Habits of ‘Ƭ-rational’ Obedience during Covid

The Prisoners’ Progress

This essay is a brief note from a bigger project that explores the meaning of obedience as a categorical imperative solution in a game of waiting[1]. The original essay and an accompanying stage game has been published[2] elsewhere. Some of my notes are also available for download at the following: http://www.patrickmcnutt.com/blog/playing-the-spectator-while-waiting-for-covid/ focusing on the theme of players as spectators to obedience during Covid designed as a game between you, and Player Unknown, PU. Despite disobedience by Player Unknown, equilibrium behaviour clustered around an obedience payoff. The objective now is to assign payoffs within the aesthetics of game theory to the sensory experience of obedience as a rational strategy to adopt in a game of waiting.

Pre-rational Consciousness

Whether spectators to obedience or prisoners of the plague[3] ‘imprisoned between the sky and the walls’ of our homes we struggle in perpetuity like the characters from[4] Pirandello in search of an endgame. As citizens in this heterotopian[5] ‘world within worlds’ citizens as players are like Precogs in a mysterious game of waiting, because now is the future in this[6] ‘poor old lousy old earth, my earth and my father’s and my mother’s’ and this future we are already living in’. This Blog narrative breaks the fourth wall by asking you the reader to participate as if you were the writer of this essay. You are a player in a game of waiting between ‘Myself’, as a player, and ‘Someone as yet unknown’ to the game labelled[7] ‘the Other’. The relationship between what players say they will do and their actions is highly non-linear. There is a pre-rational consciousness wherein the existence of the Other as a player is the only adjustment to Myself’s frame of mind. A working hypothesis[8] from earlier research on non-linear actions is adopted in that any connection between a sign of obedience and its significance to the playbook is random unless obedience is nested within the algebra of the game. The nest algebra underpins[9] the coding of human behaviour. Each string maps onto the payoffs in the matrices that are generated from a sequence of obey moves.

Like Procopius of Caesarea

Time stamp: July MMXXI: Everything is different. Everything is changed. There is an overwhelming sense of ennui. The Covid-19 regulations have become part of the warp and weft of our daily lives. Our behaviour is under scrutiny. Like Procopius of Caesarea, writing in AD 545, we, relying on statistics, watch and observe others as we negotiate our lives during the Covid lockdowns. As spectators to obedience, we are living in unusual times, waiting for our vaccine that will end the pandemic.. We are fatigued. We learn to adapt and adopt new norms. Although time has lost its meaning, as citizens, we have become players in a game of waiting. We are engaged in what the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ trying to weave meaning from the observations of others.

Our behaviour has become even more personal, more exploratory of time. Folksy stories with visions of lived lives we could have led if only there was no pandemic, generate imaginens that ‘build castles in the air’.  For the time being, life has changed, and our behaviour has had to adapt to life under Covid regulations. Our a priori knowledge of Nature may have to be revised. A gauntlet has been laid down by Nature, a gauntlet that not only has challenged our sense of self in the natural world[10] but also required of us to pause, to wait, and thus obey a set of rules and regulations. Can it really be, as Socrates suggests, that we have no right to disobey, come what may, so that allegiance is owed to a moral duty? The real moral that Socrates pointed to is that acting conscientiously can be painful or costly. Any citizen as a player in this game of waiting is split between a rational and mystical self. Is it ever right to do as you think you ought not to do?

Habits of Obedience

A new axiom of Ƭ-rationality is introduced. During a pandemic there is the phenomenon of command and obey that is reminiscent of John Austin’s command theory of law[11] wherein rules are expressed as ‘habits of obedience’ and regulations involve an expressed wish that something be done with consequences if that wish is not complied with.  Humans are adaptable. Purls of wisdom are stitched into the soul of human behaviour. It is as if there is a Kantian inner intuition, independent of the playbook, where it must be possible for the sign ‘I obey’ to affirm one’s beliefs about the pandemic. Our actions may be so subconscious that one cannot attribute them to oneself. So, in the design of the endgame, obedience is presented as a disguised equilibrium solution to waiting, that is, an equilibrium where opponent’s choice of strategy cannot be divined from the actual outcome or payoff.

