosophy carnival, which I have done three times, and get a boost in traffic. By a vast amount, the link Brian Leiter placed on his blog provided the most visitors.  And it is no secret that his blog is the most, or at least one of the most, trafficked philosophy blogs.

So when he did not link to my last carnival, I thought it was a mistake, but then it dawned on me that he could be angry that I had posted links to something that was critical of The Philosophical Gourmet Report, which he runs.  As I said above, there is no conspiracy here, I just thought the posts were interesting. Then he did not link to further carnivals, which removed major support from the carnival. The explanation given on the new philosophy carnival is that Dr. Leiter was unhappy with the quality of the philosophy carnivals.

This is nonsense.  The philosophy carnivals have been about the same for years.  Also, I put a good deal of effort into my carnival and made sure to have lots of high quality links. Dr. Leiter himself put up a link to the same philosophy posters that I had used in my carnival. Moreover, if Dr. Leiter is happy to regularly link to Philosopher’s Anonymous, which is often enough a philosophical bitchfest (not that I am saying there is anything wrong with P.A.), he isn’t in the least worried about “philosophical quality.”

I really can’t speculate on his exact motives, but, whatever they are, it is odd that the issues are so big that he is willing to be so petty. The carnival provides an opportunity for anyone to write something philosophically interesting and then have an audience, if only the carnival host. It is noble in its modest goal. There is no reason not to support it, even if some random person on the internet links to something critical of something you work on, or you don’t like some of what gets posted.

Regardless of these issues, I am happy to see the return of the Philosophy Carnival. Hopefully the new direction will inspire greater participation and, importantly, support.

EDIT: Maybe I’m just pissed because it looks like I killed it seeing as I was the last regular post before it went on hiatus and then spluttered.

Posted in news, philosophy, random idiocy.

LOL

via M-Phi (A blog dedicated to mathematical philosophy)

Posted in fun, philosophy.

For the Classy Wittgensteinian

Stylish Wine Filled Fly-Bottle


Posted in design, products, wittgenstein. Tagged with .

Review: After Finitude and Facticality

[cross-posted at The Road to Sippy Cups]

Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude © has a very interesting discussion of Hume’s problem, Kant’s Copernican Revolution, the principle of sufficient reason and the relationship between dogmatism and fanaticism. Any one of his analyses on these topics makes the book worthwhile, but I’d like to focus on something different: the fundamental assumption of facticality.

Meillassoux has a factical view of the world, meaning that the world is made up of facts. He does not argue that facticality is a necessary position, though, but as it seems convenient for the rest of his arguments and has an impressive pedigree, he seems to feel this is good enough. He claims this pedigree stems from both Wittgenstein and Heidegger, among others.

This leads to two ways of criticizing his position: either by attacking the ground of the facticality of the world using Meillassoux’s own strategies or by using historic attacks on facticality of the world and applying them to Meillassoux’s position.

First let’s take a look at some historical arguments:

I do not know if Heidegger ever repudiated his views on this subject, but it was Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus © that propounded a factical world. Wittgenstein did repudiate this work, though it is not necessarily the factical world view that became offensive to later Wittgenstein.* However, what we do have is this quote from the Introductions (p. x) of the Philosophical Investigations ©:

For since beginning to occupy myself with philosophy again, sixteen years ago, I have been forced to recognize grave mistakes in what I wrote in that first book [the Tractatus]. I was helped to realize these mistakes—to a degree which I myself am hardly able to estimate—by the criticism which my ideas encountered from Frank Ramsey, with whom I discussed them in innumerable conversations during the last two years of his life.

Ramsey’s review of the Tractatus was published in October 1923 in Mind /©, and Ramsey died in 1930. Hence Ramsey’s review is five years prior to these discussions. Yet I do not know of any record of later conversations, so this Mind review remains the best source for Ramsey’s thoughts on the Tractatus. The task for me will be to show how his criticisms, which are directed at the Tractatus, can also be applied to the factical world view.

Ramsey criticized Wittgenstein’s concept of logical constants. Lighting upon 5.512

That which denies in ‘~p ‘ is not ‘~,’ but that which all signs of this notation, which deny p, have in common. Hence the common rule according to which ‘~p,’ ‘~~~p,’ ‘~p ∨ ~p,’ ‘~p & ~p,’ etc. etc. (to infinity) are constructed. And this which is common to them all mirrors denial.”

Ramsey says (p. 472)

I cannot understand how it mirrors denial. It certainly does not do so in the simple way in which the conjunction of two propositions mirrors the conjunction of their senses. This difference between conjunction and the other truth-functions can be seen in the fact that to believe p and q is to believe p and to believe q; but to believe p or q is not the same as to believe p or to believe q, nor to believe not p as not to believe p.

