Rationale: When I picked up Fahrenheit 451 as a kid, it was at a point when I was slightly disinterested in reading. Ray Bradbury reinvigorated my love of reading, took me on a journey into another world, and began my interest in dystopian Sci-Fi. As an archaeologist and history enthusiast, I was partially drawn into the world of Fahrenheit 451 because of the historical narratives that were intertwined into this world. I chose this book because I wanted to use computational complexity science to understand how this world works, particularly how interactions with firemen and with other bibliophiles and potential defectors impacts the number of bibliophiles in the world.
FAHRENHEIT 451 (1953)
A Dutch Edition of Fahrenheit 451. Published by Het Spectrum in 1960. Illustrated by R. van Giffen.
Fahrenheit 451 is an agent-based model (ABM) in NetLogo, which is used to understand the world of Fahrenheit 451 and particularly how long and under what conditions bibliophiles may or may not persist in the world. The agents in the model represent a bibliophile. The population is set by the global variable N, which is meant to represent a subdivided population. In the model, it is assumed that each bibliophile will gather books at approximately the same rate. This is a spatially explicit model. Each bibliophile will keep their old books (or old traits), which is derived from the experienced generation, and new books (or new traits), which shows the naïve generation. Each time step will consist of the naïve bibliophile trying to gather new books (or traits) within their effective foraging radius (r_e). Each bibliophile begins with a number of books, which in this case is just a number and is set in the beginning according to the turtle identification number. Each agent also keeps a list of agents (potential-teachers) that are within their interaction radius (r_i), including themselves (or ego).
Additionally, they will find out whether their potential teacher, or someone that they could learn a book from, is a defector, or someone that could report them to the firemen. The agent’s potential teacher list remains as nobody until it is generated each time step and potential teachers are added. The list is also used in book transmission, and is reset in each time step. Each agent also keeps track of who and the number of times that they have been taught by a specific agent (teacher-history). The list keeps track of who ego has learned from in each time step throughout the simulation. Further, the list keeps track of how many times ego has learned from each bibliophile; so it is cumulative for one entire simulation. Each agent also has a variable that calculates the number of unique groups that the agent has learned from (teacherRichness), or which is the number of groups that each group has learned from over the course of a simulation.
Finally, if a bibliophile comes within a given buffer of a red patch, where a firemen would be, then they perish. So, how can bibliophiles persist in the world of Fahrenheit 451.
Rationale: The technology available to Big Brother and the state apparatus in 1984 isn’t too far from what we have today. But the use of the technology in 1984 results in severe changes in human behaviour: disappearance of empathy, memory, trust. Most are not under surveillance, but decide to voluntarily spy for the state fearing that they might disappear otherwise. How did it happen (how can we save us from going to 1984), and how can the situation change (how can we save the people of 1984)?
Signet mass-market paperback. Signet 798, published in 1951. 237 pages. Features the classic cover pictorial painted by Alan Harmon.
The Poum militia in Barcelona 1936 with Orwell in the background; he describes several days and nights spent defending its headquarters from the roof of the nearby Poliorama theatre in 1937. Photograph: Getty Images
The 1984 model is not an ABM: it is a system of ordinary differential equations implemented in MATLAB’s Simulink, conveniently splitting the system into subsystems corresponding to different areas of state organisation: economy, police & army, propaganda, the people.
The only external input is the random number of soldiers deployed by the enemies in the distant war theatres: if it is greater than the number Oceania sends, news from the warzone are bad. That’s why state aims to send an optimal number of soldiers to war, as good war news can compensate for bad economic news in the country--but sending too many soldiers out means less people in factories and the collapse of the economy altogether.
This is one example of a loop in the system: other loops exist as well and complicate the mechanisms of Party’s control over people. An example of a social experiment on this model is the introduction of law: instead of focusing surveillance on thoughtcrime, state abruptly switches to the focus on “regular crime”: while in the beginning the shift of suppression seems to decrease thoughtcrime, with time it explodes and rises to unprecedented levels: the revolution starts.