Non-Archimedean Memory

There is talk, there is one’s memory[12] of the pandemic. Waiting causes the intertwining of obedience, emotion and memories. We argue that in a game of waiting our memories are not an ordered field like the real numbers in the payoff matrices. A non-Archimedean time dimension is introduced, that is, a player’s memory in a set of memories in the ‘now’ is not within an integer multiple of another memory in the future. Perhaps the ability of our memory to rank order the apparent good and bad experiences of a pandemic displaces the earlier time periods of disobedience. It is as if the player’s brain processes obedience and attaches an emotion through habit recognition so that the memories of waiting become associated with obedience.  In the payoff matrices each cell represents a mini subconscious ‘now’ and the mind-brain behaviour of a player, adjusting into the ‘now’ surreal time, selects imaginens from a pyx of memories. It is as if Myself can eavesdrop on the signs that accompany thoughts by watching the Other.

Mind Disinheritance and Displacement

In the ‘now’ the motif of parallax is robust. A non-Archimedean time dimension is best illustrated in Susanna Clarke’s fantasy[13] wherein she writes: ‘Two memories. Two bright minds which remember past events differently’. At the time stamp the solution is unambiguous that only one choice can be made: obey. The choice is an adaptive learning mechanism. But there is a telescopic effect. The idyll of obedience is more remote in time for the Other for whom disobedience is more recent. The telescopic nature of the game condenses the search for an equilibrium to the signs, the actions and behaviour of Myself and the Other player. It is, as if, obedience pursues the Other. Unable to trust the Other instantly Myself hits a blind spot – there is no adherence to the rules to be seen. There is a crisis of uncertainty. Another day, another week reveals the hidden behaviour camouflaged by what I wanted to see and believe about others. For a moment in time there is a sign of no obedience momentarily before reality hits. As prisoners of the pandemic we experience this intangible mind-bending phenomenon that disinherits an already given belief from our belief system for a moment in time until reality returns and displaces doubt. Is doubt a reflection of the sign of obedience or the significance of disobedience? At that moment in time within the noosphere[14] of truth and lies you could believe that obedience did not exist. It is as if you as a player had a[15] ‘third eye’ in the realm of the human mind, through which you could reflect on the actions of your irreducible self on whether to obey or not.

Surreal Diss[16] Value of Obedience

There is the temptation to disobey and non-conform to the rules and regulations. So, in order to illustrate mind disinheritance and displacement within a noosphere of reason the prisoner’s progress is anchored to what we call the surreal diss value of obedience. The reporting of Covid statistics is de rigeur and thus the first opening move by Nature is public knowledge. As a move, it has happened already; subconsciously the Other is aware of the powerlessness in a surreal state of being surrounded by statistics constantly watched by Myself. This translates to the arbitrary payoffs in Table 1. By way of illustration the two solutions with payoffs (0, 2) and (-1, 2) are defined as ‘co-tangent’ solutions[17] for the Other player in the sense that they both affirm the same strategy, disobey. We promote the[18] pair of payoffs (0, 2) and (-1, 2) as co-tangent adjusted equilibria, adjusted for the reasoned pursuit of obedience as a social value[19]. Research is continuing, but in the interim let’s consider the following hypothetical: let p1 be the probability of obedience. There is a corresponding probability of disobedience (1-p1). For Myself, a mixed strategy {p, 1-p1}, with ½ probability, hints that the Other player will be indifferent between obedience and disobedience. If the Other player obeys, then the payoffs accruing are -1 and 1.

Table 1: Surreal Diss Game

Myself/the ‘OtherS1: ObeyS2: Disobey
S1: Obey2,-10,2
S2: Disobey-1,1-1,2

The expected payoff for obedience accruing to the Other player is computed from the equation {(-1 x p1) + (1 x (1-p1))}: less than 2 depends on value of p1.The Other’s expected payoff from obedience is equal to the payoff from disobedience only when p1, the obedient player’s probability of obedience has a certain value. This value is computed at -½, a value we define as the surreal diss value of obedience. If the Other player truly wishes to disrespect the rules and regulations the obedient player, Myself, has to be twice as likely to obey as not or the Other player will not be willing to give up 2 in exchange for the probability of (1, -1). However, to know our own mind and to explain our own behaviour there is a Hegelian bridge to cross, a bridge between being in the ‘now’ and the ‘beyond effect’ of the future. A surreal diss value embedded in obedience payoffs is contentious as some players disobey. The co-tangency promotes reason and virtue and, in the endgame, like Diogenes, a rational player, adapts behaviour and acts in accord with Nature. There is this liminal space where the Other crosses over as a[20] Beckett player delaying a disobey move whilst thinking of obedience.

