Tau Day 2018: Suspend Your Disbelief


I’m going to do a very special Tau Day video this year and break the 4th wall a bit. If you’re a fan worried I might ruin the Vi Hart Brandsperience this video is especially for you. Now, a youtuber’s brand is this delicate thing sustained through collaboration between the artist and audience. If I started younger I probably would have been more into the social vloggy youtubery aspect where we have a community with a name and we do tags and form an identity, not because that’s what younger people do but because that’s the norm, that’s the top ten tips for success on youtube, and at that point I wouldn’t have known what I want from life well enough to know that’s not the direction I want to go in. 

Some of our inside jokes and vihart lingo would be purposefully created, but some of it would just kinda happen, like, we’ve all got our hands on the little ouija board triangle thingy but no one feels like they’re directing it when all of a sudden we all agree that cats are the waste product of a particularly complicated multidimensional robot. hmm, kinda makes sense when you think about it. And now that’s the truth, or at least its canon, and after a while what’s the difference.

We would be such a good cult. We have so much amazing cult potential, it takes effort to not accidentally become a cult.

Anyway. Suspension of disbelief is an interesting thing with many varieties. Take the doodling in math class series.

“Say you’re me and you’re in math class and…”

This is standard suspension of disbelief where I write straight up fiction and you enjoy the story. You don’t have to think about it very long to realize I’m not talking to myself in a real math class as I draw in real time. It has scripted narration on top of heavily edited film.

However, youtube has some features that traditional film did not, which can lead to a sort of communal extended suspension of disbelief.

Sometimes I get comments asking about what my math teacher thought or did I get in trouble, responding to the character I play in the video rather than to actual me. I assume a lot of these comments are from folks consciously enjoying taking part in the fiction. And some are probably from folks in that fuzzy suspension of disbelief state where you’re going along with a story without really thinking about it, I mean if they stopped to think about it they’d know I’m not really in my math class but they’re enjoying a youtube binge in an extended suspension of disbelief state so they don’t stop to think about it, that would ruin the experience.

Overactive suspension-of-disbelief is common and encouraged in children but even as adults its normal to have knee-jerk emotions based on fiction. Like, you have a gut reaction against a stranger on the street and then you realize they look just like the actor who played the villain in a show you used to watch. Our brains are just really good at giving us fast first impressions based on fictional depictions of people, and then logic catches up and we either set ourselves straight or rationalize.

Sometimes our instinct is to idolize someone that we know we don’t actually know, and sometimes there’s a bit of a blurred line, say with vloggers with branded personalities where you feel a bit like you know them even though you know you’re getting a highly curated view of their life, and there can be some beautiful and worthwhile things in that connection if it isn’t abused.

See, YouTube is a giant cross-temporal ouija board with an algorithmic triangly thingy that collaborates with viewers to create the stories you want to hear without you feeling like you’re moving the triangle thingy even though of course you are, along with a million other people. So the triangly thingy, ok let’s actually look this up because I’m sure there’s a word for it, the Planchette. Recommendation Algorithms are a giant Million-person Cross-temporal Planchette. Yeah I was hoping for a funner word. Maybe we could use the English translation which is… Planky. The internet is a universal planky that points us to what we want to believe without us feeling like it’s our fault.

The intended use case of the algorithmic planky is a smooth user experience, I can keep on being a pair of hands doodling in real time in my gradeschool math class for as long as you want and you never have to see my other kinds of videos or think about the fact that these things take me weeks and I’m a professional in my 30s with a face before off you go to some other story, hopefully one with advertisements cuz planky is hungry.

So. I’ve been making videos where the story is that I hate Pi for 8 years, starting with the viral success “Pi is (still) Wrong” and most recently with “Alternative Pi”. But I don’t hate Pi. I mean, I do honestly think the circle constant should have been Tau, but I think pi is fine, there’s plenty of unfortunate notational choices that make math confusing and pi certainly isn’t the worst of them, I think celebrating pi day is a good thing to do even if Tau day is twice as good, and so I celebrate Pi day loudly and publicly every year with another installment in this manufactured controversy. 

