July 19, 2015

Remembering Caligula's Life Story

a theoretical application, a personal exercise, and a methodological reflection
Predictable sequences are easier to reconstruct and correlation is sometimes as good as causation for remembering storylines. In a nutshell, that’s the theory I’ll attempt to describe in my next post. For today, here’s a personal exercise in remembering, and an immediate reflection on my own mnemonic sequencing methods. [Note: remembering an entire life story can be compressed into the memory of an outline or storyline, to which other details may be attached for a more completely reconstructed life story. Today's post, as in all my recent discussion, I will mention lots of details, but the theory and method here will remain focused on emphasizing the construction of a sequencable timeline.]

I will now actively remember the basic outline from one biographical storyline: Caligula grew up in the Roman imperial household, became a favorite nephew of the emperor Tiberius, succeeded to power with Tiberius’ chief advisor Macro, oversaw one year of stable government and then ruled maniacally for another two years, before finally being assassinated by his own elite bodyguards.

As I’ve just reconstructed it, from beginning to end, this sequence proceeds on the conditioning powers of probability. Other mnemonics could have been employed, but I wanted to start in early childhood and build forward through time. The six points in the finished outline had each been preserved somewhere in my brain, but I was able to sequence them all together (through “constructive remembering”) by paying attention to content itself.

Summing up what I remember about the early childhood “Little Boot”/Gaius Caesar is what gets me the first point, which allows but does not require the second point. Other children grew up in Augustus’ household, but searching my memory for the particular outcome of Caligula’s family situation reminds me (whether directly or indirectly) that he did somehow worm his way into favor. Next, remembering him from that vantage point on the Isle of Capri reminds me that Tiberius died there. Caligula’s life story content is divided neatly in two by Tiberius’ death. That passing, however, did not require Caligula’s succession. In fact, other heirs were passed over (Claudius) or killed off (Agrippa) so that Gaius Caligula could become Emperor. Nevertheless, I do not have to remember those details to recall the sequence “death, then succession”. Like everything else in this chain of events, the links aren’t forged by causality but probability. The death of a ruler doesn’t always result in an immediate succession. This is simply the most frequent outcome.

Next, it’s obvious that I remember Caligula did become emperor - it’s the only reason we’re talking about him - but how do I remember WHEN Caligula became Emperor? And more importantly, why does that mnemonic content rise to the surface at this point? My argument is, because it was specifically evoked at this point in the chain of conditioning - not by causality but by correlation. Even if it’s only because I was holding this key point in reserve until I had constructively re-collected and re-sequenced all the “early life” material I could muster, this is the same process repeating, as it did before. What else do I remember, and how best does it fit? I cycle through things I remember until finding something that fits a familiar pattern - not necessarily a logical or reasonable or necessary progression, but a progression that feels like a recognizable sequence.

Of all the content I can manage to remember from his life story, which bit happened next?

I remember all the anecdotes where he seems like a crazy tyrant, and I remember he obviously died at the end. But do I remember anything else? Do I remember anything before that?

As it so happens, personally, I remember Sutorius* Macro, Tiberius’ chief advisor who took over the reigns of empire after deposing the infamous prefect Sejanus in AD 31. From my personal studies of history, I remember Macro as a part of the smooth transition of power before Caligula got rid of him about a year later. (*His first name is the only thing I looked up, while writing this post.)

Was Macro’s influence causative? Does his removal explain the brevity of Caligula’s good year? I’ve never heard anyone say so, but to be honest, I do remember thinking this during my reconstruction. I’ll even admit I re-typed the italicized storyline (at top) to avoid giving the impression that causality was responsible for this sequence in my own mnemonic reconstruction. I have therefore admitted that causality did at least enter my thinking. However, I do not believe causality was responsible for my reconstruction of sequence, and after much reflection tonight I believe I can prove it.