Truth-rationality: Ƭ-rational

So what constitutes Ƭ-rational behaviour at these co-tangent payoffs? The Other player would not be acting rationally if a strategy were chosen that does not maximise the payoff. Within the aesthetics of game theory a Nash equilibrium (0, 2) maximises the payoff accruing to the Other player. Albeit, opting to obey translates apparent non-rational behaviour into what we label as truth-rationality, a point of balance in the game when the subconscious mind of the  Other player reasons that a maximum payoff is bounded by the surreal diss value of obedience. Rationality is interpreted here[21] as ‘’the discipline of subjecting one’s choices – of actions as well as of objectives, values and priorities – to reasoned scrutiny’. Although adherence to the rules is a sign of obedience for Myself as a player, the significance of waiting for the Other is to rework the payoffs in palimpsest time by reading the sign that an obedient player has to be twice as likely to obey the rules and regulations in the pandemic. Otherwise an unsynchronised equilibrium – order without equilibrium – obtains in this epistemic mind game. The Other, as a prisoner of the pandemic, is now a producer of obedience, not just a spectator to obedience. Myself contemplates the[22] palimpsest of playbooks as all players are confronted with multiple layers[23] of interpretative[24] memory and imaginens – some still happening in real time.

Human Talk[25]

Our assertion without proof, is that if all players read this sign, obedience becomes a categorical imperative. Myself and the Other player, like Vladimir and Estragon, engage in a variety of ‘human talk’ while awaiting an end to the pandemic. We exhibit idiosyncrasies of rule-guided communication that go beyond non-rational behaviour. This Kantian inner intuition is analogous to an intangible mind-bending phenomenon that disinherits an already given belief to disobey from the Other’s belief system for a moment in non-Archimedean time – at least until reality returns and displaces doubt. Obedience becomes a club good in the tradition of public choice[26]. The penetration of ‘club’ obedience into social life alters the configuration of rationality to the extent of encouraging particular conceptions of imaginens within the subconscious of all players. The socially constructed rules of obedience and compliance slowly transform our understanding of constraints set by Nature. Obedience to rules and regulations rather than cheating, for example, or shirking, evolves as an ordered solution to the Natural problem of waiting.


Reality lies in how you see things. Individual player behaviour in the ‘now’ during a pandemic is viewed as an artefact of the player’s consciousness, and the reality of ‘now’ is beyond the ordinary quotidian drabness of life in a pandemic. The illusions are imaginens ‘like Godard’s camera filming a camera filming a camera’ without origin or end[27]. Myself and the Other are challenged, as you are by what is observed but we create a ‘future’ from the entanglements of multiple realities in non-Archimedean time. Obedience has come to us in this game of waiting to advise on what we ought to do for family, and ultimately for society. In a game of waiting obedience disguises itself as the old man Mentor, whom Odyssey asked to look after his son, Telemachus. The word ‘truth’ becomes a synonym for ‘reality’ during a pandemic and the signs of obedience betray a new axiom of rationality, truth-rationality that spans the arc of adaptable human behaviour. There is a lack of trust and impatience in a game of waiting. Like Orpheus, son of Apollo, many of us are weak. Others, like Eurydice, his wife, run away from obedience, they ‘step on a viper and die’. However, when we omit obedience from a Ƭ-rational playbook then the corresponding nest algebra consists of a sequence of matrices with zero payoffs signifying nothing. In other words, all players in a game of waiting realise at a moment in non-Archimedean time that obedience is making life easier in this game, providing[28] ‘some kind of way outta here’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Comments are closed.