This criticism applies to the interpretation of logical constants within the Tractatus. Ramsey is arguing that Wittgenstein’s picture theory breaks down in its interpretation of logical constants since negation is not simply represented by a picture if pictures including negation also mirror denial. The situation for disjunction is worse, since it makes even less sense to say what a disjunction mirrors. The upshot is that there is more going on with logical constants than simply describing how facts can be broken down.

We can extend this criticism to the ontological, factical situation: In a factical world, everything can be otherwise. But if our logical constants cannot be pictured in certain ways — if our logical constants resist being viewed in certain ways since they are not strictly like other facts — then there are restrictions on our logical understanding of the world. Hence the factical world cannot be completely changeable: it is governed by the complex internal structures of logic. This means there are restrictions on what can be otherwise in terms of logic and a meta-restriction on how things can be otherwise: everything can still be otherwise, but not in every possible way.

This can be seen in another criticism of Ramsey’s. He said the Tractarian position commits one to holding, “the only necessity is that of tautology, the only impossibility that of contradiction.” (p. 473) He continues:

For example, considering between in point of time as regards my experiences; if B is between A and D and C between B and D, then C must be between A and D; but it is hard to see how this can be a formal tautology.

In terms of facticality we are dealing with absolute contingency, so everything must either be entirely contingent, or there is something necessary. But what this example shows is that if there is any sort of ordering that we can give to the world, then there are going to be necessarily existing facts about that world. So, again, everything could be different, but not in every possible way.

Worse, for QM, is that the factical position may then beg the question about what grounds for our scientific practice, since this is the sort of mathematical structure he wants to use to justify our understanding of the arche-fossil. So if there are mathematical systems built into the logical structure of facticality, then he will have to abandon his current project and start again without assuming facticality.

These two examples from Ramsey point out that the factical world is not an innocent assumption.

Now for an internal criticism of facticity.

Can facticity resist Meillassoux’s speculative move? If we can speculate on whether the world is factical or not, then must we still accept that the world is factical? I can’t see how since there is nothing about speculating on the factical world that should lead back to it; the factical world view was adopted on the principle that it worked with radical contingency. Also, seeing as Meillassoux is willing to apply speculation to his problems means that it is an available strategy to apply to his solutions. Hence we may engage in speculation before we accept facticity.

This leads to a dilemma of choosing between radical contingency and speculation: if we are speculative, then we no longer can accept the factical world and radical contingency theory based on it, but if we are radically contingent, then we accept the factical world and reject the speculative move, undermining the rest of the theory. Hence Meillassoux wielded too strong a weapon: using speculation without restriction is too dangerous for facticity, and this collapses the rest of his theory.

——————

* Hintikka has put forward an analysis /© of Wittgenstein’s rejection of the Tractatus during 1929 based on his dated notebooks and other records, such as Vienna Circle commentary. He maintains that Wittgenstein repudiated the phenomenological view of language but not the picture view (facticality) of the world, at least at that time. See page 167.

Posted in metaphysics, ontology, philosophy, wittgenstein. Tagged with .

Metta World Peace, James Harden and Furbizia

Everyone is saying that Metta World Peace (the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest) is crazy for elbowing James Harden in the face. I can’t say that I disagree, but I think there is more to the story.

Did no one else notice that James Harden walked right into World Peace while he was celebrating? Watch the video. Harden walks directly into MWP. He doesn’t do anything that would cause a foul, but if he were going to actually try to receive an inbound pass, he would have walked away from opposing players, not at them.

Instead he gets real close to an ecstatic opponent known for outbursts. I’m sure he didn’t want to get elbowed in the head, but he did put himself in a position to get fouled, to take the charge as it were. If he had only been fouled, not elbowed, by a jumping MWP then people might be talking about how Harden had cleverly gotten another foul on one of the Laker’s best players through strategic gamesmanship alone.

When asked if he would shake Harden’s hand, Metta World Peace said he wouldn’t. Everyone condemned him for this too, but I’m with MWP this time. If MWP sees Harden as having taken advantage of his celebration as a cheap way to get him in trouble, then it is understandable that he wouldn’t want to shake the man’s hand. This doesn’t excuse the elbow, but it does explain the attitude.

Posted in economics, game theory. Tagged with , .

Trembling Hands 2: Inducing Irrationality

Given an intelligent rational opponent, one who has complete information of the decision tree in a game, it may be very difficult to implement an optimal strategy. All possible moves may be accounted for and hence a stalemate may exist from the outset.

One way to proceed is to act as if your opponent may make a mistake — her hand may tremble — allowing your optimal strategy to obtain. Previously I argued that there is more too the story than merely hoping that your opponent will err at some probabilistic rate. I gave examples where errors were induced, such that they were more likely at certain times or under certain conditions.

