Saturday, 14 January 2012

Determinism and Chaos in The Fireblade Array

I thought it was time for another bit of potted ponderousness following the moanings of my last post. As a small disclaimer, everything here is simplified for the purposes of writing fun fiction. I think any real physicists or philosophers would probably come and poke me with a pointy stick if they thought I was trying to fully explore such concepts in this small blog post. Academics and researchers spend their lives studying and understanding these phenomena. Anyway...

Silar is my small exploration into the idea of determinism (and possibly the most empathetic man ever to have lived). As the story progresses, his abilities in predicting the actions of people grow and improve. Frequently he can work out what others will do without even meeting them, only working on descriptions and the reactions of his friends. He works on the assumption that people have a finite set of influencers and characteristics, and that these factors determine what decisions they will make. Because he has such a brilliant mind, he is able to see and assimilate all of these factors at once, and tinker with them until he produces the outcome he desires. He works on causality - the idea that a prior state will lead to a subsequent state, and so on.

But his most frequent complaint throughout the second book is that he cannot see x or y, or that too much chaos (just throwing that word around) has been introduced. When Morghiad's mind becomes entirely chaotic, Silar is left blind to his intentions. I wanted this to be a sort of quantum mechanics element. You've probably heard of Schrรถdinger's cat, existing in a state of both life and death because we cannot predict exactly when a uranium atom will decay (and cause a sequence of events that would kill the cat). All of those uranium atoms have the potential to decay, we know that every so often one will, but there's no deterministic reason which explains which one will decay next and why. Quantum mechanics doesn't imply that things are unpredictable, but it introduces other possible outcomes and interactions. In fact, quantum mechanics can predict some things more accurately than classical mechanics, but that's another story.

The point is that Silar relies on his classical method of prediction to measure people, but it leaves him blind to the other effects of chaos and entanglement and all that. He is still aware of this blindness, however, and it irritates him a fair bit. Of course, any physicist would point out that this creates a bit of a paradox, since Silar must have some sort of pre-existing understanding of both classical and quantum mechanics in order to predict people accurately in the first place. D'oh! Perhaps he will discover and understand his true powers later...

The Greek storytellers were very concerned with the concept of fate, looking at the problem from a different perspective to the deterministic approach. Their tales are usually about a hero's struggle to either avoid his fate or achieve it, i.e. starting with the outcome and examining the character's journey towards it. Determinism looks at the same problem the other way around: it assumes an outcome and explains this outcome in terms of the character's biology and experience. I've certainly included a bit of the old struggle with fate, which takes an odd twist in book three.

Silar's problem is something I, as an author, am constantly faced with. I have to predict the actions of my characters as they enter different situations. But there's always that element of chaos when they lose their sanity or when the less-probable occurs, which works against whatever fate I have in store for them. Just to complicate things further, it's almost inexcusable for an author to have characters acting... um... out of character in a book unless it's warranted by some other event. Therefore, as reasonable readers and authors, we all have our own ideas of deterministic behaviour and frequently balk at actions/decisions which seem odd.

I recently read a book where one of the male leads is seduced and is unknowingly used to sire a woman's child (a woman with whom he has demonstrated absolutely no chemistry). He finds out that she has misled him, and then happily congratulates her for her cunning. I mean.... who does that???!

Perhaps we're all a bit like Silar in some ways.

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