Narrative Dynamics 5 – The Interface Solution

Sometimes the solution to a problem comes from a most unexpected source.  Often, there is no relationship between the subject matter of problem and solution, but rather a dynamic resemblance, an analogy of system or operation.

A case in point is when I solved the mystery of the erratic sequential patterns that were created when plotting the order in which acts and scenes progressed through the four items of the quad.

The problem was that while we had it right that all four dramatic items in each quad would show up by the end of a story, when we drew that order on the quad it made one of three patterns: a U or C shape, an N or Z shape, and a hairpin shape.  And what was worse, the sequence could go in either direction along the pattern.

We struggled with this for weeks – trying all kinds of ways to predict which pattern and direction combination would show up and not making any progress at all.

And then, one weekend I took my daughter to L.A.’s Museum of Science and Technology where they had a display of line of twenty-one bar magnets in a row, end to end, each on a spindle on a board.  By turning the first one at just the right speed, you could get it to turn the one next to it, and if you continued this process, with a little practice, you could get all twenty-one moving at the same time.

And then it hit me – the sequences in Dramatica shouldn’t be plotted on the fixed structure.  Rather, the structure was actually mobile – the elements twisting and rotating in response to the tensions of the story.  The pattern was actually linear, but when the quads all wound up like a Rubik’s Cube, that straight line was warped and distorted into the three patterns we had observed.

Ultimately, this lead to the whole set of algorithms that allowed the pressures upon a story structure to determine predictively the order in which elements needed to be explored in order to accurately reflect the tensions involved.  In other words, seeing that simple display of magnets in the children’s area of the museum became a whole new theory of how space and time relate in the mind.

Well, that is also how I came to crack the problem of the Interface Conundrum of Narrative Dynamics.  And here is how it happened, and then its ramifications:

Teresa and I were hiking near our home in the mountains.  She was describing how her father was a strict authoritarian and she wondered if her sister (whom she had not seen in many years) had raised her children the same way or had taken the opposite tack.

We began to speculate as to what it was that determined if a child would act as a parent or do the opposite in all kinds or areas, from child rearing to career choice, to lifestyle.  And then Teresa said that perhaps it had to do with memory – if we hold on to our memories we do the same, if we let them go, we do the opposite.

This didn’t ring completely true to me, so I suggested that even if we let go of our memories consciously, that doesn’t mean we also let them go subconsciously.  So we have four combinations in which one lets go or does not consciously couple with those same two states subconsciously.

As we continued to talk, I began to wonder though, what was the force that would actually propel one to change, especially in a situation where one let go of memory in one realm only to be counterbalanced by holding on to it in the other.

Now it began to really bug me, because this harkened back to that incredibly frustrating question that had bugged me since I was four or five years old (as described in “The Interface Conundrum) in which I wondered if there was nothing, would it be black because there was no light or gray because there was also no dark?

In the decades that followed, this question evolved into wondering what determined the exact moment when a light switch changed from being “off” to “on?”  And, of course, this led to Schrodinger, Zeno, event horizons, the uncertainty principle, and all sorts of binary states.  And here I come up against the damned thing again – my nemesis and old friend.

What was worse, I was hot in the middle of trying to understand the relationship between structure and dynamics in a narrative model of psychology so that I could expand Dramatica into a new analog, passionate, and time-based model.

As documented in The Interface Conundrum, one can think of reality as if it were a field of standing waves on a flat plane, as illustrated simply below:

peaks and troughsStructure is like a pane of glass that cuts through the mountains or the troughs horizontally, parallel to the plane, thereby creating slices of each tower or well that appears as a circle.

These circles are the particles we see from a structural perspective in which we seek understanding by looking at the patters of circles.

Dynamics is a vertical slice of the same set of standing waves so that we see the familiar wave forms such as sine waves, sawtooth or square waves of various amplitudes and wave lengths.

The problem is, that to get a complete view of either structure or dynamics, one must move the pane of glass through the standing waves like a scanning line until we have picked up the full width, depth, breadth and shape of each.

The bigger problem is that the universe is not really made of standing waves, but of waves of variable stability and duration, so that between any two moments, some are rising while others are falling, and at different rates.

Therefore, neither structure nor dynamics can see the true nature of reality, and even taken together, they are insufficient to describe this common interface between the two.  Hence, the “interface conundrum.”

In part four of my Narrative Dynamics articles, I outlined this and ended by saying that rather than trying to determine the nature of reality by exploring it through structure and dynamics, the only possible solution that would truly reveal the truth of the matter was to consider the nature and functioning of the interface itself, directly.  An entity from which both structure and dynamics (both space and time) are only byproducts, not building blocks.

And now we come back to my conversation in the woods with Teresa.  I thought about the patterns that became frozen in one’s mind due to the manner in which our parents raise us.  And then I expanded my thoughts to any kind of fixed pattern to which we have become mentally locked.

What is habit, what is selective filter, what truly is the nature and function of the preconscious that have already described in Dramatica theory as the fixed filters of our minds that are built half of instinct and half of experience, but freeze in place so that they mask observation before we perceive it?

A prejudice is like a black hole.  Energy enters but does not emerge, and once it is in place, it never dissolves but only grows to encompass and warp more of what it around it, farther and farther from the center of the original issue.

And yet, in the mind, people do change.  In stories they have leaps of faith.  I actually observed a leap of faith in myself for the first time about six months ago.  I was considering changing my mind on an issue.  But to be sure it was the right choice, I kept looking into that potential new point of view farther and farther to see as many of the likely ramifications as I could before deciding if I would commit to it or not.

And then, I suddenly realized I had leaned so far into examining that new perspective that I had actually adopted it while I wasn’t looking.  I never had the chance to make the choice, yet once I recognized it, I could not return to the old point of view.  In essence, it was like looking over the edge of a cliff to see the rocks below until one has unthinkingly passed the balance point and is now on the bottom with no way to return to the top.

This provided me with a case in point to something I had for some time suspected.  That no binary state can ever change from within – it requires another force from outside the system.  When does the light switch shift from off to on?  When the finger flips it.  What happens at that magic moment when it can be considered on instead of off?  Incidental, it is just a matter of the standard by which one chooses to measure the process.  In other words, there is no “off” or “on” merely the perception of one over the other.

Off and on are binary structural considerations.  The direction of the switch and its speed are dynamic.  The finger is chaos, as far as the closed system of the switch is concerned.  So, how do we determine whether a child will raise their children in the same or a different manner than a parent, if a character will take a leap of faith, if an individual will change, or if the answer is black or gray?

And then it hit me – just like the eureka moment with the magnets so many years ago.  The mind is a closed system like the switch.  It is stuck in one position by experience.  When the force that molded it remains consistent, that pattern freezes in the mind just like that plane of standing waves.  Even when the child grows, they are gradually weaned from that pressure so that the mold remains solid.  This is how it sets.

But if other life experience puts pressure on the closed system of the mind, it is like compressing a gas.  Think of this pressure as emotional tension created by inequities outside the home.  If it increases fast enough, it heats up the mind, just like a gas, thawing the frozen standing waves and softening them, making them pliable again – malleable – perhaps even liquidic at which point one would have no preference, no opinion, no bias in a particular mental realm.

Imagine then that a new interference pattern is created and sustained in such a matter that creates a new plane of standing waves.  These would naturally erode unless, pressure is suddenly removed to the overall mind, in which case, like a gas, the standing waves will freeze in place and remain, like another black hole – another bias – another preconscious filter – another complex motivation – another pattern of behavior.  And its shape and nature channels the forces that flow through the mind, generating both structure and dynamics as a byproduct.

What a simple and elegant solution.  The complex forces the press upon our minds create waves.  If overall pressure upon us decreases quickly, those wave will freeze in whatever pattern the pressures have maintained them.  If pressure is quickly increased, it will melt that motivating, guiding pattern to be moldable again.

Let us carry it to a slightly deeper level of sophistication.  Patterns may be not fully frozen but merely made slow-moving, like molasses, in any degree from wholly fluid to completely stiff.  Or patterns may be stiffened making them more resistant to change, or lock them into full blown high-amplitude fixations, or locking them into calm flat planes of no motivation that cannot be moved through any ordinary forces, placid until outside pressures increase fast enough to melt them.

Just like the magnets that needed to be at just the right speed, any other speed (of increase of decrease of pressure) only gets part of the job done.

Wow.  That’s what I thought, “wow.”  But what I didn’t consider was that while the mind (or a storyform Story Mind, for that matter) is a closed system, in the real world (in both physics and psychology) there is always a larger system in which a closed system exists.

No closed system is ever truly closed or it could never change.   It would establish either a stasis or eventually, if it exists long enough, establish a repetitive cycle, even if it is extremely complex.

This is good, for without influence from outside, there could be no finger to flip the switch and binary states could never change except alternately in cyclic repetition.

But here’s the rub.  The realm outside the closed system is not homogeneous which, if it were, would equally affect the entire interior of the closed system with a consistent pressure increase or decrease from all side equally and simultaneously.

It is because there are many closed systems in physics and many individual minds, that the pressures brought to bear on the standing waves within the system are not equally applied.  Rather, one area of our minds’ standing waves may be softening while other areas are stiffening.  And, in fact, counteractive forces from outside may cancel out each others effects in a single given standing wave area, or mitigate the effect of one or the other.

And so, we do not have just one complex motivational pattern that is freezing or thawing, but a multitude, an infinity, not limited to the number of our brain cells but to the almost limitless analog undulations of the biochemical and emotional systems of our minds, ever in flux, with currents and eddies, like weather patterns of different courses, strengths and durations which wash up against our neurons, easing the firing or inhibiting it as the standing waves rise and fall.

And so, in the end, the interface solution resolves the problem of the paradox of black or gray, because it is structurally black and dynamically gray.  And it solves the problem of a mind that cannot choose between two mutually exclusive but equally valid solutions by invoking the forces from outside the closed frame of reference for the thought problem by realizing that each solution is the only one, depending upon the external context.

While this addition to the theory (to my satisfaction) proves once and for all that there is no true certainty because there is always a higher or smaller closed system, it also provides a model of the nature and function of the interface itself, allowing us, for the first time, to determine exactly the operation and effect of one closed system (which is, in fact, truly open) and its surrounding external environment (which is, in fact, truly closed) upon one another.

In short, it describes how any closed system can be taken in conjunction with its surround open system to create a new closed system, and vice versa into the microcosms within the closed system as well.

And lastly (and I truly hope finally as well), the entire model indicates that none of this means anything without defining if a system is open or closed.  But since each system is both open and closed (depending on context), it is really a mater of perception.  And this infers that both the laws of psychology (and by extension, physics) simply do not exist without the mind, which must contextualize them.

In my usual arrogant audacity, I believe this model, this entire line of inquiry provides the essence of a Unified Field or Grand Unifying Theory of Everything:

The degree to which something exists is variable, and we perceive this as time.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica