Raging Forms, 2010 ? George Condo
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
– Muriel Rukeyser, The Speed of Darkness (1968)
As the world advances technologically, the more we are experiencing changes that affect how we identify ourselves individually and as groups. The rise of digital communication has shifted the paradigms of what it means to be a global citizen. Digital technology has opened the floodgates of information and now narratives flow from infinite sources into our daily lives. As such, understanding today?s world is incredibly complex due to the incredible amount and variation of information out there.
The 4th person is a framework and theory to better understand some of these contemporary changes. Some of these problematic changes include: the rise of ?fake? news, a shifting sense of truth, disillusion with establishment, mass surveillance, and the rise of populist movements along with mass protests.
Parallel with the rise of these new societal issues is the development of new technology such as: blockchain, extended reality (XR, encompassing virtual and augmented reality), machine learning, deep fakes, and social media like Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and more.
These new societal changes combined with new technology create for a uniquely confusing atmosphere. Some call it the post-truth era but I believe that the post-truth is merely symptomatic of something more ? the emergence of the 4th person and 4th person perspective.
What or Who is the 4th Person?
Fundamentally, the 4th person is about narrative, storytelling, and perspective. When it comes to narration, there is the 1st person and 3rd person (The 2nd person exists but I will exclude talking about it since it is uncommon). When we read stories, watch movies, or play video games, we view and interact with the narrative through one of these points-of-view.
The 4th person is a new emerging point-of-view. It is a group or collective perspective corresponding to ?we? or ?us?.
A global top-down perspective.
The 4th person functions as a collection of perspectives rather than a single objectivity. Commonly, ?4? refers to the globe, or an outside observer (the 4th wall) ? words like global, objective, truth, and omniscient come to mind. But instead of understanding truth as a single clear fact, the 4th person makes us realize that truth and clarity actually emerge from the sum of many parts and perspectives, a collective subjective.
The conventional paradigm is that there can only be a single dominant narrative that flows from a single source. This frame of mind is harmful and shortsighted. A single narrative with only one point-of-view is similar to a king?s authoritarian rule ? it?s an outdated hierarchical structure in which to understand the world. Today?s digital environment levels out the playing field in the struggle for narrative dominance. Within the paradigms of narrative, the rule of one is now being replaced by a collective plurality.
Emergence Theory ? Narrative as a Complex System
Before diving into the what of the 4th person and narrative, we must first understand the why and how. The existence of the 4th person can be understood through the framework of emergence. Economist Jeffrey Goldstein defines emergence as:
?the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems.?
Birds in a flock create an emergent pattern.
Emergence can be seen in natural phenomena like snowflakes, flocking birds, schools of fish, but also human social systems, like the formation of cities, and social revolutions. Every emergent structure is composed of separate individual parts creating a new distinct entity unique from its parts.
The 4th person is an emergent structure in which our individual narratives function as those separate individual parts or nodes that combine to create a larger complex narrative system. All of our individual subjective narratives, consisting of I, group together to create us. This grouping of subjectivities becomes an enclosed narrative system creating a new single entity ? the 4th person.
Conway?s Game of Life ? A digital emergent system stemming from algorithmic rules that govern how the pixel patterns form.
Where does the 4th person come from and why have we not considered this narrative voice before? The 4th person has emerged due to globalism, global awareness, and digital technology. It is only by understanding the interconnectedness of our collective actions and behaviors due we understand we exist in the same system. And through digital technology are we able to view more concretely what the 4th person looks like.
Finding Nemo ? An emergent school of fish schooling Marlin on his self-centeredness.
Oxford defines the word emergence as ?the process of coming into being?. When a child grows older, the child comes into their own consciousness and identity. With maturity comes a shift away from self-centeredness towards empathy and acknowledgement of others ? an understanding of the effects of our actions on others and our environment.
Likewise, significant developments and events in the world such as space exploration, global internet communication, and the world wars have made us realize our interconnectedness and interdependency. Thus a stronger sense of global identity emerges. The world is ?coming into being? as it matures.
Points-of-View in Narrative and Art
The 4th person emerges from the many. It corresponds to group identity and thus the pronouns ?we? or ?us?. Likewise, the 1st or 3rd person are easily understood with the pronouns I, and She, He, They or It respectively.
Perspective in Video Games ? there is no better or worse but some say 1st person is more immersive because you inhabit the scene as the character.