Anyone who stops to think about it, who stops suspending their disbelief, will realize I’m not a student in algebra class who hates Pi, I’m an artist enjoying engaging an audience with a passionate mathematical experience, but if you’re just browsing around you might not think about it much and move on to something else thinking “wow there’s some chick who really hates pi” instead of applying your media literacy skills to every single youtube video you consume ever. I mean, if you’re not continuously suspending your disbelief while you watch youtube it kind of ruins the experience as you realize how much of it is just product placement and sponsorships and shallow clickbait meant to take advantage of the stories we’re collaborating with the algorithms to tell. What I mean is: we’re not just listening to the stories already there, we’re telling stories to ourselves through our searches and clicks and views, and the more shallow the content, the easier we can fit it into our story instead of listening to someone else’s. Which is why I try to not be shallow so you can’t take my story from me,

Anyway I’d originally heard that pi is wrong from the mathematician John Conway through word of mouth and I found some other things people had written about it through the years but there just wasn’t enough righteous anger in these math facts to make a good story, so that was my contribution to humanity, and others joined in, first people I knew and then people I didn’t, and now instead of me telling the story planky can help you do it in whichever way best serves all our secret desires.

Our secret desire to be told we’re smart and know better than those Pi people, if you’re on the Tau side, or better than those Tau people, if you start on the Pi side, or better because we accept both or don’t care. Same story. We all want to suspend our disbelief and take part in a fiction where we’re better than other people, what safer, better outlet for that than this fun little controversy about Tau vs Pi? We enjoy arguing and engaging with mathematical discourse in a way that harms no one and that I hope makes people a bit more conscious of the mechanisms of manufactured controversy.

BUT IF I WERE EVIL. Or maybe just if I got too wrapped up in myself and didn’t know better. Here’s how to ruin everything.

Step 1: create a group identity around a shared belief.

For us of course it’s that Tau rules Pi drools, we got that down, but it doesn’t really matter what it is. It can start as something simple, innocent, enjoyable to argue about without it really mattering. It can even start as an opinion. We’ll pivot to bigger and stronger beliefs in phase 2. But first:

Step 2: create a body of rhetoric that the group can repeat to defend their belief.

We know our talking points. Simpler equations, easier to understand, we’ve got rebuttals to their talking points too. As the group evolves beyond just being about Tau vs Pi we will expand our talking points to be that it was never really about pi vs tau, it’s about revolutionizing education, or maybe it’s about how only truly smart triangles are reasonable and open minded enough to accept new truths like Tau but also including the bigger beliefs of phase 2.

Having multiple layers of rhetoric is good because you can switch whenever one isn’t working. Whatabouts and its-really-abouts are such good friends.

Step 3: spread the word / start beef

It’s all in good fun, at least, in phase 1, the phase 2 version is start beef. But you’ve got to send your people out there to argue and act independently of you. 

First I’ll send out the Tauists to merely inform and link Pi people to some Tau information. It’s educational and just sharing something we love. In this step we’ll even recruit more tauists who want to join the fun and who think the math is interesting, and successful conversions make us look legit.

As we get into the habit of taubombing people it’s inevitable that at some point someone will go a little over the line. At this point one might realize that being a leader comes with some responsibility, but you must resist that urge, you can’t control other people’s actions, and anyway if some random person is upset about being called a loser for liking Pi, it’s just because they don’t get the joke, they should come join us, not get mad about it. We’ll all share a laugh over it so that everyone knows they have permission within the group to make mistakes and go a little overboard, it’s not a big deal.

You might recruit some folks but the goal of this step is to gain enemies, eventually someone is bound to overreact even to the lightest teasing. But in stage 1, even someone pretending to be an enemy for fun will do, because we’ll pressure them to either admit they’re not really against us, which is a win for us, or to become a true enemy, which is a win for me, because now I can move on to:

Step 4: Make your group members feel like the scum of the earth and that everyone hates them.

It might seem counterintuitive, also unethical, but this step is so important.

I need to constantly put my followers down by using other people’s worst words about them, and luckily we’ve manufactured some enemies, don’t worry about whether your enemies are actually causing real world harm to anyone, that’s not the point. You just want to make your followers feel attacked and disrespected. Think of it as if your enemies words are swords, and its not your fault if it hurts your followers when you show them those swords. In the face. Don’t get distracted by wondering if those swords were actually hurting anyone before you picked them up. Yeah, this metaphor is really working.

