Peter Watts – about birthdays….

I’m one of those people that just has a knack for seeing the world a bit ‘differently” than most people. What some people see as absolutely normal social behavior, I often see as utterly absurd.

This is not usually an advantage, if you were wondering.

But I’ve got nothing on Peter Watts, the now famous Sci-Fi author, border-guard crushing bad-ass, and sadly… convicted felon. His writing is filled with this kind of totally brain breaking logic.

Like birthdays…

Below is an excerpt from his excellent novel “Blindsight” that exemplifies exactly the kind of thinking that breaks most people’s brains. The novel is available online for free under a Creative Commons license (CC), or you can buy it in paper or audio if you prefer.

In prelude, know that the character Sascha has multiple personalities (the Gang of four as they are known  in the book).

“Yeah? Name one.”

“Birthdays,” I said, and immediately wished I hadn’t.

Sascha stopped chewing. Something behind her eyes flickered, almost strobed, as if her other selves were pricking up their ears.

“Go on,” she said, and I could feel the whole Gang listening in.

“It’s nothing, really. Just an example.”

“So. Tell us.” Sascha cocked James’ head at me.

I shrugged. No point making a big thing out of it. “Well, according to game theory, you should never tell anyone when your birthday is.”

“I don’t follow.”

“It’s a lose-lose proposition. There’s no winning strategy.”

“What do you mean, strategy? It’s a birthday.”

Chelsea had said exactly the same thing when I’d tried to explain it to her. Look, I’d said, say you tell everyone when it is and nothing happens. It’s kind of a slap in the face.

Or suppose they throw you a party, Chelsea had replied.

Then you don’t know whether they’re doing it sincerely, or if your earlier interaction just guilted them into observing an occasion they’d rather have ignored. But if you don’t tell anyone, and nobody commemorates the event, there’s no reason to feel badly because after all, nobody knew. And if someone does buy you a drink then you know it’s sincere because nobody would go to all the trouble of finding out when your birthday is — and then celebrating it — if they didn’t honestly like you.

Of course, the Gang was more up to speed on such things. I didn’t have to explain it verbally: I could just grab a piece of ConSensus and plot out the payoff matrix, Tell/Don’t Tell along the columns, Celebrated/Not Celebrated along the rows, the unassailable black-and-white logic of cost and benefit in the squares themselves. The math was irrefutable: the one winning strategy was concealment. Only fools revealed their birthdays.

Sascha looked at me. “You ever show this to anyone else?”

“Sure. My girlfriend.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “You had a girlfriend? A real one?”

I nodded. “Once.”

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