A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.
Dunno why, but that's what imediately sprung to mind after reading Pav
's excellent post. The second thing was Minority Report.
Pav wrote:Of course, this is an extreme example, but the overall point is, that a decision that seems to be minute and inconsequential to everyone except for the individual making the decision can have vast intended and unintended consequences.
The thing with that example, or any from history that are equally bizarre: (This from Cracked.com
) Is that they are too focussed.
In 1925, Greece and Bulgaria were locked in a simmering state of near-conflict. This had been a fairly common state of affairs between the two ever since Bulgaria had the gall to become a country. World War I had ended just a few years prior, and neither nation wanted to risk full-out armed conflict with the other until they'd both had a decade or two to recover. So a tense peace settled over the region right up until a Greek soldier lost control of his dog.
The sentry dog darted away from his master and crossed the Macedonian border into Bulgaria, perhaps because his master made an arm motion similar to throwing a ball. The panicked Greek soldier ran after the dog and was immediately shot dead by Bulgarian sentries, sparking a conflict that would come to be known as "The War of the Stray Dog."
Now, okay, from one perspective, if it hadn't been for a couple of funky neurones firing over-enthusiastically in that dog's head, a whole war would have been postponed, or perhaps averted. Or in the case of Pav's scenario, a different choice of cereal would have prevented the death of a town. It's a great perspective, it allows both the blame to be placed, and promotes general hilarity over the stupidity of history.
But, is it a useful perspective..? Basically, from this perspective you sit back and say "Ooh the future is so fucking weird you may as well just forget it. There is noooooooooo-waaaaaaaaaay
you can ever predict anything useful at all...!!!"
I wrote a little earlier:
It's a question of scale. And probability.
With the whole Dog scenario - the important thing to notice is that Greece and Bulgaria were on the brink of war anyway
... And the thing with Pav's story, that supermarket - no accident insurance apparently - innsufficient cleaning staff - insufficient capital to cover losses - That supermarket was in trouble anyway
... And the town. How many people work at a supermarket..? The job-market of that town was so tight as to not be able to absorb that number..? The property market was so on the brink of a dive that a few houses coming onto the market was enough to push it over..? The city's funds were so low that a blip in the tax revenue caused a drastic cut in education..? The education resources of the city were so poor that only one elementary school was available..? And etc. etc. etc.
All symptoms of a city on the brink anyway
Do you see what I mean..? The dog didn't matter
, the situation was in such an unbalanced state that almost anything
could have sparked it off. The guy with the cereal didn't matter
, sooner or later, that supermarket was going to run into the wall. The supermarket didn't matter
, that city was in such dire straits that any
minor catastrophe was gonna send it right down the tube.
That's the thing about anything, it always happens.
They were not robust, stable systems. This will seem a bit crazy, but bear with me. Let's revisit The Greek/Bulgaria thing. The dog again crosses the border, again the guy gets filled full of holes... But imagine that this minor event imediately results in the standing down of all troops, lasting peace between the two countries, massive inter-marriage between the two ethnic groups, and the eventual merging of the two states into a single country called Greekobulge. And now the Supermarket. The egg-slipper again slips, but this somehow saves the town from deriliction and propels it onto a path which results in it becoming the new LA.
As I said. Doesn't scan. You're sitting here reading and thinking "What a fucking waste of a paragraph." Why..? If you accepted prior that just such a minor event could produce such a huge negative effect in these contexts - why not the reverse..?
Unless of course you'd realised the situation was totally fucked anyway, and the actual trigger was unimportant.
And this is what I mean by scale, and inevitabilism.
So, let's move on. This is the second post of three, so I'd better do a little more drum-banging, rather than just shooting ducks. Too much text, time for a pic.
Very basically, let's say the future is looking kinda Barbarella-shaped. In a determinist universe, we can look at the present, remember the past, do a few sums, and 'ping' - out pops a fully defined 60's Sci-fi queen. In Pav
's universe however, the present and the past are no good to predict the future, because of all the mini-mini-details having such a 'huge' effect, and this snowballs - adding so much noise to the future that it becomes impossible really to see anything.
Inevitabilism is the middle path. It doesn't pretend to be completely accurate in the details, it simply looks at things on a larger scale, a scale where individual actions largely cancel out. Looks at the stage, rather than just the players, and reads the future from that.