Saturday, October 02, 2010

On the emergence of an accidental narrative.

Good writers of fiction will sometimes refer to being surprised at the actions their own characters take. After all, once a story takes a life of its own, in the way that good stories so often do, why should even the author be able to foresee everything that happens?

A similar effect is seen in tabletop gaming, where a good dungeon master (DM--- more correctly, game master) will present a carefully planned adventure to her players only to find that they fixate on details that the DM had thought to be inconsequential. Out of that interaction, a new narrative is drawn from the fibers laid down by the DM. Background material moves to the foreground as the story finds its own vibrancy at the hands of the players and the DM.

Up until recently, I had thought these kinds of emergent narratives to be the province of fiction. On Wednesday, however, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Ben Schumacher on his experiment with teaching quantum mechanics to undergraduates from a quantum information perspective. In his talk, Dr. Schumacher described how the book that he and Dr. Michael Westmoreland wrote, Quantum Processes Systems, and Information (note: associate link), had a hidden narrative that emerged as they proceeded through the writing process. So as to not spoil the story, I'll refer interested readers to Schumacher's talk for details on the form that this narrative takes.

For my part, I have found that in writing this blog, I tend to write each post relatively independently, with little thought of how they fit together into some cohesive whole. Even the name, cgranade::streams, belies some of this approach. It seems plausible, then, that a narrative could emerge not from careful planning but through recognizing the common concerns which motivate me to write on disparate topics.

That said, I was still surprised to find that when responding to a comment by Sarah Kavassalis on one of my recent posts, a small narrative had started to emerge. In three of my last four posts, I have either alluded to or directly dealt with problems that children face in society, pointing out that they are told that their life experiences are less than real, that the authority figures that abuse them can be defended and even celebrated, and that their nascent sexuality is disrespected and disregarded. In all three of these cases, we see a common strand: children are not always seen as being fully human, and the effects of that are as real and destructive as for any group tarnished as being less than human. Their rights are trounced upon, just as with any marginalized group, illustrating the peril in this disregard.

In this way, a narrative about the disrespect of children by society at large serves as a poignant case study of why recognizing the humanity of those around us is so important. Whether the victims of our disregard by marked by sexual orientation, race, religion or nationality, the end effects share much in common.

I don't know if I'll carry this emergent narrative any farther, or if it has served its useful purpose here. Others write on the modern plights of children better than I do, so that my contribution is to entirely to tie it to other threads of thought. This mission, which I have accidentally worked at, is one of many worthwhile missions. If I have more to say on the topic, then, I will say it and will otherwise be content to hunt for other emergent narratives.

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