Years ago, I was working on the background to Paul’s letter to Galatia, and trying to debunk a gerrymandered chronology which depended on supposing that Caligula gave Damascus to Aretas shortly after Tiberius died (AD 37). Of the many arguments I mounted against this, my most original point was the continuity of Macro. Since Macro had been running the empire for Tiberius, and Macro continued under Caligula initially, there was no cause for supposing that Rome suddenly reversed its position on Aretas just because the figurehead ruler was no longer enjoying his extravagantly debauched retirement on the Isle of Capri. That was my argument, and that’s undoubtedly why Macro still exists as a significant part of my memories about Caligula. Macro also happens to correspond with related research on Caligula’s gifting of Trachonitis to Herod Agrippa in that same time period. (For more about all that, see the bottom part of this very old, very long blogpost: http://www.billheroman.com/2008/05/aretas-and-damascus-discussion.html.)

Now, I have also heard some claim that Caligula’s worst years might be explained by an illness that caused brain damage. I don’t remember (and for the purposes of today’s exercise, I am purposely not looking it up) in what month and year that illness was supposed to have been, but I think I remember hearing it was early in AD 38. Thus, even though I have always doubted the illness/insanity narrative, I did remember it and it did preserve the idea of a good year followed by two bad years. Next, I suspect due to a bit of unrelated borrowing, I also drew on some narratives about Nero that claim his horrible phase begins with his mother’s and Seneca’s deaths - good advisers, good ruler; dead advisers, horrifying ruler. It was into this paradigm, tonight, that I believe I attached Macro. Altogether, then, I may have conflated my memory of the illness timeline with the Nero narrative, and succinctly narrated Macro as the dividing line between good and bad years of Caligula’s rule.

Perhaps most intriguingly, however, I cannot recall ever thinking this about Macro before now.

If that’s true, then causality here was not a memory previously encoded but a brand new distortion, something I generated during tonight’s constructive remembering. Actually, with further research and debate, it could eventually prove a happy accident of historical imagination, but that’s aside from the point. For our purposes tonight, it doesn’t matter whether the recollection is true, and it doesn’t matter how the recollection was distorted. It matters when the recollection was distorted. Instead of using a previously encoded sense of causality to reconstruct temporal content, I took what were simply encoded (and conflated) associations and I inflated that correlation into a narratable causation - and perhaps this itself was partly because I was remembering in real time while typing on a keyboard. But none of this has yet to answer the question at hand: how did I remember the sequence in question?

Causality was neither available nor needed. Thanks to my old research on an ancillary topic, I remembered that Macro advised Tiberius before advising Caligula briefly. Macro was present and then he was absent, and the overlap lasted about one year, as best I recall. [Edit: Make that one year give or take a few months; from Tiberius’ death (March of 37) to Macro’s demotion to prefect of Egypt, which dates either from appointment (as early as January 38) or physical transfer (as early as June 38).]

In the act of constructive remembering, I adjusted my encoding of Macro’s significance. However, before I could do that I first had to recall Macro as having some other significance. And this was due to a simple correlation. When I asked myself, what’s the very next thing to include after Caligula’s succession, the trace memory I selected was Macro. It was not his effect I was originally thinking about, but his origin. Macro served Tiberius, Caligula succeeded Tiberius, and so then Macro served Caligula. That’s a temporal correlation, a mnemonic association of overlapping continuities, a conditioning of probabilities with no sense of causation.

My placement of Macro as the next bit of the storyline was purely because he corresponds in multiple ways with my memory of the regime transition.

Of course causality can serve the same self-sequencing purpose, for remembering chronologies. For instance, different reader could mnemonically reconstruct Caligula’s timeline without Macro, and they might sequence the good and bad years by recalling (however dubiously) a sense of causality they’d encoded from reading about the brain injury. Technically, this same causality did (admittedly) inform my own exercise here, on some deep level. Even though I rejected the causality as non-factual, that memory of rejected causality is what initially reminded me that there was a good year (or so) before the insanity began to run rampant.

Nevertheless, I believe I have shown that remembering causality was not absolutely required. Sometimes sequences depend on probability and/or pure correlation. For part of my process, a collection of memories all coincided with the mnemonic “time period” defined by Macro’s association with Caligula, all of which I summed up in one single point on my remembered storyline. That point, summing up the collective “phase” of the storyline, thereby sequenced itself.

So there’s one biographical storyline I constructively remembered today, and that’s my most honest reflection on my actual reconstructive process.  But whether you believe me or not, this illustrates the ways in which probability and correlation help the mind reconstruct sequences while remembering story content.