As our actions escalate in phase 2 the responses will too so I can play on my followers’ insecurities and wear down their self-worth until they actually feel hated. I mean we’re talking about humans here, we can convince ourselves someone’s mad at us if we send a message and don’t get a reply in 5 minutes, so this step is easy. To ruin everything, first I must ruin my follower’s lives by making sure they know they are scum. At least, outside of our little group. I understand them. I love them. I need them. And I’m the only one who ever will.

I’ve got to get them feeling really and truly hurt by everyone but us because that’s when we can: 

Step 5: Escalate.

We’ve got to get our group in a story where they are so wrapped up in the fun idea of righteous retaliation that they suspend their disbelief well past when they start to actually cause harm to other people and real actions feel rhetorical.

Of course, it’s not my fault if someone I’ve radicalized goes overboard and does something radical, but when the pi people unfairly blame me that just gives my followers more reasons to righteously defend me. They have to defend me, I’m all they got.

As our actions escalate our fake enemies become real enemies, confirming everything I drilled into my follower’s heads about how universally hated they are while still keeping the flavor that we are unfairly prosecuted.

Step 6: The enemy’s beliefs and feelings can be completely dismissed.

Make up a catchy story about how the outsiders don’t actually even really believe their own beliefs. Fake intellectuals pretend to like pi to sound smart. They’re just copying what they’re told, or are just being Pi-litically correct, and if they stopped being lazy and learned some math they’d agree with us.

The extreme of this is to make your followers believe that others don’t even feel what they claim to feel. They are just pretending to feel wronged for sympathy, they’re trying to look good to other Pi people, or feel pressured to conform, they might be paid actors, but they definitely don’t feel what they say they do. Shed some crocodile tears of your own just to make it clear that we don’t have to believe them any more than they believe us.

It’s not about whether your dismissive rhetoric is true, so don’t get distracted by trying to find out if they’re actually being paid or would actually agree with you if they knew more math. That’s not the point, the point is to give your followers tools to justify thinking they know better than random strangers about those random stranger’s own inner life. And in fiction, you can know other people’s feelings better than they do, because they’re not real people, they’re characters in our story. This is a big important step past the line into dehumanizing others.

Step 7: Benevolent Dictatorship

It’s not just about pi vs tau anymore, it’s about right vs wrong and who’s going to run things when clearly certain folks can’t even be honest with themselves about how terrible pi is, and honestly it’s pretty magnanimous of us to do this for them considering how much they hate us and how ungrateful they are but we forgive them and will send them to reeducation camps to learn about tau, yes it’s a joke at first but watch how we get used to the idea.

Soon everyone will forget how to drop the rhetoric and just look at the actual actions people are doing and the results of those actions in reality.

You know what step we don’t need? Leverage the algorithms. You’re already doing it. If you’re a space on the ouija board that some group’s collective worst instincts hopes their planky will land on, whether to agree with you or make you a villain, systems exist to find you and add you to their story. Which is great because your story relies on being other people’s villain and planky’s got it covered! It’s no one’s fault, we just all secretly asked for permission to hate each other and somehow all signs point to yes. Did you move it? I didn’t move it. 

Anyway. That’s my 7 steps to ruining everything. Now don’t forget to apply your media literacy skills. How much do these steps really apply to everything? Did I kinda just make em up? But maybe I’m really good at makin up true stuff cuz thats a mathematician’s job description. Or maybe I’m just trying to sell shirts.

Actually, I should totally sell shirts, yep, they’re real now, proclaim your loyalty in fun summer styles, available for pre-order for just the next few days and they’ll ship mid-july. What better conversation starter about the joy of mathematics and how to radicalize a following to create global chaos. The green one has it printed on the back so you can pop on a blazer in the evening for a more formal look. All proceeds go to the supreme triangle who loves us.

So happy Tau Day, it’s not just me that loves you, the world is full of people who love you and want you to be happy, whether or not you’ve found them yet. Admittedly it might be a little harder to find those people if you’re ok with hurting others to get what you want but no one said life is easy.

Enjoy your Tau Day, I hope it is double good! Tau is greater than pi! It’s not political if it’s a fact, right? wait what now?

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