Aarseth talks about ergodic literature and its interpretation through interaction on the part of the reader. Beyond Aarseth's definition, what does the term "ergodic" mean, and where does it originate? Interestingly, this is a term borrowed from physics to describe the state of a quanta of energy. The Oxford English Dictionary notes the definition as,
"Of a trajectory in a confined portion of space: having the property that in the limit all points of the space will be included in the trajectory with equal frequency. Of a stochastic process: having the property that the probability of any state can be estimated from a single sufficiently extensive realization, independently of initial conditions; statistically stationary. Also, of or pertaining to this property."
From this definition, it seems relevant to have an elementary grasp of the field in physics with which this term deals, namely, quantum probability and Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principal. In understanding this root of interaction between the observer and the observed, we should come to a greater understanding of the effect of the interaction of the reader in the overall system of hypertext and its interpretation.
In his book "A Brief History of Time," physicist Stephen Hawking gives the reader a clear understanding of the issues at hand. He begins by noting LaPlace's theory of determinism, a widely-held newtonian belief that the state of everything, including human behavior, could be predicted at any arbitrary time into the future, if one could only get a perfectly accurate "snapshot" of the state of things as they exist at one point in time. (68) This belief in scientific determinism, first formulated in the early nineteenth century, persisted into the first decades of the twentieth century, when Heisenberg, Schrödinger and Einstein began to develop quantum motion.
The key factor in overturning LaPlace's theory, Hawking notes, was the underlying scientific principal, first thought out by Max Planck, that explains why an energy-emitting hot body, such as the sun, cannot possibly emit an infinite amount of energy at one time. Previously, it had been assumed that such an object emitted energy equally at all wavelengths. And since there is no limit to the frequency of the wavelengths, there would rationally be no limit to the amount of energy radiated at an arbitrarily high frequency. (69) To solve this problem, Planck suggested that energy is emitted in the form of packets of waves, called quanta, which are the basic units of emission.
Heisenberg realized that this meant determinism could not possibly work as a tool for understanding the universe. The formation of the uncertainty principal follwed this understanding, and is, in the simplest terms, this:
"In order to predict the future position and velocity of a particle, one has to measure its present position and velocity accurately. The obvious way to do this is to shine light on the particle. However, one will not be able to determine the position of the particle more accurately than the distance between the wave crests of light, so one needs to use light of a short wavelength... By Planck's quantum hypothesis, one cannot use an arbitrarily small amount of light; one has to use at least one quantum.This quantum will distrub the particle and change its velocity in a way that cannot be predicted." (69-70)
In other words, by observing a very small particle with a quantum of energy, one will affect the velocity, trajectory and location of the object being observed in a way which is not easy to predict. In fact, it turns out that the only way in which one can understand this effect is probability, and so the quantum theory which followed deals with the state of objects as a field of different probabilites that the observed particle will fall into, when observed. For hypertext, if it is a similiar system, this implies that a reader actually has a great degree of control, or at the very least adds an enormous degree of unpredictability to, the system of interpretation initiated by the writer, who has chosen to put the written word into the realm of hypertext.
If Aarseth is correct in his assertion that a hypertext, as a piece of ergodic literature, has no meaning until it is interpreted, brought into being, by the path follwed through it by the reader, (19-21) then we come to a new understanding of the text, as it may be related to the uncertainty principal, whereby observation, the very act of interpretation, changes the text in a way that neither the reader nor the writer could have predicted. In my poetry, I attempt to put this system of indeterminacy to work, by creating a cascading system of links inside the poems that leads to a very large number of possible outcomes. If* each poem has four links to other poems, and there are four levels of poetry in the system, then the number of possible outcomes in the system is a fairly large number, 4^4, or 256. And the system (the reader's path through the poetry) becomes even less predictable if one considers the use of recursion, in which the reader may choose to back up and take a different path altogether, abandoning the initial set of choices.