Worlds Resemble Other Worlds | 2334

Worlds resemble other worlds and we adopt world(view)s when we recognise them. Some worlds we have agency in, others we don’t. 

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Worlds Resemble Other Worlds

I’ll be presenting at the Autonomous Worlds Assembly in Turkey in November. So I’m currently working on my talk about narratives and mythmaking in worlds. This week I want to talk about the nature of worlds in general. 

My primary thesis is of course : All techno-social systems should be seen through the lens of worlds. Not all worlds however are techno-social systems, but all techno-social systems are worlds. When people ask me what a world is, I usually reply, “You know one when you see one.

Despite all my intellectual energy dedicated to writing, thinking, and consulting about worlds, I don’t have a strong definition of what a world is. I don’t see this as a failing on my part. Homo Ludens by Huizing is entirely about the role of play in culture and society, yet it offers no prescriptive definition of play at it.

It instead offers characteristics of play – I’m going off my notes here as it’s been a long time since I read it – which include 

  • Freedom: Play is a free activity. It’s never obligatory, external motives are put aside.
  • Separateness: Play is distinct from “ordinary” life. It occurs within its own boundaries of time and space.
  • Uncertainty: Outcome of play is uncertain, and may incorporate an element of chance.
  • Order: Play unfolds within a specific order and under specific rules that are different from those of ordinary life.
  • No Material Interest: There are no material interests involved in play, and no profit can be gained from it.

In the same way that play is hard to define, so are games.

Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations can only describe the concept of game, rather than offer a description.

Consider for example the proceedings that we call β€˜β€˜games.’’
I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common of them all?β€”Don’t say: β€˜β€˜There must be something common, or they would not be called β€˜games’’’—but look and see whether there is anything that is common to all, but similarities, relationships. . . . [We] see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.

He goes on to characterise these similarities using the metaphor of β€˜β€˜family-resemblance’’.

As in: “resemblances between members of a family: build, feature, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way.β€” β€˜β€˜games’’ form a family.”

Worlds can be found all over. In video games, films, books, music, maths, ecology etc. So games have family resemblance, so do worlds.

The late Romantic composer Gustav Mahler (working amidst the same culture that gave us both Scott’s concept of legibility and wargames), wrote in 1895 that “To me ‘symphony’ means constructing a world with all the technical means at one’s disposal”.Β 

He wrote that at the same time as sci-fi was being born – we don’t often think of romantic composers as worldbuilders. But it’s obvious when you think about it. Consider romantic music’s development of motif and IdΓ©e fixe. Ideas that have had massive influence on the world of film during the 20th century.

What these musical ideas (and the worlds they inhabit) do – to recapitulate Tolkien’s point about Secondary Belief from last week’s episode – is create a sense of internal consistency.

We can suggest that one familial resemblance of worlds is that they share internal rules and logic. Different from the real world but consistently applied within their boundaries.

In the introduction to Shirly, A Tale, Bronte writes:

You shall see them, reader. Step into this neat garden-house on the skirts of Whinbury, walk forward into the little parlour–there they are at dinner …. You and I will join the party, see what is to be seen, and hear what is to be heard. At present, however, they are only eating; and while they eat we will talk aside.

Last week I also talked about the sticky nature of talking about presence, and immersion in worlds. You can be immersed in the world of a book, but not feel present there. Or you can have a presence in a world but not feel necessarily immersed in it. But one word I didn’t mention at all in relation to being in a world was inhabitation. 

Whether you think Bronte was talking about being present with the characters of her world or being immersed in it alongside them. What is clear for her, a world is something that feels inhabited. Characters, real people, characters, ideas, processes etc inside a world must feel alive. 

Ian Cheng says to world a world is to ‘maximise its aliveness‘. Worlding “is the activity of nurturing a world towards aliveness”. Another word to add to our resemblance list.

One of the things about looking at someones’ newborn child is that you see them through the lens of your own life experience. Maybe you think a kid looks more like its mum simply because you know them better. You recognise the shape of the brow.

Worlds resemble other worlds and we adopt world(view)s when we recognise them. Some worlds we have agency in, others we don’t. But for the ones that do, like techno-social systems, we see them through the lens of D&D

I still hesitate to give a wider definition of worlds, they remain mysterious to me. But I can, perhaps, offer a set of resemblances for the type of worlds I’m interested in:

Territories of imagination, bound by consistent internal rules that invite exploration, participation, and belief. Not a static container but a dynamic place where the extent of one’s incorporated presence and immersion oscillates based on one’s engagement.


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