Of Showers and Fractal Time

As you likely know, I am the co-creator of the Dramatica theory of narrative, the Storymind theory of narrative psychology, and of the Mental Relativity theory of what can best be called narrative physics, which deals with the underlying mathematics of the Dramatica model and how they apply to our perceptions of reality, even so far as to determining what we perceive to be the laws of the physical world.

What you may not know is that, though the original tenets and equations of Dramatica are still as valid today as they ever were, the extent of the theory has continued to grow as it has been applied to more and subjects and as more and more branches of the theory have been developed to a greater extent.

But today, something has happened for which there is no precedent: I have discovered a new part of the theory equal to all that has been previously documented and emanating side by side from the very top.

For those in the know, this new realm is the temporal equivalent of “one side multiplies and the other divides” from our first breakthrough regarding the equations of narrative.

With that concept framing the coming explanation, let us begin…

Originally, the “one side multiples and the other divides” came to me in a dream (yeah, right, but really).  You can read all about it here:  Dramatica – How We Did It

This new half of the theory also began with a dream.  So sue me.

I had this dream about a university where I was going to be speaking about, what else, narrative theory.  Before the talk, a professor in one of the classes asked me to help him with a problem:  He couldn’t schedule his class because the students weren’t completing their projects on time.  I thought for what seemed like about ten seconds in the dream and then gave him my advice: Use one time for the class and another for the projects.

I had no idea what this meant at the time any more than I did about “multiplies and divides” in the previous incident.  But the dream then continued.  Apparently, I had just finished the speaking presentation and afterward, the dean of the university called me to his office with a problem as well.  He complained that he couldn’t schedule the university because the professors weren’t keeping their classes on time.

Again, I thought for about ten seconds and gave him this advice: Use one time for the university and another for the classes.

And then I woke up.  And I realized this was the same kind of thing as my previous dream nearly 30 years ago.  And again, as before, I had no idea what it meant.

So I thought about it, and then I thought some more.  I was convinced this instance held the same potential as the first one – I just didn’t know what that was yet.

As before, then, I realized I need to back-burner process this until my subconscious was ready to divulge what it wanted my conscious mind to know.  But the bummer is, I didn’t ask for this knowledge – didn’t want it – wanted to just drift off into the sunset having done my work on narrative theory.  But no.  Stupid subconscious!

So this went on for a few weeks with several concepts put forth by my conscious mind to explain what this meant, yet all of them falling short of really connecting with what this dream felt like it meant.

And then this morning, in the shower, the truth of the matter struck me.  I had been thinking the past few days and old thought with a new spin.  For some years I’ve realized that there is a pace at which I can work on projects, even those that I don’t like, that is comfortable and pleasant.  And there is a pace at which the work is horrible and stressful.

Earlier this week, I told Teresa that I didn’t get out and hike or go to the movies any more because I have been putting off taking a shower until late in the day when I’m too tired to out and have fun.  But, I have always hated taking a shower.  I loathe it.  I find it the most unpleasant thing one can do on a regular basis.

But today, I made a point to take a shower earlier than normal so we could get done some essential work before the weekend.  And while in the shower, I realized that I was racing through the process because I hated it, but had never in my life taken a leisurely shower and luxuriated in it – because I HATE it – luxuriating in a shower?  Non sequitur.

But what if, said my mind to me – what if the actual reason you hate showering is because you race through it.  And what if you intentionally slowed down and took your time?  So, unable to resist a practical experiment, I slowed down.  I stood in the warm water, sensually applied the suds and – well, let’s not get grody about all this.  “Grody” – ancient vernacular – look it up.

What I found was that I could actually enjoy a shower, if taken as a pleasant clip.  And then the “one time for the big thing and one for the component smaller thing” came back to me.  And I realized that message from my subconscious was all about fractal time.  Yeah..  that’s right… fractal time.

But I had no idea what I meant by fractal time.  So I walked around the concept in my head and this is what I saw.  Dramatica theory and its offshoots and cousins are all about that point at which if you are looking at something macroscopic digitally – in other words, you can see the macroscopic components, then there is a point microscopically where the littler components are so small, you fail to see pieces because they all blend into a single unit or a single line: “one side multiples and the other divides”: one side is seen as homogeneous and the other as made of parts.

In Dramatica, the differential between those two magnifications is the essence of what defines the scope of a narrative. We call it “the size of mind constant.”  It states that single narratives can be no larger than  one in which when you look at the biggest part of the story argument you can’t look any larger without being able to hold the smallest parts of the message argument in your mind at the same time.  Or conversely, when you look at the smallest parts of the argument, the narrative can be no bigger than one in which you can also see the components of the biggest parts of the argument at the same time.

Like boxcar covering a certain number of ties on a railroad track, our minds can see a certain span from the largest to the smallest in one single glance.  We get around this limitation by moving the box car back and forth along the track.  So, we move beyond the largest components of the argument and temporarily lose sight of the smaller pieces, consigning them to memory, then move down to the details again and beyond those smaller pieces into even smaller parts of the argument and lose track of the larger components.

Back and forth we go, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, pushing the limits of what we can see about the subject until we would see so much we’d lose track of what it all meant as it turns into a structure-less glob of perspectives.

