Monday, 20 June 2011


Today was an "object-level project" day - nothing was taught, and we were all, instead, free to spend out time working some object-level project that we wanted to succeed in (i.e., something that we actually wanted for its own sake... these projects ranged from mine, writing chapter 1 of my thesis, through getting access to a bell-tower for Carilloning; to implementing Critch's algorithm to start loving email).

I had quite a bit of success writing my thesis - mostly by using the technique of rewarding myself every 15 minutes if when my (vaguely random) alarm went off I was actually working.

However, I've decided not to write a post about today's exercises, and instead to post about a game of Nomic that we've been playing for a while: part of my reason for this post is that I've had a few comments from people telling me that the blog so far comes across as exceedingly negative - I'm having a pretty good time, so I should probably change this.

Nomic, for the unitiated, is mostly a game about games. There are an initial set of 29 rules, which you can presumably get to from the wikipedia page. One of the rules is that a move consists of changing the rules. It is an incredibly meta game, and not one I ever expected to actually play in real life... I'm quite enjoying living in a house in which the suggestion "shall we play Nomic" is met with enthusiasm rather than with

We started playing about a week ago, and have been playing on and off ever since. So far, we have changed the game so that the only winning condition is now the one about breaking the game. We have changed the rules so that the game ends on August 15 (when RBC ends) and changed our scores to complex numbers which are based on our ages. The scores, incidentally, are not currently related to any of the winning conditions. However, we do expect that to change at the moment. So far, everyone has won once (we retroactively changed the rules so that we all had 1000 points when we started) and I think at least one person may have won twice. We have introduced rules which govern what happens when people want to go to bed, and rules which govern what happen when we lose (which so far isn't possible). We've changed the rule numbering system to allow arbitrary reals (we decided against having complex rules, as the current rule precedence system requires one to be able to say if one rule is bigger than another).

When we went for a hike in a nearby park (I can't remember the name...) recently, we discussed the topic of whether or not it would be possible for one of us to legally (within the rules of Nomic) become a dictator for Nomic. We decided that it was technically really rather easy (we've already changed the rule that bars rule-changes from applying retroactively, so you just declare yourself dictator, and retroactively declare that the rule stating that you are dictator is the most important rule). However this would suffer the same problem as playing the "obvious" winning strategy in Mornington Crescent... if you play that way, no-one wants to play with you again. One of the more amusing features of the game is that the win condition is not set in stone, and it's not even clear that winning is one of the aims of the game... it really isn't clear what one is optimising for when playing.

Incidentally, the hike in the park had an interesting interlude, in which we sat at the top of a hill in an ancient (1960s) stone circle and meditated for around 15 minutes while a Scout leader explained to her troupe various theories for how the geological features of the Bay were formed. That this does not seem even slightly odd to me probably says something about what I'm doing with my summer.

Anyway, that's Nomic so far, and we're still playing (according to the current rules, we'll still be playing until August 15, but that may not ever have been true by this time tomorrow: I'm hoping that we'll manage to contrive a rule change which allows us to use the Future Semi-Conditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional at some point...). It has very few rationality lessons, other than the obvious parallels with the legal system, but it is quite a lot of fun, and I hope I've managed to get at least a little of that across in this post.

We are also having the odd poker lesson. This has led to some heated discussion among the RBCers, and raises some interesting questions about the playing of zero-sum games as well as the more obvious poker-related rationality lessons. I will attempt to blog about the poker at some point this week, possibly after tomorrow, when I think we are playing again.

1 comment:

  1. This is probably a stupid question, but how do you set up a "vaguely random alarm" that goes off every 15 minutes. It sounds like a strategy I'd benefit from using.