Other children grew up in Augustus’ household; Tiberius had other favorites; other heirs were killed off or passed over so Caligula could be chosen; nothing mandated a good start or a slide into horrifying insanity; and the praetorian assassins weren’t absolutely obligated to arrive at that choice. At each “gap” between these remembered “phases” or “turning points”, the storyline could have moved in some alternative direction. The fact of the actual sequence is what the naive refer to as “history”. The way I construct my remembered sequence is by comparing trace memories against recognizable time periods. The important thing isn’t logical necessity. It’s familiar frequencies.

The most rememberable sequences in Caligula’s life story may seem natural or “logical”, but they aren’t “logically necessary” by any stretch of the mind. What they actually are can be explained on a more basic level. The rememberable sequences are rememberable mainly because they’re predictable.

Growing up is necessarily first and assassination is necessarily last. That’s not causality. That’s statistics. That’s a common pattern we observe among life stories.

Succeeding Tiberius comes after earning favor and before ruling. That’s not logical necessity. That’s a pair of correlations. The context of story content either includes Tiberius being Emperor or it doesn’t.

And finally, since the insane years precede the assassination then the good years - by virtue of existing - must precede the bad years. That’s not karma. That’s two distinct data sets. Assassination is more likely to follow a tyrannical rule than a good rule, and in this case (as far as I remember) it did.

Assuming I remember each of these six points, they sequence themselves. More deeply, their self-sequencing property may be what reinforces their preservation as trace memories. The structural value of these six points as an outline is a survival advantage. Having already established that content dictates sequence, we may now observe the converse, that timelines “select” (in a Darwinian sense) their own content.

Our need to remember storylines privileges temporal content.

The more rememberable stories, over time, may by default become the more memorable as well.

This is one reason biography remains a perennially popular and a relatively reliable tool for remembering the past.

July 4, 2015

Remembering Life Stories (3): Biographical Temporality

Temporal content appears in biographical narratives not just through "sufficient causality" but in material that aligns with common patterns of human growth and personal development. Such content structures stories not by Plot but by Character. We identify this material in biographical literature according to three types: "necessary causality", statistical probability, and correlation with recognized "time patterns". Extensive illustrations are included. (This is post 3 of 6.)


Having previously identified self-sequencing memory in two areas (narrativized causality, as in the “post hoc” stylings of an Aristotelian Plot, and human mortality, by which birth and death provide every life story’s chronological Beginning and End), my last post adapted the more generally applicable work of William Friedman, who showed that we remember chronology (“the time of events”) by reconstructing temporal context from the informational content of preserved bits of memory (and associated knowledge). Thanks to Friedman, I feel justified in defining “temporal content” as “mnemonic content that structures itself" or "implies its own sequence".

With all this in mind we come to the practical question of literary biography.

What kinds of temporal content are typically found in narrated life stories? What helps readers remember a biographical storyline? Obviously all biographies feature human mortality, and many biographies feature narrativized causality, but what other types of raw narrative material typically convey the kind of temporal content readers use to mnemonically re/construct a sequence of life story events? In short, what kinds of information help the mind chronologize life stories according to character development, without relying on narrative causality?

Obviously, that exclusion has been the tricky part.

Building story structure around character development can depend largely on identifying a sequence of conditional prerequisites. But how can we identify life story progressions based on “necessary causality” when we’ve disallowed the narrativizations of “sufficient causality”? This requires something more than a categorical distinction. We need to distinguish these two causalities differently than historians or physicists (determining relative measures of actual causation) and differently than literary critics (categorizing ways in which composition supplies that which narrative requires). To maintain our focus on cognitive memory theory, we need to distinguish “necessary causality” and “sufficient causality” in terms of how they function as tools of constructive remembering.

Things happened. Storytellers purported causalities. But an audience member’s ability to remember that story is affected by which type of narrative “causality” is employed.

When memories are encoded with the narrative structure of “sufficient causality”, either cause or effect may evoke one another. Besides logical deduction, there is the original encoding of the mnemonic association. Each trace memory has been created in such a way that its own informational context requires (implies, evokes, triggers) a necessary remembering of the associated trace. The mnemonic associations are mutually reinforcing and they imply one another reciprocally. When encoded as such, the cause evokes the effect and the effect evokes the cause. Thus, if both bits of information are preserved (and theoretically, even if only one of them is) either one will necessarily trigger a reconstruction of their temporal relationship as prior and subsequent.