In the 1st person, the narrator speaks about herself. She is not only the narrator but also a character within the story. With the 3rd person, the narrator is often invisible ? observing and narrating about someone else silently.
What is common between these two points-of-view is that the narrator is singular (one person telling the story) and is unchallenged in their perspective. The narrator speaks with authority because no one else can challenge the storyteller. Like a king who can change his kingdom at will the narrator can also alter her story-world at will.
What is unique about the 4th person we is that it is composed of multiple narrators but acts as a single unit. It is plural while also being inclusive. This is compared to they which is plural but exclusive. They describes a group of other people separate from the narrator. With we, there is no divide. The 4th narrator is no longer a singular person but a collective who tells the story. Because of the plurality within the 4th person, there are many checks and balances to any narrative that is put forth. Thus, nothing is ever whole, absolute or in total unison within the 4th person.
The 4th Person in Art
What is the 4th person visual perspective? Traditionally it is considered omniscient. It?s often associated with an objective deity who exists outside Earth and thus, this 4th point-of-view is portrayed as a global perspective which sees the world from above. Visually, it is associated with 360 all-around aesthetic or a bird?s eye view like in the video game The Sims.
Kendrick Lamar in Humble ? a 360 video curled into a globe creating an ?all-seeing? omniscient aesthetic.
The issue with this portrayal is that it places the single perspective camera, the narrator, on the outside-looking-in.
This outside-looking-in insinuates that the narrator is not of us on the ground but someone else observing us. Like the king in his high castle, we?d still be ruled from the narrative point-of view of one. In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is a literal all-seeing eye on the top of a tower. But as powerful as he was, he was never fully omniscient because he only saw from a single perspective (and that?s also why he had the ringwraiths, to help expand his perspective).
Cubism by Picasso and Braques ? a better approximation of what the 4th person vision, narrative impressionism, looks like.
What the 4th person point-of-view should truly look like is more of a fragmented collage. The concept of cubism is that a figure or object can be drawn from multiple perspectives and combined into a singular composition. So instead of a single perspective from above, it is a plurality of perspectives from within that creates the vision of the 4th person. I call this 4th person vision narrative impressionism which I will write about in-depth in another essay in the future.
The collective combination of these perspectives, eyes, and cameras creates a vision that pervasively looks everywhere in all directions ? not just from the top down. A single camera is only one version of reality but the collection of many creates a more comprehensive image yet one that is naturally fragmented. We then realize we live within the sight of all cameras and thus the narrative itself. There is no existing behind a camera or outside the narrative when there are cameras, and eyes everywhere.
The 4th person point-of-view is not from the outside but rather from within.
Omniscience and objectivity doesn?t belong to an outside deity but rather to us collectively who form the being. A true objectivity is one that is so pervasively pluralistic that the space itself becomes the camera observing itself.
Chuck Close painting
Conjoined fragmented points-of-view from cubism, David Hockney, George Condo, or Chuck Close approximate the look of this 4th vision. Chuck Close?s pixelized paintings are similar to Conway?s Game of Life. Eventually the fragments become so small that we?re left with a single image.
David Hockney ? Fragmented point-of-view artwork he called ?Joiners?
The 4th Narrator
If there is a 4th person point-of-view, then there must be a 4th person narrator. The question is, who is the narrator exactly? The 4th person, who consists of many narrators, is the new narrator and narrative in one.
The 4th person is the group as a whole speaking, not just a single person who speaks for the group.
One could compare the concept to the 1st person. You, as an individual, have a life story and you also act as the narrator of that life story. You don?t need an external person to narrate your life or write your narrative. As a narrator, you are also a narrative. The 4th person, as a collective, is a plurality of narrator voices speaking as one.
But this doesn?t mean that the voice of the 4th person is uniform and homogenous. It can be chaotic, confusing and contradictory because of the varied perspectives. Only from afar do we see the larger pattern. Like Conway?s Game of Life, the nonsensically behaving pixels eventually form a coherent pattern and as such the varying voices and narratives form into coherency. This shift towards all voices combined, as opposed to a single voice and narrator, comes about from the fall of the 4th wall which divides the real from the unreal.
The Fall of the 4th Wall
The 4th wall is usually thought about when characters on screen look at the camera, acknowledging the presence of the audience ? thus breaking the invisible wall that divides audience from image. Commonly thought of only as the division between audience and story, real and unreal ? the concept of the 4th wall can also be applied to real life and how we relate to one another.