The cannonical example given was that of furbizia (gamesmanship or guile), which causes a football opponent to make a mistake. By acting in certain ways — eg “time-wasting, physical or verbal provocation and all related psychological games, arguably even diving” — it can cause an opponent to wear out and crack. Since furbizia, by definition, occurs outside the rules and regular strategies of the game of football (and without breaking any rules), how are we to account for it?

Just Walk Away

First let’s define the Walk Away principle. The Walk Away principle states that any subgame can be walked away from, just dropped, at any point in a game. For example, during football match a player may just walk off the field and go home. Not only are all the payoffs of the game lost when a person walks away, even further payoffs, such as loss of fans and teammate’s respect, can be lost. Still, this is an option for any player at any point of a match. Imagine that news of a family member being gravely injured reached the player mid-game. Then it might make sense to just walk off the field. Another example is that of a stock portfolio. Given a certain stock portfolio, grave penalties may be incurred if money is taken out of it too soon. However, if a disaster strikes, large sums of money are needed quickly and it makes sense to liquidate the stock portfolio during those times. In this case, the economic subgame represented by the portfolio is being walked away from.

The Walk Away principle highlights that no sub-game is played in a vacuum, that there are always global variables — emergency or other unusual situations — that could radically change a person’s decision making.

Consider this scene from the movie Out of Sight: George Clooney is a fugitive and Jennifer Lopez is a marshal pursuing him. The FBI has George Clooney trapped in a hotel and Jennifer Lopez is watching one of the exits. As George Clooney goes by Jennifer Lopez, he waves at her in a friendly way – they had already been aquainted. Instead of reporting seeing him to the other officers, she freezes and does nothing, allowing Clooney to escape. Instead of playing the subgame that would have gotten her a reward by bringing in a fugitive, she, in essence, (mentally) walked away from it. From the perspective of her job and other officers, she acted irrationally. However, she decided to play a different game. That game included extending the relationship with Clooney, which would have ended had he been arrested. From that perspective, she acted rationally.

I mention this example because it shows two games that had mutually exclusive payoffs, arresting the fugitive vs. continuing the relationship, and that even though she was playing the former game, Clooney’s action — waving at her — induced her to play the latter game. Also important is that if she had not already had some relationship with Clooney, his actions would not have had such an effect on her.

Trembling hands, in these cases, may then be seen not so much as an opponent acting irrationally, but as having been induced to play a subgame with mutually exclusive payoffs from the current game (like boxing during football). However, as mentioned, it is a necessary condition that there is something prior which allows a person to be induced to play a different game. How to know who is susceptible to being so induced, and what will induce them?

Counter Intelligence and Psychological Hacking

Knowing who is susceptible and how to induce irrationality them is a counterintelligence problem. If you knew ahead of time that a company had backdated stock options, you might suspect that they would be very worried about anyone looking into their procedures. If you were then able to find a way to publicize these nefarious dealings, you could blackmail them into acting in what would otherwise be considered irrational. But the opportunity only comes with the right intelligence.

In general, unless we are personally very wealthy or in charge of a wealthy organization, we will not have an intelligence service. But this doesn’t mean we can’t gather intelligence, even over the course of a sports game. Trash talking can be seen as a psychological search strategy: by liberally insulting every competitor and saying how great you are, anyone who rises, who argues –who doesn’t walk away– may be potentially unfocussed on the game at hand. Trash talking costs very little, just some breath, but getting angry and distracted can be very costly. The more clever the trash talk, the strategic fouls, and gamesmanship in general, the wider and more sophisticated the search, the psychological hacking, becomes.

Given the results of the search, eg player 15 is most affected by being called $%!#, the gamesmanship can then be focused on the candidates most likely to react badly and at the worst possible times. This is an exploitation of the Walk Away principle. Instead of walking away from the insults, the opponent walks away from the game, if only for a few seconds: the candidate is induced into playing a subgame with mutually exclusive payoffs.

Often stakes are very high in competition and hence gathering intelligence is important. Yes the intelligence gathering and implementation/ furbizia requires effort, but as Sun Tzu notes, “Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” (The Art of War  XIII.2) What is some trash talk in the face of winning a championship, or paying off a spy when thousands of lives are on the line? Intelligence gathering and strategic implementation generally dominates simply playing by the rules.

This interpretation of furbizia/ gamesmanship as an intelligence search explains its utility and provides a way to understand furbizia in a wider setting. The high return and low relative cost explains its prevalence.

