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Meeting A Stranger In New York Without Communicating (rwblog S6E21)

A Spy x Family themed KFC in Suzhou

Here’s a Spy x Family themed KFC in Suzhou. The interior was entirely Spy x Family themed, too.

Schelling Points as Human Capital

Recently I revisited one of my favourite articles ever, which I prefer to call “Schelling Points as capital”. (The author is a VC thought leader type and the article is a few years old, so the actual title is “NFTs and CBGBs: how’s that for a clickbait title”, and it ends up shilling NFTs at the end. Stop before you get to that point — I swear it’s a good article.) The idea is that Schelling points — that is, focal points in game theory, or the “natural” strategy that both players choose in the absence of communication — are a form of capital. The article gives the example of meeting a stranger in New York without communicating — you might choose Grand Central Station at noon — or funding a startup — the founder and the VC will almost certainly assume they are using SAFE notes. Both of these “focal points” provide value just by existing and being widely agreed upon!

This reread, I thought about how certain people could be considered Schelling points as well. I have a friend that shows up at practically every house party and, as a result, knows practically everyone. Her presence at parties can tip other folks into attending (or not), causing a chain reaction where an entire party can be populated by this one person. She is not unique, either — I know a handful of people who can be described the same way!

A Tim Horton's in Suzhou

And here’s a Tim Horton’s, also in Suzhou. Apparently Timmies is popular in China now (???).

Minimal Counterintuitiveness and Surrealism

I’ve recently been reading Alex Mesoudi’s Cultural Evolution (fantastic) and one idea it pointed out was “minimal counterintuitiveness”. Basically, humans cross-culturally tend to prefer stories that have some counterintuitive elements, but not that many — ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future show up, but otherwise it’s a normal Christmas for Scrooge. Mesoudi points to a study that quantified counterintuitive elements in fairy tales and found that minimally counterintuitive stories like Cinderella (counterintuitive: a fairy godmother, a pumpkin coach; intuitive: an evil stepmother, marrying a prince) have spread vastly further than more counterintuitive stories like The Donkey Cabbages, a Grimms’ story I’ve never heard of before, but which certainly sounds… incoherent. I’d imagine Latin American magic realist works in the Márquez vein also count as minimally counterintuitive.

Perhaps this is why surrealism, and particularly very surreal works like, say, Meshes of the Afternoon, are not all that popular? Some surrealist works are so counterintuitive that they’re frankly just difficult to understand. So, as a writer that likes surrealism, perhaps a valuable lesson here is to back off somewhat — the most effective use of counterintuitive elements is to sprinkle them like finishing salt on top of a story.1


  1. Some additional thoughts with respect to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: it has so many unintuitive elements, surely it fails the minimal counterintuitiveness test? I think Hitchhiker’s Guide is still a good example — it has many unintuitive sci-fi elements, many even stranger than the average sci-fi novel, but then it uses them for very conventional purposes, like making fun of bureaucracy! I wonder if that’s actually why Hitchhiker’s is fairly unique — in some sense it “reverses” the order of intuitiveness.