Instagram Reality ? extreme romanticization or vilification is a product of the 4th wall, dividing the imaginary from the real, the image from audience.
The image (being things like fictional stories in movies, novels, comic books, etc.) does not only concern the imaginary but also things in real and regular life. In life, we often romanticize or vilify things that are far away. Because we only see one perspective of things that are far away, our views skew to the extreme. This is called one dimensionality. Metaphorically, this applies towards many things: vilifying people from exotic cultures, romanticizing unreachable celebrities, vilifying lower or higher class people, even unhealthily romanticizing a romantic partner. Image is not solely the fiction we consume in entertainment but also the fiction we experience in real life. And this division between so-called real life and image is the 4th wall. The 4th wall is really about division, stratification, centrism, and hierarchy.
The 4th wall means that story flows only in one direction ? from the image to the audience. The image actively creates and defines reality while the audience is passive with no power to participate or contribute to the narrative. But in today?s global digital environment, the 4th wall is beginning to erode and fall. This means that the flow of story can now go in both directions. The audience is no longer passive observers but active participants.
When the 4th wall falls, the within atmosphere of the 4th person is created. The audience and the creators (narrators) are the same. The concept of exclusivity does not exist once the wall disappears because we are all within the narrative acting as both image creators and audience.
Instagram Live ? We now are both creator and audience in one, creating narratives of our own. The historical separation between image and audience is gone when the audience can also create image.
All the world?s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
– William Shakespeare
Apple?s 1984 Commercial ? In conventional media like film and theater, the 4th wall separates the active image from the passive audience.
To exemplify the fall of the 4th wall, consider the rise of virtual reality (VR). VR creates a within atmosphere of being a participant rather than a separated passive observer. You yourself are a character who helps write the narrative instead of only watching from afar. VR creates the atmosphere that everywhere is a narrative, the stage, and we are participants in the story.
The VR guest is placed within the story world making him an active participant in the narrative experience.
The Collective Subjective
Now that everyone is able to be a participant within narrative, there is an influx of subjective voices. And thus, even though the 4th person is composed of all subjectivities, what makes the 4th person point-of-view unique is that it is neither fully subjective nor objective. It is a collective subjective viewpoint which resembles objectivity. Like Chuck Close?s paintings, all the pixelization makes it appear as if there is a clear objective image but upon closer inspection it is only a resemblance of an image from a collection of pieces.
Hierarchical structures in society have been gradually flattening for the last few hundred years. With the invent of the internet and digital structures, any single voice holds less gravitas and power than it used to. In today?s online world no single narrator wields total power of controlling narrative. The increase of voices and participants helps create checks and balances.
What this creates is a vacuum of power and a struggle for ?objective? narrative dominance. Like all hierarchies that suddenly fall, that vacuum creates an opportunity for someone to seize power. History is written by the victors. But due to the new checks and balances from the plurality of voices and the flattening of power structures, no single narrative voice can rise to the top to be the new ?objective?.
What we are left with is a chaotic network of subjective viewpoints: the plurality of perspectives seen collectively. The truth is no longer held within a single ?objective? but rather held collectively.
Fact vs. Truth
I?d like to briefly clarify a point when I talk about objectivity and truth. When I talk about the collective subjective that does not mean objectivity doesn?t exist. The distinction can be understood between the terms fact and truth. Known officially as the fact-value distinction (with value being what I call truth), philosopher Max Weber has written:
It is one thing to state facts, to determine mathematical or logical relations or the internal structure of cultural values, while it is another thing to answer questions of the value of culture and its individual contents and the question of how one should act in the cultural community and in political associations.
In my terms, ?fact? would replace the word ?truth? on the bottom.
Fact is boring and unchanging. It is pure information about events and things. Examples like: ?Yesterday, it snowed in New York City? or ?J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter novels? or Newton?s laws of physics. These are ?matter of fact? facts. A fact would be, ?this cup contains 100ml of water.? And two different interpretive truths would be, ?this cup is half full? and ?this cup is half empty?. Both are truths, neither are wrong, but they are seen in different perspectives and are two different realities. Facts emerge, and then we interpret or realize a certain truth.
People often conflate truth with fact or want to convince people that their truth is fact. This doesn?t mean that all truths are far away from fact ? just that no singular truth can be wholly fact. Likewise, there are no ?alternative facts? but there are various interpretive truths.
