With a slight belatedness of action, when we could not report on TV shows of interest due to incongruous events, we’re back in business bashing Vincent - as he doesn’t mind. But since we’re a conservative kind, before we say anything, a reference must be made as to the staging of this third set in the series The Power of Thought in which Vincent talks some philosophy with an invited guest, who is an expert in some related area. “Still no women on the list of names,” I want to object, even while feeling Whitmanesque today, embodying multitudes, and all. But mercy must be granted, for the following, more irrational than rational, reason: as Vincent was flagging my favourite country, and flaunted a Beckettian slim fit, we made a realization. Of course there’ll be no women on the show because the only one worth inviting will say ‘no’ to public appearances. I know this because that woman is myself. We thus acknowledge Vincent’s acknowledging of our uniqueness and singularity. In the face of what is possible, let us then stick to writing and let him stick to men. What’s fair is fair. “Immutable and just, the law. Justice is less sure of itself,” I thus write on behalf of the poet Jabès, whose words, which I would have quoted for the first instalment, still reverberate.

Game theory. Pelle Guldborg Hansen, who is a colleague of mine at Roskilde U was invited this week not only to offer some insights into the field but also to play a game with Vincent and a robot named Robert. The game was inconclusive. Vincent was bidding in a game of auction without thinking, and Pelle decided that insofar as he can decide that the robot is his he can thus win all the stakes all the same. This says something about the instrumentality of games, namely that something is always lurking in the wings which may well render the whole strategic, ludic structure in a game irrational. On this, I’m amusingly reminded of the statement in the preface to the book that Vincent and Pelle co-edited, a collection of interviews based on five questions, Game Theory, which says this about the material gathered in the answers from diverse luminaries: “The responses are self-contained and readable and no overarching view of the nature of game theory is lurking in the wings.” Believe we must what we all must.

Pelle made a distinction between the desire to win and the conviction which determines the actions taken towards maximizing one’s winning potential. This distinction submits to the rules of the game, which in principle are devised primarily according to convention rather than conviction. Especially since conviction can, at times, be shown to be grounded in fictitious or imaginary contexts. If, according to Pelle, the aim is to raise one’s son so that he would become a disciplined man rather than a loving one, then prioritizing discipline over and above love legitimizes the action according to the conviction that dictates precisely that discipline, and not love, is the rational rule to follow and enforce. Pelle mentioned no outcomes of such a decision, but I could imagine two scenarios: the son would be ready either for the military or philosophy – a win/win situation, some might add.

Then Vincent wanted to know about irrational acts in game playing. Here, Pelle introduced the notion of time. Irrational acts are deemed irrational, more often than not, not within a short-term perspective, or in the immediacy of when the act is committed, but within the perspective of lapsed time. In hindsight, we often say: “that was pretty dumb”, even if at the time of the event, the rule dictating the ‘now’ unfortunate act was deemed most rational. This shows that claims to rationality are in fact determined not by rationality per se but by cultural precepts and conventions. Within this framework, cooperation, rather than playing head against head is obviously a preferred strategy as it enhances collective wins as against total annihilation.

To my surprise, no one made a mathematical statement. What about winning strategies in an infinite game? I like players who play with strength rather than for closure, as this discloses some of the most profound and multifaceted processes of inner psychological drama that unfolds itself against the background of willed, yet not always predictable interaction. What happens when emotion rather than reason responds to counter-intuitive moves, thus heightening the intelligence of the game itself? On the cultural side, and in tandem with the more interesting set theorists, it may have been a good idea to mention in the show such figures as Michel de Certeau. In his influential book, The Practise of Everyday Life he makes a distinction between strategies and tactics. The first answers the institutional call, while the latter is more individual. How an agent creates space for himself to operate within, against yet also according to the existing structural powers, is already mind-boggling, as much of this space is defined tactically by repetitive – and paradoxically – unconscious acts. These acts are then deemed by agents rational even when they are illogical. Against this background, all those who claim to grow quite weary of the rationalists – myself included – have a point. For, what makes a game interesting is noticing that which has the tendency to slip past us – the irrational act included. Game theory would not be interesting game theory if it did not face us head on. Which means what, exactly? Which means that one has to start with a consideration of the poetic universe in homo ludens. If I were a game theorist, I would thus start with the words of Edmond Jabès in his book of aphorisms, Desire for a Beginning, Dread of One Single End.