Note how the meta-level of memory flips our terminology. “Sufficient causality” implies sequence necessarily. “Necessary causality” doesn’t necessarily imply anything.

When memories are encoded with the narrative structure of “necessary causality”, the cause and effect do not have an equal ability to evoke one another. The outcome is encoded to reflect its necessary precondition, but the precondition encoded as such does not embed enough information to require (imply, evoke, trigger) the memory of any particular outcome. Even if both memory traces are preserved, their associations are not mutually reinforcing and the temporal implication is non-reciprocal. The effect evokes its cause but the cause does not automatically evoke its effect. The “necessary” association is absolute when remembering “backward”, but triggering that association is not absolutely necessary when remembering “forward”.

As Friedman demonstrated, it’s all about the information. Preserving information about a development reflects information about preconditions, but preserving information about preconditions doesn’t embed information which necessitates later developments. As long as the mnemonic content is encoded differently for these types of priors and subsequents, the remembering of “necessary causality” works differently in the forward and backward directions. If the mind works to reconstruct time in a backward direction, the “necessary effect” absolutely implies its own “necessary cause”. But to reconstruct time in a forward direction, the remembering mind must make a logical leap to link prior to its subsequent - and this is true even when both bits of information are preserved!

Surprisingly, however, this logical leap is not completely bereft of assistance. Although necessary prerequisites do not imply necessary effects, prerequisite causes do imply possible outcomes.  In fact, prerequisites often imply one or more probable outcomes. Despite lacking absolute causality, we do not fall all the way back to a completely freestyle “fill in the blanks” model of constructive remembering (as we often do in situations addressed by schema theory). Rather, when leaping forward in time from the memory of a prerequisite, the remembering mind is provisionally enabled to “connect dots” from within a selection of probable outcomes.

Cue inspirational music. We just passed through causation and drilled down to correlation.

Near the end of post #1, I said “our familiarity with certain predictive regularities of human growth and development enables various algorithms for the efficient compression and reliable reconstruction of biographical storylines”. These “predictive regularities” involve what I have just been explaining, and some algorithms for efficient compression of storylines will be the focus of post #4. Also in post #1, in the very next paragraph, I said that developmental storylines “may be informationally compressed into backward chains of “necessary causality””. We will look closely at those types of "backward" compressions in post #5.

What remains for today (here in post #3) is to identify instances of temporal content in life stories that build upon Character rather than Plot. We have just observed two types of material that mark such content, and we can add a third type more directly in line with William Friedman’s research (post #2).

The first type is “necessary causality” as reflected in biographical development. The second type is probability as conditioned by developmental prerequisites. The third type is any statistical correlation which conforms to what Friedman called “time patterns”. This third pattern can be redefined more purely in terms of statistical correlations (familiar frequencies and/or regular occurrences of conditioned outcomes), but that’s enough stats talk for the moment.

The pertinent issues should become more understandable as we begin to look at examples.


Let’s begin with the most distinctive of our three patterns - probability as conditioned by developmental prerequisites. If some life experience or narrative material is seen as a “necessary cause”, and encoded within trace memory as a precondition, then there remains a good chance the mind will successfully reconstruct a timeline by trying to recall trace memories that may be associated with one or more of the given precondition’s probable outcomes.

Consider the familiar experience of autobiographical memory.

Let’s say you have an old high school friend who joined the army after graduation. Now let’s further suppose that at some moment you happen to recall that this friend did join the army, and you find yourself trying to remember when this occurred. Because turning eighteen is a prerequisite to joining the army, both logic and general knowledge should assist you in triggering the preserved memory that your old friend was indeed eighteen at the time. (The conditional outcome has implied its own precondition, not just logically but informationally.) Again, if you first remember that your high school friend joined the army, and this reminds you about standing with her/him at graduation, then you’ve just constructively remembered temporal content in the backward direction.

