The logic of interaction is difficult

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Yesterday's xkcd:

Mouseover title:

"Oh right, eye contact. Ok, good, holding the eye contact … holding … still holding … ok, too long! Getting weird! Quick, look thoughtfully into space and nod. Oh, dammit, said 'yeah' again!"

For a more elaborate — and more fully mathematicized — take on the same problem, see "Conversational Game Theory, the cartoon version", 11/24/2003.

And then there's today's xxkcd:

Mouseover title:

"[audience looks around] 'What just happened?' 'There must be some context we're missing.'"


  1. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 8:37 am

    I wonder if anyone's ever studied "conversational game theory" as applied by (1) an individual fully conscious of each "choice" made, and intensely aware of each "move", like a chess player (cf. above cartoon), versus (2) an individual conversing "in the moment", without giving conscious thought to each "choice", and being the "flow", so to speak.

    I wonder if you recorded a sample conversation of each, what each chart would look like.

  2. Daniel Johnson said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 9:01 am

    See "Games People Play", by Eric Berne, a pop psychology best-seller published in 1964, presenting transactional analysis (which I assume has matured beyond the category of "pop").

  3. Kasper said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    Being rather deaf, I find that when there is any background noise, however quiet, my end of the conversion invariably becomes nodding, smiling (or not!) and going "mm, right, ah," at "appropriate" intervals.

    And see David Lodge's witty and well-observed novel Deaf Sentence.

  4. Dan Lufkin said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 10:08 am

    J. Alfred Prufrock — Check your messages.

  5. Ross Presser said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 11:32 am

    Notice how the man bursts in from the left. Perhaps the podium is an LL(1) parser.

  6. Tom Ace said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    xkcd 1087 has title (mouseover) text:

    My all-time favorite example of syntactic ambiguity comes from Wikipedia: 'Charlotte's Web is a children's novel by American author E. B. White, about a pig named Wilbur who is saved from being slaughtered by an intelligent spider named Charlotte.'

    Although the Wikipedia article has since been edited, it still has another fun ambiguity later on:

    When the old sheep in the barn cellar tells Wilbur that he is going to be killed and eaten at Christmas, he turns to Charlotte for help.

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