Check for Traps
The Secret Art of Abduction

Alexander Macris | 16 May 2011 21:18
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This week's installment is about the secret of abduction. No, not alien abduction. And not kidnapping people, either. I mean abduction as in abductive reasoning. Abduction is defined by Wikipedia as "the process of arriving at an explanatory hypothesis of a surprising circumstance." The foremost philosopher of abduction, Charles Sanders Peirce, summarized abduction as follows:

The surprising fact, C, is observed;
But if A were true, C would be a matter of course,
Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.

For instance, assume the surprising circumstance that my car won't start this morning. If it were true that my car battery were dead, then the fact that my car won't start would be a matter of course. So there is reason to suspect (abduce) that my car battery is dead.

At its core, abduction is guesswork, but it forms the basis of all natural science, medical diagnosis, and indeed much of human thought. When Newton developed the laws of gravity based on observing the motion of falling bodies, he was using abductive reasoning. When a physician is presented with a set of symptoms and diagnoses an illness to explain the symptoms, he is using abductive reasoning.

Abduction is also the method used by conspiracy theorists worldwide, when they observe surprising facts about our world and piece together sinister explanations for them. America has its share of conspiracy theorists, such as 9/11 Truthers, but it is in Italy that conspiracy theory has been refined to its finest art form. The Italians have coined the word dietrologia for the art of finding hidden motives to explain seemingly everyday events. As explained in the Guardian, "rampant suspicion is the reason Italians love the dinner part game of dietrologia, in which participants try to out-trump each other with paranoid ideas..."

We have much to learn from the dietrologists, for abduction is the secret art of any successful gamemaster. Abduction is what transforms random tables and wandering monsters into a living, breathing game world. Abduction is what transforms a hodge-podge of materials into a coherent campaign. It is the art of finding explanations that make the campaign better. You must study this art, master it, the way Miyamato Musashi studied sword-fighting.

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