A fractal dimension in narrative is defined by a human limitation as to the biggest argument you can make in which all parties can see all the parts without any blending into homogeny.  We call such a narrative a Grand Argument Story because though you can tell smaller narratives, you can’t tell larger ones.  (Though a story might contain more than one narrative, in which case each must fit within the size of mind constant, but they can all be considered as part of the entire work that explores that subject matter – just like in real life where we all juggle many narratives simultaneously and in succession as well.

Now that’s a spatial fractal.  One definition of a fractal is “the spatial record of the results of the interaction of order and chaos.”  But what is a temporal fractal?  What would that be, I wondered, still in the shower…

Well the first thought was going back to the dream.  My original interpretation had been that one time for the big and one for the smaller had this aspect I couldn’t quite parse but I could feel that I wasn’t being told the solution was magnitudes of time but qualities of time, natures of time – as if one kind of time for the big and another kind for the small.

So I starting thinking about what kinds of time there were.  And then, up from the memory vaults, came a concept I’d put forth in 1996 or thereabouts when I was recording hours of audio speculating and extending Dramatica narrative theory into narrative psychology and narrative physics:  Objective time vs. subjective time.

I those days I had first thought these two kinds of times mean one that was the same for everyone and another kind that was unique to the individual.  You know, kinda like Einstein’s theory that the faster you go, the more time slows down for you compared to everyone else.

Of course, we really see that in the old example of the space ship going near the speed of light, but in reality, that subjective time is there always, in each of us because, after all, just by standing on a different part of the globe, we are traveling faster or slower – 1000 mph at the equator, 600 mph in the temperate zones, and near 0 mph at the poles (discounting our transit round the sun and our solar system through the galaxy and so on, ad infinitum.

But since the effects of speed on time increase logarithmicly or some such, you can’t really see them at the speeds we’re talking about here.  Still, it is intriguing to consider that the person just a few feet away from you is aging at a different rate than you are because you are not rotating around the earth at the same speed.

After a few years, however, I abandoned the concept of objective and subjective time as interesting but not particularly useful (and too experiential), and instead shifted to thinking of time as being either constant or stretchy.  Stretch time…  I really liked the sound of that.  It meant that time could be constant (within observable parameters) as we both watch the seconds go by on a clock, but could be changing for each of us, relative to one another, as we go pacing back and forth in a room opposite to each other (within measurable, or at least theoretical parameters), due to our changing speeds in rotation around the earth.

So one magnitude of time is observable (constant) and the other is beneath the level of our observation (stretchy).  That replicates the relationship of macroscopic and microscopic narrative argument components that defines the fractal nature of narrative described above in relation to the Grand Argument Story.  So THAT is what a temporal fractal is – a flow of time that appears to be constant (objective reality) and an actual flow that goes faster and slower for each individual compared to all the others (subjective reality).

Now isn’t it strange that in the case of time itself, what you can commonly observe appears to objective reality, and what you individually experience but cannot observe appears to be subjective reality, and yet, constant time is really based only on the common limits of our collective minds to perceive differences, so it is really subjective, and stretchy time is what is really going on with each of us, yet because it cannot be directly observed and is different for each individual, we see it as subjective time when it really is the objective truth.  There’s enough just in that alone to create mobius loops of our philosophy and our science.

So the reality is that time is stretchy, but we perceive it as constant.  That seems simple enough.

After a while, back in the 90s and early 2000s I can to call stretchy time relativistic time because is was both more accurate and also sounded more scientific.

While in the shower then, all this came flooding back to me and I then understood that the two kinds of time from my dream were constant time and relativistic time.  One kind (such as a class) has to be constant when the other (individual projects) has to be seen as relativistic (each student proceeding at his own pace.

Of course you see, then, that for the constant to remain a constant even if some students’ projects would exceed the class time allotted, then to end at the appointed time, each project could only be completed if the amount of detail in the project were allowed to vary to enable a more swift completion.  And this illustrated how time (deadlines) are related to space (detail) and how each affects the other.

So, my two kinds of time were actually part of the same quad that began with “one side multiples and the other divides.”  That’s the spatial part of the narrative/psychology/physics of the model.  The temporal side is “one side is absolute and the other is relative.”  Together, they complete a quad one level up from the entire Dramatica model we have created so far.  In other words, this opens up a second half of narrative consideration, equal in size to that of the original, but all about time.

Now the multiply/divide side gave us an equation that resulted in the development of four separate classes of stories/considerations – Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology.  Universe is the fixed external state of things.  Physics covers all the external processes.  Mind is about fixed states of mind.  Psychology covers internal processes (manners of thinking).

Taken collectively, these four classes describe all external or internal states or processes.  Spatially speaking, you can’t think of anything that isn’t an external or internal state or process.  Game over.  Done.

But now with time as the second half of the multiply/divide quad, what would the four top-level classes of temporal narrative be?

Inception, Duration, Flow, and Fluctuation.  In other words, when does it start, how long does it last, how fast is it going, how much does that vary?

The four classes of temporal narrative structure – the prime fractal dimension.  There it is.

Of course, I’m sure those names will change and the understanding of what they mean and how they relate to one another in a quad arrangement will alter and grow.  But for now, I am simply reporting a rather nice breakthrough in realizing there were two more components at the top to fill out the quad, and to suggest the four temporal classes that engenders.

Time for a lunch break.

Melanie Anne Phillips