In the forward direction, however, if you first recall the old high school friend and then find yourself trying to remember what she/he did after graduation, the fact that turning eighteen is a prerequisite to enlistment does not ensure you'll recall what happened next. If your memory of that later development is lost, you would merely be guessing, as anyone could. Probability alone tells us that military service is often one of the top four or five leading career choices popular among high school graduates, but of course we are talking about probability assisted remembering. If your memory of your friend's later development is not utterly lost, if the trace of that information has merely become faded over time, then probability offers more assistance to you than it would anyone else. If the memory is still accessible then your familiarity with the common patterns of human experience helps you access it more easily by “narrowing the search”. Rather than trying to “fill in the blank” by searching your mind aimlessly, your awareness of the most likely outcomes allows you to search your mind specifically for traces of any previously encoded memory that happens to match one of those probable scenarios. Again, if a previously encoded memory trace is accessible, the chances are good you’ll succeed in remembering it. (And not just "remembering" it.)

We pause to note three key points briefly. First, this scenario is not an outworking of “natural logic” or “causality” because the mnemonic assistance comes from your personal familiarity with statistical frequencies - which, themselves, are not comprehensively dictated by natural logic or direct causation. Second, this example obviously seems similar to situations of "remembering" in which familiar schemas help the mind construct false memories, and similar to situations where the reconstruction "successfully" recalls a previously encoded false memory. Indeed, probability can assist in recalling false traces and inventing new memories, as easily as probability can assist in recalling a "true" trace memory (as it did in the given scenario). However, as I said in post #2, the reliability of content must be held apart from the “reliability” (plausibility) of structure. Even false memory illustrates that probability can enable the constructive remembering of timelines. But this brings up our third point. Concerns about “false memory” in such scenarios can be largely alleviated when we leave autobiographical memory and focus on remembering literature. My memory of content from a literary narrative can be looked up and verified.

I think I remember that Lincoln was a Senator before he became President. I know most U.S. Presidents were Senators or Governors, and a few had been Generals. But I think Lincoln was a Senator. Notice how this is not strictly a guess. It’s not even mostly a guess. The odds help in two ways; they limit my options and they boost my general confidence, both of which reinforce my specific confidence, which is that I happen to feel strongly that I’ve remembered correctly. We could look it up. But you already know that in this case I did remember correctly.

Not incidentally, this Lincoln example belongs to category three. It’s a purely non-causal statistical correlation. Note the backward reconstruction (from president to one of three likely positions) and yet there is no necessary employment prerequisite before “president”. This is probability without a prerequisite, which makes it neither category one, nor two. This is a statistical pattern of common temporal progression. We reconstructed backwardly, assisted by known frequencies. For remembering temporality, conventional sequences are as helpful as causative influences.

We’ll come back to that point in a moment. Here’s another example.

Encoding information that “The queen died of grief” associates cause and effect so mutually (through the narrative distortion of “sufficient causality”) that recalling either point can trigger a recall of the other, and recalling in either direction reinforces the selfsame mutual association. Remembering the queen’s death reminds us of her grief, and remembering her grief reminds us that it killed her; or at least, that is what we have so long believed. Note how the prior implies its own subsequent as strongly as the subsequent implies its own prior. This is what I meant about the mnemonic association of narrativized causality being “reciprocal".

Contrast this with encoding information that “The queen became a great-grandmother”, which implies she had previously become a grandmother, and also previously a mother. Note how this implication is not reversible. Encoding a memory that “The queen birthed a child” or that “The queen became a grandmother” embeds no absolute implication about later developments. Becoming a great-grandmother reflects (implies, evokes, embeds) information about her earlier states. Observe once more, however, this is not merely “natural logic”. I presume we have all heard of Elizabeth, Charles, William, and George.

In this example, the subsequents imply their own necessary priors, not merely because logic requires it but because logic assists us in remembering information about this woman, Queen Elizabeth, and her next three successors. This is what Friedman called a “time pattern” - a previously established familiarity with the frequently observed (and often narrated) pattern in human experience - in this case, the succession of generations. Again, each subsequent in this chain implies its own priors, but each prior can only imply possible subsequents. If you did not remember that Elizabeth has a son, then you might not remember that Elizabeth has a grandson. But if you do recall the prerequisite event, then probability assists you in recalling whether the next likely outcome (in a familiar sequence or “time pattern”) may have occurred.

Remembering a prerequisite makes it easier to recall probable outcomes.

These are biographical patterns of life story development and they enable the efficient rememberability of story structure by focusing on Character rather than Plot. (Ta-da!)

All grandmothers had previously become mothers, and many mothers go on to become grandmothers. Every adult survived infancy, and most infants live to adulthood. All army soldiers must have reached age eighteen, and some eighteen year olds join the army. Every doctoral candidate was once a lowly undergraduate, but few college freshman pursue Ph.D status.

That's probably just enough to make my point. Let's wrap up this argument and I'll append tons more examples at the bottom of this post. Look for additional insights there as well. There is much more to note about all of this, as we go on with our study.


We have looked at examples of story content in which outcomes necessarily imply preconditions, examples of story content in which preconditions partially assist in implicating probable outcomes, and examples of story content in which other statistical patterns enable similarly assisted reconstructions from preserved trace memory content. All three types of content are common in biographical narratives for multiple reasons, including that they enable readers to attain greater efficiency in remembering a lengthy, elaborate storyline. These examples of temporal content have implied their own sequence without recourse to the narrativizations of post hoc causality. They imply story structure by focusing on Character rather than Plot.

With your approval, we might label these types of temporal content as biographical temporality.

So that's all very impressive, you say, but is that all there is to remembering a life storyAnd if not, then where do we next go from here in continuing this study? I'm so delighted you asked.

Focusing on any type of temporal content is one level of mnemonic efficiency. Bits of temporal content can easily imply their own sequence, but the mnemonic challenge increases when we attempt to string together several bits of sequencable data points, as one coherent timeline. The next level of efficiency involves remembering a whole story.

The remembering mind can repeatedly reconstruct any timeline, refreshing a memory of the overall sequence by focusing on bits of temporal content in chains of association, either by linking multiple pairs or by aligning individual data points with one or more pre-determined “time patterns”. In any of these cases, remembering a storyline involves once more renewing the work of constructive remembering. In practice, this probably accounts for the common experience of many readers who attempt to actively remember how story content fits into its most appropriate chronological (that is, its historical and/or logical and/or probable and/or authorially intended) sequence. But some minds also find more efficient ways to remember a sequence.

There are further levels of efficiency to attain by compressing a chain of temporal content into a more rememberable sequence. An entire biographical narrative can be remembered coherently, as a unified whole in the sense of its storyline, and not just in the ubiquity of its featured subject.

Come back for post #4 posts 4, 5, 6, and 7, in which we consider compression algorithms of information theory.

Come back for post #5 post 8, in which we consider teleology as a reflection of nested preconditions.

And come back for post #6 post 9, in which I will try to summarize and conclude.



I promised more examples of temporal content in life stories - fully or partially self-sequencing information which aligns with “time patterns” through necessity, probability, and correlation. To identify these, we can largely focus on illustrations of human growth and personal development.

Two predominant trajectories are biological growth and psychological development.

Childhood, for example, is chock-full of biological prerequisites. Babies roll over before they can stand up, crawl before they can walk, gnaw before they can bite, and babble before they can properly form words. Children do not mature sexually before surviving a dozen or more solar cycles. Teenage mothers are far less likely to die in childbirth, and elderly women can no longer conceive. Neither boys nor old men may capably plow a field. And etc. Most of this data suggests “causal necessity” if employed in the backward construction, and probability for constructing in the forward construction. Not every child survives to reach the next “stage” in progressing toward adulthood, but most growing children survive each successive prerequisite, and every adult was obviously once a child.

As these physiological “beginnings” help to sequence a life story’s “middle”, most remembering minds inevitably come to some degree of envisioning “stages”. Being subjective, this obviously varies a lot. Some of us might be content to perceive broad developmental phases (childhood, adulthood, infirmity), or construct narrower time periods (infancy, childhood, adolescence, parenthood, empty nest, retirement), while others might go by decades (twenties, thirties, forties, etc), and some rare minds might even insist on a more meticulous accounting by exact years of age. These are all Friedman-esque “time patterns” and any one of them can regulate temporal content, because the natural trajectory of biological development is apparent at literally any rate of subjective periodization. Some of us don’t distinguish between eighteen and twenty year olds, and some older folks don’t distinguish between thirty and forty year olds, but nobody confuses a five year old with a twenty year old, and no one overlaps the “life stages” of a young thirty-something and her elderly grandfather.

I said in post #1 that we cannot rely on this or that particular paradigm of “life stages”, but I am saying now that an individual mind can rely on any subjective paradigm that serves the purpose well enough. We may admit Richard Burridge's categories of ancient biographical narrative structure as one possible paradigm for a hypothetical reader. We just can't assign those categories hypothetically to all remembering readers. But in any case, however we slice it, define it, or label it, the natural progression of biological development is self-evidently sequential, as evidenced by prerequisites. We speak before we can write, become parents before we are grandparents, and if we die of old age then we must decline somewhat in general health prior to that. Etc, etc, etc.

In Friedman’s terms, a broken hip can be associated with the “time pattern” of old age and finger painting can be associated with the “time pattern” of kindergarten. The options are literally as unlimited as any statistical patterns that may happen to be familiar to some remembering mind.

Familiarity is huge, by the way. For probability to enable more efficient remembering, frequency and familiarity have to align. In fact, that’s the only reason biography is a special category of remembering temporality. 

Human development isn’t the only category of earthly experience in which probability implies temporality (that is, not the only area in which we might often note frequent progress within statistically observable patterns of change). That's not remotely the case. Actually, human development is simply the most popular category in which statistical frequency aligns with an intense familiarity that we all share for a single subject. Change happens. Dynamic systems develop. People watch people. And statistical patterns mount gradually. It’s only when all of these factors combine that literature finds a broad platform for conveying temporality through content that an audience can recognize

((***The same exact thing is what accounts for narrativized causality. Purporting causation literally depends on statistical correlation. That is, it depends on inflating a claim based some degree of relative correlation. In the whole history of our species, we've paid close attention to causality! But perhaps I digress.***))

Compared to biological growth, psychological development is probably less helpful - because it’s less frequently observable - but in terms of statistical correlations the progressions of cognitive growth are potentially just as helpful as anything. If the mind preserves temporal content, an awareness of probability can enable mnemonic reconstruction of temporality.

I won’t keep belaboring the memory theory after this point, but we should continue to identify biographical examples of probable outcomes.

Not many biographies linger on early childhood, or puberty and adolescence, which is when cognitive development tends to evidence itself in observable “leaps”, but the research of Jean Piaget does qualify here, technically. The vast majority of 9 month olds have developed object permanence (things still exist once removed from their sight). A predominant majority of two year olds have developed symbolic awareness (early language development). A typical eight year old can usually demonstrate logical thinking (such as cause & effect). And many twelve year olds can begin to engage and utilize abstract concepts (literary techniques, scientific method, basic algebra, political bias).

This covers the bulk of a human population through the 8th or 9th grade, in that most post-pubescent adolescents have already passed over these cognitive thresholds. We can also note very generally some adult patterns. Most adults develop mature thinking (a common outcome) through overcoming challenges (a statistically common prior, athough not a prerequisite). Emotional instability by an adult (as a later development) can be a likely indicator of a difficult childhood (again, not strictly a prerequisite). Declining mental capacity is not unlike the onset of physical infirmities, in that it usually appears during the later decades of an average lifespan. And so on.

Adults also display cognitive development by acquiring and increasing in particular knowledge. We can often estimate an adult’s years of experience in some area of skill (though not necessarily their age, obviously) by comparing the extent of acquired knowledge and skills. An adept mechanic most likely has years of experience. An inept mechanic is most likely a rookie. However, one complication of this acquired knowledge category is that all statistical likelihoods vary according to social demographics. If a character is discussing retirement planning, they would most likely be older than 50, but in some social sets college students and young professionals can often be found advising one another on retirement. On the positive side, this example does illustrate that temporal content can potentially help sequence all sorts of material, although the likely usefulness of such content can scale quickly towards zero.

Again, psychological change is less observable and less chronologically definite. Like mortality, it offers a broad trajectory in between early growth and later decline, but it is merely a probable and non-necessary trajectory. The recognizable milestones, (what Friedman calls "landmarks" and "locations in temporal patterns) are less plentiful in this area. But perhaps they are more apparent to specialists.

Some identifiable cognitive milestones can be found near the end of a lifetime. Memory loss is common but not necessarily typical. Social disorders can deteriorate towards extreme dysfunction. There can be various indications of a stroke or some other impairment which may indicate that a person (or biographical character) whose timeline we are trying to remember had almost certainly, by that point, reached a period of naturally declining health. Clearly, these types of indicators imply that related story content belongs to a time period after biographical phases when good health would have been a necessary prerequisite. And here’s one for history buffs. In ancient times, before the advent of pharmaceuticals, people were rarely known to recover from insanity. Thus, historians debate when Caligula’s apparent madness may have begun, but when we remember story content from the craziest episodes of Suetonius’ account, we instinctively place those anecdotes near the end of his life.

So much for biology and psychology of human growth and deterioration.

We must also consider the recognizable conventions that occur within social, cultural, and political patterns of personal development.

These developmental sequences (or “stages”) are based in shared experiences that are less universal than biological or psychological growth & decay, but as we have noted, any statistical frequency is fair game as long as it’s familiar to the remembering mind. More broadly, of course, we prefer to identify familiar frequencies which are well-recognized enough that could benefit an entire audience through their temporal indications. But in this exercise we’ll note whatever we can note. For instance, I confess my own sights here have mostly settled on the following generalization: It is axiomatic of literary practice that authors and audiences will quite often share a similar if not identical context for cultural traditions, enforced social standards, standard customs and behavioral norms. When these patterns bear temporal implications, it may be only due to these smaller statistical samples of a literary audience that shares a demographic subpopulation. The employees of Google, for example, must have unique ways to spot the newbies on their campus, and these temporal indicators are undoubtedly quite different than whatever helps veteran stock brokers spot the rookies on Wall Street.

That said, progressions across cultures may appear in the same general areas. Education and apprenticeship most often imply adolescence and early adulthood while advanced positions in organized institutions are typically not earned until later in life. Likewise, it is most common that a recent marriage typically reflects two people an early stage of adulthood, while in some cultures an older husband and younger bride are more customary, and yet in some populations marriage could rarely imply more than the legal age of consent. Despite differing specifics, these general categories of human experience can inform story content that becomes explicitly self-sequencing, to any audience in the know.

Many social and cultural examples have a lot to do with family and career. Besides marriage, the typical age of child bearing can be a trend based as much if not more upon societal expectation as biological limits, and yet in some circles pregnancies are scheduled according to social pressure, and this scheduling itself varies widely according to group. Likewise, the tell-tale signs of an “empty nest” household is only an indicator of some parents’ biological age as is frequent (and familiar) within sub-cultures. Again, however, as often as such knowledge is familiar between author and audience, this content can also self-sequence.

For probabilities of political development, there’s no better example than Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, which exhibit a more detailed story structure for readers in the know (readers who are familiar with the customary sequence of advancement in Roman public life and military appointment) than for readers who do not happen to be acquainted with ancient Italian political norms.

With these same caveats, we might also consider a few culturally conditioned examples of accumulation of money, possessions, accomplishment, or even the social accumulation of friends and family members. In general, more time usually equates to more accumulation. We can likewise estimate age - of endeavors, not persons - by observing the extent of accumulated damages, physical wear and tear, incremental social or economic decline, or other accumulated defeats and personal losses. As above, the qualification of any such case will depend not on whatever we estimate as a necessary or a probable or a typical time pattern. At this point, I shouldn’t need to suggest more specific examples, much less defend them.

As ought to be clear by now, the remembering mind can build a time pattern from any perceived phenomena that are frequently (and familiarly) display the same temporal sequence. Further, any statistical pattern can assist the remembering mind in the process of sequencing story content.

Finally, whenever such frequencies are familiar to a large number of remembering minds, such that the inclusion of such data assists many minds in remembering the storyline of a particular biographical narrative, the inclusion of those frequencies - those particular indicators of temporality in human growth and development - those types of patterns in narrated story content will provide an advantage towards the survival of that biographical narrative among a popular audience.

These are just a few basic examples of how biographical material displays temporal transition through character development.

This concludes the bonus section below post #3, identifying types of content which self-sequence in life stories.

Come back for three more posts in this series, as outlined in my conclusion above.

Anon, my friends...

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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton