Simplicity, Complexity, Unexpectedness, Cognition, Probability, Information
by Jean-Louis Dessalles
(created 31 December 2008)
(updated July 2015)
Interest grows with the complexity of the place and with the simplicity of the encountered person.
Fortuitous encounters are all the more unexpected that the place is complex and the encountered person is simple.
|Example: In 2008, I was travelling in Uganda. I joined a group of tourists to visit the Murchison Falls National park. I discovered that a German couple in the group were the best friends of my nephew’s girlfriend. The coincidence made quite an impression on us.|
Interest grows with the complexity of the place and with the simplicity of the encountered person. The complexity of the place L is the relevant factor, not the distance: a big distant airport may be less complex than the backyard of an obscure building of a lost suburb a few kilometres away. The simplicity of the encountered person P is the relevant factor, not her closeness. Running into a celebrity may be as unexpected as running into a close colleague. These phenomena are correctly predicted by the fact that unexpectedness varies, as we will show, as:
U = C(L) – C(P)By definition, unexpectedness U is the difference between generation complexity and description complexity: Cw – C.
Cw(L(ego) & L(P)) = Cw(L(ego)) + Cw(L(P))(note that independence is a crucial assumption for the unexpectedness of the encounter). If ego and P play symmetrical roles, the W-machine requires Cw(L(ego) & L(P)) = 2 Cw(L(ego)) to generate the encounter.
One way to assess the term Cw(L(ego)) is to consider the complexity of the decisions that ego had to take to end up in location L. If L(ego) is not itself unexpected, then in most cases, Cw(L(ego)) = C(L) and amounts to the minimum size of a set of directions to reach L (exception: if L is materially difficult to reach and if L is a famous place). Finally:
Cw(L(ego) & L(P)) = 2 C(L)
C(L(ego) & L(P)) = C(L) + C(P)and as announced, unexpectedness amounts to:
U(L(ego) & L(P)) = C(L) – C(P)
This alternative calculus may be prompted by the way the anecdote is told.
- Last week I went to a small village near Bordeaux. I went to a restaurant, chose a table and asked for the menu.
Guess who was sitting at the table next to mine...
At this point, listeners may think of the identity of the encountered person based on her origin in relation to the location of the encounter.
Dessalles, J-L. (2008). La pertinence et ses origines cognitives - Nouvelles théories. Paris: Hermes-Science Publications.
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