"One possible approach to the [ludic] universe is simply to approach the possible.
Here the impossible comes up against the perennial problem of being inconceivable, a crucial problem that it keeps evading.
There will always be an impossible, undermined by possibility." (17)


Andra said…
Though the line was posted already, but it does no harm to read good things twice. "Pelle mentioned no outcomes of such a decision, but I could imagine two scenarios: the son would be ready either for the military or philosophy – a win/win situation, some might add." And there is nothing to add, Camelia is right!

I mean, the outcome is sad - a poor kid. As love anyway will be present in his life, but it could be that he will not be able to deal with it. And what is left? The military or philosophy.
Camelia said…
Andra, as I mentioned yesterday on your finding my writing refreshingly more interesting than the stuff that they do in the philosophy department, let me just put it this way: I approach philosophy from angles that are not always philosophical, at least not according to the conventional book of philosophy. I prefer to do philosophy at its intersections with other disciplines (the odd types), if indeed philosophy is what I'm doing. I prefer to say that I like to think
about things.
Andra said…
Probably that is how it should be done, I mean philosophy, Camelia. Otherwise it would be worse than the military. If philosophising men read your discussions which are behind the screen, what a pity, as it should give more thought and illuminate the rigidness of their claims.
I liked that line very much.
Camelia said…
Any field devoid of poetic thought is worth nothing. And now that I think of it, yes, I can see that while I don't know much about the military, even though my father was a mathematician working for the military, and donning the uniform on a daily basis, I am dead certain that both the military and philosophy could use grand doses of poetry if they are to fare well in the department of interestingness. Well, there are of course male philosophers who are silly men and who know it - just think of Wittgenstein or Nietzsche, and a host of less known others - and who are worth reading precisely therefore. I prefer them to all the rigid types. And yet again, I prefer the philosophising male poets infinitely more.
Anonymous said…
Hi Camelia, a couple of comments:

"To my surprise, no one made a mathematical statement. What about winning strategies in an infinite game?"
- well, I think the purpose was to introduce a basic perspective to a wide audience. Given this, I think it's okay that there was neither talk of winning strategies in infinite games, nor of finite strategies in indefinite games, mathematical types of games and so on. I agree, it would have been nice to talk about indefinitely repeated cooperation games played under the shadow of the future and with evolving strategies e.g. - but I think that it would have been a killing of the audience.

This point is seconded by the fact that some audience might even fail to recognize the 'conclusive' point of the otherwise simple auction game played (see e.g. for an easy reader on the issue).

So, I think we have to keep such elements close to mind.

Thanks for all the comments:)

Merry x-mas
- Pelle
Camelia said…
Pelle, thanks for the feed-back. Firstly, as you point out, yes, there are always constraints as to how fascinating one can make a discussion on TV, when the target group is often the lowest common denominator. But as you did a good job, and rather went beyond the trivial, I instantly fancied hearing some more about relations that fall under wider dimensions, if seen from a slightly more specialized angle. Secondly, Vincent and I play a game of our own, which, among other things, consists of inviting each other to make conjectures on one element in the show which exceeds the frame of the show. Insofar as this element relies on passing on privileged information, it is thus not intended for the many. Thirdly, along the lines in (2) and along the lines of what can be disclosed when things are up for guessing, as it were, I can contend that the missing math in the show was supposed to keep me entertained – as I like to make all sorts of interesting calculations that have zero as part of the set, or zero raised at the power of ‘nothing’ in a game. Such response, although individual and subjective, enforces ultimately also what the idea with such shows is on a general level, precisely to entertain. We read into things that which we want to read into things all according to the positions available to us and according to the variables and functions that we are able to identify in an equation. This being said, keep up the good work. (If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a link to another post in which I briefly comment on Game Theory: 5 Questions).

Popular Posts