Discussion #16 – Rules, Meta Rules and the Not-Game of Life

Games aren’t real life. Games have rules that don’t change, but in this complex, confounding universe that we live in, the rules always change over time – even if we we don’t want them to. Maybe there are meta-rules – rules about the rules, or rules that generate the rules. Or meta-meta-rules, and so on. Complex systems don’t readily follow first- or second-order rules. But we’re always looking for rules, and we don’t like it if we can’t find them. And as we search deeper and deeper for N-order rules, the question arises – does the regress ever stop? Do we ever stop finding meta-layers?

Life isn’t like chess. Shourov makes the point that in real life a player has infinitely more options than in the game itself. For example, if I am losing, I can overturn the board. In the stockmarket game, I can lie, cheat or misinform the market. In the business game, I can deceive my clients, steal from others or even murder a rival. We’re good at gaming systems, and any set of first order rules will be modified by the agents that are nominally bound by them. Everything feeds back signals into the system and structures never stay static over time.

The stockmarket game – do ‘meta-rules’ exist?

So we’re very suspicious of someone who thinks they’ve worked out a set of positive rules. We like meta-rules a little better (see this paper proposing that quantum mechanics is an emergent property of a deeper cellular automata). We like falsifications – negative rules seem to work. For example – “nothing ever stays the same”. Folk wisdom persists through time because it is usually that kind of second-order negative statement which holds true as the centuries pass by.

Games are easy. People are hard.

Games are easy. People are hard. We love life and we love people, but not absolutely everything has to be worked out and turned into a formula. Our ramblings this week turn philosophical and messy, like life itself. But we do know that the best games are those you play with your kids, because they don’t “know” enough not to break the rules. There’s Kasparov and then there’s my five-year old. Live in the meta- if you want to live well.

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1Jabberwocky, the nonsense verse by Lewis Carroll.

2The Ludic fallacy was coined by Nicholas Nassim Taleb.

3Brian refers to the Australian Greens Party.


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