How does the concept of the 4th person really appear and function in the real world? We often say phrases like: ?Twitter? reacted or ?the internet? did this. We refer to these collective groups as single entities that have one opinion though they are made up of hundreds or thousands of opinions. And through hashtags we can view a network of various perspectives on any given topic.
Imagine an Ariana Grande concert. It is being filmed by her official production team but it is also being recorded by audience members from all angles in the arena. If you search Ariana Grande related hashtags on Instagram or Twitter, you?ll find a collage of pictures and videos from all sides and times during the concert.
This is the collective subjective or decentralized narrative in action? a collection of all the various viewpoints creating a fragmented yet holistic narrative.
#sweetenerworldtour ? the hashtag for Ariana Grande?s 2019 tour.
Ariana Grande?s official cameras become just another point-of-view, its narrative powers reduced in the plurality of other perspectives. In previous times, the only way to view a concert would be through official channels that would air on TV. But the official video wouldn?t necessarily tell the whole story ? it only tells one side. It may cut out mistakes and alter the music. Through narrative groupings do we understand the nature of the collective subjective ? holistic yet fragmented truth.
The Self-Authoring Narrative
As I described earlier, the 4th person is both narrator and narrative simultaneously. Because of the shift to bilateral flow between creator and audience, the two sides propel one another creating an autonomous and self-generating narrative ? a system within itself. We create and publish stories online while also being audience members to narratives in the same ecosystem.
Self-authorship is opposed to authorship from another entity. When someone else is writing your story, it is determinist with definite beginnings and ends. But self-generation is not dependent on this external force. This larger shared narrative does not need an external author because we, the story creators, are already perpetuating the story forward ourselves. The self-generation means the story is open-ended and perpetual.
Characters in Ian Cheng?s simulation narratives.
Contemporary artist Ian Cheng creates self-generating narratives. In his own words, his simulations are ?a video game that plays itself?. Cheng programs the characters to determine their own fate within the narrative boundaries that he programs. Rather than being a determinist scriptwriter who authors every step, Cheng lets the narratives play out by themselves, never replaying the same scenario twice. There?s no need for a puppet master to control every movement. They are their own self-perpetuating systems ? living stories, narratives embodied.
Ian Cheng?s ?video games that play themselves? is an example of the self-authorship of a 4th person narrative.
Everyone has a story. It might or might not be a love story. It could be a story of dreams, friendship, hope, survival or even death. And every story is worth telling. But more than that, it?s worth living.
– Savi Sharma (Everyone Has A Story)
Each of us, by virtue of living, contain a story within. The cashier at your deli, the pharmacist at your drug store, all the people you encounter during the day have an interesting life story, not just the normative protagonists on the screen. Each of us are living embodied movies of which are then manifested through the human body.
AI drones creating large human ? Example of a networked body.
Some of my favorite movies and TV shows are not necessarily about a specific character but about how disparate stories connect and affect one another. It is a story about their connections rather than the centering on one story. These inter-narrative connections and the sharing of story create a network. The more we encounter one another and the more we share stories the stronger this network becomes. Narrative sharing and encountering are the drawstrings that pull together the separate parts creating a tapestry of stories and a unified body. Envision a literal body that is made up of its individual biological parts. A body is both an individual as well as a complex system consisting of other microbial living beings. The 4th person narrative body is manifested from our individual narratives pooling together like cells.
I?m reminded of films like Osmosis Jones or Inside Out that are about the lifeforms residing within humans. Those characters go about their lives and have their own problems all the while being part of a human who has a completely unique life separate from its parts. Thus, like the sentient microbial beings that are within us, human sentience together create a larger entity. The 4th person is very much like a body, and as such, its own autonomous character independent of us as individuals.
Inside the Brain ? In Inside Out, the characters have their own stories whilst inhabiting the mind of a human girl who has her own separate individual narrative.
Where We Are Now ? The 4th Monster
Emergence is an incremental process, taking time for its effects to be seen. The 4th person can be likened to an infant. And infancy can be understood as the ?process of coming into being?. As a maturing entity, it is destructive, irresponsible, and has little self-control or awareness. Like an infant that puts itself in danger without realizing it, it is a monster.
The Incredibles ? Jack Jack is not old enough to have self-coordination and control and is thus an uncontrollable literal monster.
As a toddler grows into consciousness by becoming self-aware, so too does the 4th person as it matures. The 4th person self-coordinates itself from chaos to organization. The 4th person authors itself into coherency.
The reason why I use the term monster is because, to us, the 4th person is uncontrollable. On our human scale, the 4th person is like Godzilla, Cthulu or the Titans from Attack on Titan.
Like a baby, the monster hasn?t learned to coordinate its separate parts into functionality. There is miscommunication and infighting. On a group scale, the only way to obtain control of the monster is to find coordination within the group. The ideal way to do this is creating harmony without hierarchy. We can follow the philosophy of blockchain to understand how we could somehow achieve this.
Blockchain is a decentralization mechanism. Instead of large institutions acting as a central hub and conduit (and thus holding the power of control), blockchain technology shares this power with everybody. Suddenly everyone collectively acts as the conduit. Blockchain has no power unless everyone is able to access this power. It?s a checks and balance system spread evenly to everyone who participates, thus eliminating hierarchy.
Blockchain Structure ? From imbalanced hierarchy to harmony without hierarchy.
The traditional central institutions that sit at the top are biased and fallible much like the biased perspectives of a single point-of-view. Narrative decentralization would distribute the power of determining reality to more people. A decentralized structure could be an answer to how we move forward in a 4th person world so we don?t only follow the dominant narrative of one.
Implications of the 4th Person
The emergence of the 4th person changes how we operate and think of ourselves on the individual level and as groups.
Realizing Bias and the Existence of Narrative Impressionism
The 4th person causes us to reconsider our relationships to others. There is danger in believing that a single perspective is absolute truth without the consideration of other points-of-view. Especially in the age of digital echo chambers, we must work harder to make sure we are not locked into our own worlds and biases.
Echo chambers cause us to be locked within our own story and bias. In the 4th person, we go from seeing image and narrative from afar to co-existing with it up close.
If we only ever listened to one account of a narrative, we would never receive a complete picture. Every story is a truth in itself and every story could be movie in their own right. But living within the 4th person puts us up close with other truths. Like a detective who takes the narratives of many to piece together a clearer narrative, we have to realize the inherent unreliability of single-point perspective and the inherent impressionistic nature of narrative.
Loss of Power and Control
Living within the 4th person reduces individual power. The 4th person is a vast network of checks and balances. And with more checks and balances, it is harder to gain total power and control.
In the 4th person, history and narrative won?t be determined or created by a single voice. Because it is self-authoring, and through the collection of all our narratives, we have less control of things larger than ourselves. In Ian Cheng?s simulated narrative worlds, Cheng, as the artist, has less control compared to a conventional artist or author. Cheng can can only program the boundaries for which his characters will act within. After that, he has no control over which story path his characters will take. And in a virtual reality environment, a director loses control because there is no frame to center attention. A director can?t cut to other perspectives and must let the audience determine themselves where they want to look.
Empowerment in the Present
Because of the loss of control over things larger than us, our attention instead refocuses on the things that we can control ? ourselves. Living within the 4th person, we are empowered to be protagonists within narratives rather than passive observers. Escapism can?t exist in the 4th person because there is nothing to escape from or into. The 4th wall that separates these two places evaporates leaving us solely with ourselves in the present. We refocus our attention to the here and now where every moment is alive.
This is not to say that there is no aspiring or hope for the future or someplace far. In order to move forward effectively, we need to know where we?re going. What must be cautioned against is using escapism as an excuse for non-action and passivity. Escapism idealizes and romanticizes the far ? paralyzing us from acting in the present.
Mario 64 ? Mario falls asleep if you, acting as the protagonist, don?t act in the present to move the narrative and game forward.
Like in a video game, the narrative does not evolve unless we interact. We become the main characters who must propel the story forward. Escapism and romanticism falters because reality becomes the new image. The real fiction.
To summarize, the 4th person perspective is the collection of points-of-view in a group ? the collective subjective. The 4th person is not about one specific story ? it is about the relationship and overlaps between stories and how that creates a wholly new story and image.
We live in strange times and truth is stranger than fiction. Narrative fiction is very real and blending with our IRL (in real life) world. This may explain why meta media is on the rise, movies like Into the Spider-Verse, or The MCU Universe. These stories that explore alternate worlds, dimensions, and reality feel relevant to the time. They reveal the existence of other versions besides our own ? the co-existence of different opinions and narratives.
The 4th person is the narrative that concerns us, not a singular image on the screen. We become part of the image, compelling us to take self-control and act. It is a perpetual narrative that has presence with us rather than being media that is separated from us. Our own lives and stories become the media. Like the ?video game that plays itself?, the 4th person story has not been written yet.