Wave-Decision Duality

Different situations and search procedures need to be combined with traditional trembling hands dynamics to better evaluate decision strategies. For example, if an intelligence search yields results according to some function of time and factors x, then the chances of an opponent making a mistake will vary according to (f(x, t), σ), where σ is the chance of a non-induced trembling hands error. If f(x, t) finds results quickly compared to the game length, then the chance of the opponent making a mistake becomes high, and a radically different strategy should be employed to maximize upon these errors. If f(x, t) predicts when a mistakes will occur, then too a strategy tailored to these circumstances will be needed.

How are we to understand the function f(x, t)? Since it represents a kind of search, we can expect that at least some instances will fall under existing research: search theory, human & machine learning, and associated disciplines have been the subject of much interest and study. However, though we do not know which search will be used to gather the intelligence, the idea that we are doing a search lets us assume that it will return a result at some varying probability.

Combining this probability with a game theory strategy yields a both decision-like and statistical (or wave) -like property for every move in a game. Considering a game tree, each node has value for irrational behavior given by the search function, and a rational decision determined by a Nash (or other) equilibrium solution.

Consequences

Backwards Induction Paradox

Equilibrium solutions to a game can be calculated with equal justification starting from the top of the game tree and working towards the payoffs or from the bottom of the game tree and working backwards from the payoffs to the initial choices. This leads to the paradox of backwards induction, which occurs when the strategy that is suggested by backwards induction is based upon parts of the game that could never be reached by using that strategy, making that strategy based upon irrational results. The traditional trembling hands solution to this paradox states that one simply assumes the rational opponent could make a mistake, have their hand tremble, justifying the reliance on the otherwise unreachable parts of the decision tree.

Now, given an associated search function in the game tree, hoping for irrationality is replaced by a search that induces it. Since this search induces irrationality, it makes sense to allow for, if not expect, irrationality. This justifies using backwards induction as a strategy even if it relies upon parts of the game that should not ever be rationally reached, especially for iterated games.

Reputation

Since the search finds information about the opponent to be used during the game — but doesn’t have to be found during the game — braggadocio and cultivating a personality off the field is a can reveal information about an opponent prior to the game, saving valuable time. Having a reputation may help prime opponents* to being induced before ever personally interacting with them. Though it may also warn opponents to be prepared, everyone should already know to be prepared due to furbizia’s high prevalence anyway, and hence little is lost by practicing gamesmanship. If anything, not playing with some degree of gamesmanship is the exception to the rule, witnessed by the comment that someone ‘plays the game the right way’ is said as a compliment: that person is so good that it is completely unnecessary to use gamesmanship.

You may not want to have a reputation for playing dirty in general, but this is outside the scope of the competitive struggle, especially if you are successful. And some people like anti-heroes and ‘bad-boys,’ so a less than straight-edge reputation is not strictly detrimental. Perhaps this interpretation of furbizia also helps explain the appeal of such types. Since furbizia is an effective strategy, there is value in being ‘bad.’ An ‘all options on the table’ strategy and reputation may also be worthwhile, too. Theoretically, then, although certain reputations can have ill effects, these consequences are not significant enough to rule out using effective strategies that lead to such reputations.

Moreover, having personality and reputation is not limited to the actual players, but may include the fans. Fans insulting or harassing opponent players, and cheering/ chanting loudly at key moments may help break an opponent’s concentration. All of these practices can help lead to a critical mistake by an opponent.

Defense and Counterintelligence

Is there a way to defend against furbizia? Though there are many types of games that allow for gamesmanship, I’ll make a few suggestions on defending against it.

One of the major differences between football/soccer and other sport is that the clock never stops in soccer. One half-time break and that is all. This is very different from, say, basketball, where time outs may be called. The time out allows players to take a break, catch their breath and reorganize.

Reorganization can break up a counter intelligence search: when the situation changes, prior searches may no longer be applicable, forcing the search to begin anew. For instance, a basketball the coach may recognize the symptoms of psychological stress and call a time out before any mistakes are made. Coaches and teammates who are able to diagnose warning signs, who understand furbizia themselves, will be able to take action such as calling time outs or separating teammates from dangerous situations before a problem occurs. Without any (or much fewer) breaks, such as in soccer, a chance to take a break and reorganize is harder to come by. Perhaps this is why furbizia in soccer is so well developed: it has the greatest opportunity to work in a game with fewer breaks.

Any and all other methods for disrupting the search, if only cracking a joke that makes the opponent laugh, calling the referee’s attention to the gamesmanship or being so friendly that your opponent feels bad insulting you, should be employed as applicable.

Alternatively, one can run counter-intelligence. If an opponent is committed to using furbizia, then the trick is to get them to over-commit to it. Either push them too far, so their gamesmanship does break an official rule of the game, or make them waste time and effort on it to the detriment of the rest of their play.  In the end, make furbizia work for you.

Posted in economics, game theory.