Come Out to Play for Fun – On “Finite and Infinite Games”

Context: This post is inspired by the book Finite and Infinite Games. As the subtitle reads, this book offers “a vision of life as play and possibility.” Perspective-changing. At time of writing, I have finished ~1/3 of the book.

Finite games play within boundaries.
Infinite games play with boundaries.

James P. Carse, “Finite and Infinite Games”

There Are Two Kinds of Games

Namely: finite games and infinite games. See quote above for what I think is the most important takeaway to remember on what sets the two apart.

But first, let’s talk about what all games have in common: whoever plays, plays freely (by free choice):

In one respect, but only one, an infinite game is identical to a finite game: if they play they play freely; if they must play, they cannot play.

James P. Carse, “Finite and Infinite Games”

Other than this similarity, finite and infinite games differ drastically. I summarize below the key takeaways for different types of readers:

A/ For efficiency-maximizing readers => here are your bullet points

P.S._version_fun: I am aware that “efficiency-maximizing” is sometimes used as an euphemism for “I don’t have time” and / or “I don’t care” and / or “I am too important for details”. Just joking. 🙂

How to read: trait_of_finite_games vs. trait_of_infinite_games (I give myself credit for clearly labeling my legend):

  • Goal: to win vs. to continue playing;
  • Is temporally bounded: yes (clear start and end) vs. no (unclear start and no end)
  • Is spatially bounded: yes (within a marked area) vs. no
  • Is numerically bounded: yes (fixed number of players, so that one could emerge as the clear winner and end the game) vs. no (players walk on and off the field as they wish)
  • Rules of the game: contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won, and do not change throughout the play vs. contractual terms by which the players agree to continue playing and are dynamic

B/ For word-lovers and creatives => here is your metaphor

And a bonus picture for the metaphor:

P.S._version_creepy: 23. This number is why I chose the picture above. The 23 enigma is, depending on your perspective, creepy and/or mysterious and/or inexplicable and/or irrational and/or nonsense and/or [insert adjective(s) of your choice].

I bet after you read up on “23” and its stories, you will start to see the number everywhere. Just like how I was able to immediately spot the 23 in this picture when I was searching for theatre-related pics. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. For those who want to go down the rabbit hole of more things that will surprise your brain (disclaimer: surprise could mean “mess up seriously” for some people) – check out the book Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati. My biggest takeaway from the book is: don’t read the book if you want to remain sane. You’ve been warned. This is the one time I am trying (and I think I am actually) being nice.

The metaphor itself (finally emerges after a super-long ad above which does not generate any additional income for me): finite games = theatre, infinite games = drama:

Finite games mirror theatre in –

  • Have a clear ending – finite games end when a clear winner emerges
  • Have scripted roles – all players in a finite game play the role that (they think) will help them win

Infinite games mirror drama in –

  • Avoid predictable outcomes – a game is an infinite game precisely because the outcome is not known
  • No scripted roles – players in an infinite game constantly change to continue the game playing with no ending, and to continue the surprise

Insert-rant: And I totally love I also used bullet points in this section. It is as plain as day that I am an efficiency-maximizing writer. I have deliberately chosen the color red to emphasize how unimportant this rant is. Oh, I meant the color red *and* the italics.

Some addendums on acting: in finite games, “self-veiling” is inevitable, as in all players act according to a scripted role (that they have assigned themselves, or think they ought to be playing). I find this part from the book to be very thoughtful:

What makes this an issue is not the morality of masking ourselves. It is rather that self-veiling is a contradictory act – a free suspension of our freedom. I cannot forget that I have forgotten. I may have used the veil so successfully that I have made my performance believable to myself. I may have convinced myself I am Ophelia. But credibility will never suffice to undo the contradictoriness of self-veiling.

James P. Carse, “Finite and Infinite Games”

This reminds me of this quote of Irene Adler in BBC’s Sherlock TV series: “Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.”

Image result for irene adler self portrait"

Why so serious? (And how to be playful?)

Seriousness is too boring to the playful human condition.

Michael Bassey Johnson

Here is some serious chain-of-thinking delivered in playful tones:

Seriousness is too boring yet all too common, because boredom is the default tone of life, which may not be a bad thing if you believe the existence of “boredom” is what makes the “NOT-boredom” possible, similar to how Taoism tells us that concepts exist in opposites just as brightness cannot exist without darkness, just as the “is” defines the “is not” and vice versa.

I appreciate you moving on to read this line, as the above paragraph has not scared you off. 🙂 Smiley emoji here because: why so serious?

And seriously: why are we so serious?

And the serious answer: “Seriousness always has to do with an established script, an ordering of affairs completed somewhere outside the range of our influence.

Think about it, seriousness always implies there is a script, which implies there are scripted roles. We are more serious than usual when we interact with a uniformed policeman or doctor, compared with interacting them in their off-uniform casual clothes.

In contrast: “We are playful when we engage others at the level of choice, when there is no telling in advance where our relationship with them will come out – when, in fact, no one has an outcome to be imposed on the relationship, apart from the decision to continue it.”

As you may have guessed, being serious is the tone of finite games, while being playful is the game that the infinites play. Importantly, to be playful should not be confused with to be “trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen”. To be playful means acknowledging that any consequence could happen, and welcoming this unbounded realm of possibilities:

To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.

James P. Carse, “Finite and Infinite Games”

Linking back to the common purpose of all finite games – play to win. Yet how can you be truly playing playfully, if you take winning seriously? Thus, being playful is the luxury reserved for the infinite game players – who play playfully with the goal to continue playing.

And I must conclude this section with a playful picture:

Image result for to be playful and serious at the same time"

Pick your poison: Power or Strength?

Of course I am obliged to be playful and “not-so-serious” by this point. So the playful answer is: why not both? Get a personal trainer if you want some help with fitness.

Back to the serious topic: Finite games play for power. Infinite games play for strength.

Power is embedded in the emergence of a winner at the end of the game. Power is passive, it is “never one’s own,” as it requires the voluntary acceptance of the power by others.

Strength is paradoxical. “I am not strong because I can force others to do what I wish as a result of my play with them, but because I can allow them to do what they wish in the course of my play with them.” Strength is mocking power in the face and having no thoughts of it whatsoever.

Power concentrates only in a small hand of victors – because winning is not something you could opt into, but something that is decided for you according to the rules of the game.

Strength benefits potentially anyone – because strength is something we could all choose to have, something we decide for ourselves according to the will of our mind.

So my friends – decide how you want to play. Pick your script – or no script. Recite seriously or explore playfully. Fight for your power or defend your strength.

The night is getting dark…

…and time to come out to play.

Reach Union in Sound & Energy Centers: On Nada Yoga and Chatra

Context: I tried Nada Yoga meditation for the first time and enjoyed the mindful experience it brought. The teacher guided us to tap into the 7 Chakra (energy centers) in the body via sound. I researched on the basics of Nada Yoga, shared below.

Share an interest in yoga or mindfulness? I’d love to hear from you – reach me at fullybookedclub.blog@gmail.com or on LinkedIn.

Nāda yoga (नादयोग) is an ancient Indian metaphysical system.
It is equally a philosophical system, a medicine, and a form of yoga.

Wikipedia

Nada Yoga: Unify the Individual Mind & Cosmic Consciousness via Sound

“Nada” stands for sound (vibrations) and “yoga” for union. Put together, Nada Yoga refers to “the union of the individual mind with cosmic consciousness through the flow of sounds”:

When the river of consciousness is impeded by the ego, Nada or special sounds can remove the obstruction, allowing the river of individual consciousness to unite with its source, the ocean of pure consciousness.

…Space is connected with the ear, and the ear is the receptacle to sound…sound is the primal experience of all in comparison to smell, taste, vision and touch. It is also the most accurate and more precise than the others.

What is Nada Yoga? – The Sacred Sound on the Nada Yoga Blog

Nada (sound) could be grouped into inner vs. outer music

Nada (sound) comes from:

  • Anahata = inner music, i.e., our own sound vibrations. Anahata is considered to be (a) inseparable from the self, i.e., I cannot share my Anahata with someone else, and (b) sacred – with the potential to hep individuals open their Chakras, i.e., energy centers. Chakra is introduced in more detail below. Nada Yoga believes we receive Anahata not from our ears, but from the anahata chakra – this is also explained below.
  • Ahata = outer music. We receive Ahata via the sensory organ of the ear.

The aim of Nada Yoga practice is to help us better listen to and receive Anahata, our inner music – the music that carries “spiritual weight”.

Inner music is mentioned as the key to achieving Enlightenment in some Buddhist literature

In the Shurangama Sutra, a buddhist sutra, it is recorded that the Buddha gave praise to Avalokitesvara, who claims to have been enlightened by his inner music:

All the Brothers in this Great Assembly…should reverse your outward perception of hearing and listen inwardly for the perfectly unified and intrinsic sound of your own Mind-Essence, for as soon as you have attained perfect accommodation, you will have attained to Supreme Enlightenment.

The Buddah’s praise of Avalokitesvara

Chakras: Energy Centers Vital to Harmony of the Body

To understand Chakra, we need to go back to a medieval-era theory of human life that originated in India. This theory believes that there are two dimensions of human life – the physical body (mass) and the subtle body (energy).

The subtle body is thought to be made up of nadi (energy channels) that are interconnected by chakras (energy centers / nodes). There are different claims as to how many chakras each person has – below I introduce the popular 7-chakra system, which is also taught during the meditation practice I attended.

1. Root Chakra (Muladhara, “Root”): Trust

Located at: base of spine

When open, we feel: grounded, secure, stable

Lotus: Red with 4 petals

2. Spleen or Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana, “Where the Self is Established”): Creativity, Sexuality

Located at: lower abdomen

When open, we feel: creative, pleased, high sexual energy

Lotus: Orange with 6 petals

3. Navel or Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura: “Jewel City”): Power

Located at: upper abdomen

When open, we feel: high self-esteem & confidence

Lotus: Yellow with 10 petals

4. Heart Chakra (Anahata, “Unstruck”): Love, Healing

Located at: center of chest

When open, we feel: full of love, peaceful

Lotus: Green with 12 petals

5. Throat Chakra (Visuddha, “Purest”): Expression, Communication

Located at: throat

When open, we feel: expressive, articulate, keen to communicate

Lotus: Blue with 16 petals

6. Third-Eye or Brow Chakra (Ajna, “Command”): Intuition, Awareness

Located at: middle of forehead

When open, we feel: imaginative, intelligent

Lotus: Indigo with 2 petals

7. Crown Chakra (Sahasrara, “Thousand-Petaled)”: Spirituality

Located at: crown of our head

When open, we feel: connected to a higher consciousness

Lotus: Violet with 1,000 petals

Linking back to the spiritual theory introduced at the beginning, the first three Chakras are the Chakras of Matter, the last three are the Chakras of Spirit, and the middle one (Heart Chakra) is the connection in between.

Nada Yoga practice aims to help us unblock the chakras to achieve better harmony and spiritual enlightenment.

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BEST Article I’ve Read in 2019: Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking by Peter Kaufman

Hands-down this is THE BEST article I’ve read in 2019: Peter Kaufman on the multidisciplinary approach to thinking. I would recommend spending 20~30 minutes reading the entire article slowly, word by word.

In the meantime, here is my takeaway on the key ideas and comments. At the end, I share my plan for putting what I learnt into action:

Understand => Know What to Do

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “To understand is to know what to do.” This is the central premise on which Kaufman basis his talk – to truly understand is what prevents us from making mistakes (vice versa: mistakes are caused by a lack of understanding, i.e., not knowing what to do).

Read => Master Big Ideas From Multiple Disciplines

So how can we better understand?

The answer, for Kaufman, is to start by mastering what Charlie Munger calls “the big ideas” from multiple disciplines. He discovered that each issue of the Discover Magazine features an interview with an expert on his domain of expertise – explained in simple layman terms. Kaufman printed out 144 of these interviews, and read every single one of them.

[F]or the next six months I went to the coffee shop for an hour or two every morning and I read these. And I read them index fund style, which means I read them all. I didn’t pick and choose.

This is the universe and I’m going to own the whole universe. I read every single one…Guess what I had at the end of six months? I had inside my head every single big idea from every single domain of science.

Peter Kaufman

Model => Develop Multidisciplinary Thinking That Works Across “3 Buckets”

Before we develop a model, we need to have a way to test whether the model is sound. For Kaufman, a sound multidisciplinary model would be applicable to what he calls “the 3 buckets”:

  • 13.7 billion years – since the origin of the Universe
  • 3.5 billion years – since the birth of biology on Earth
  • 20,000 years – since the record of human history

Kaufman believes the following rules are applicable in all 3 buckets:

(A) Everything in the Universe works according to mirrored reciprocation. Everything. Every thing.

In bucket #1, Newton’s Third Law of Motion is universally applicable, i.e., for each action, there is a counter and equal reaction => mirrored reciprocation.

In bucket #2, animals react agreeably to those who treat them well and attack those who treat them badly => mirrored reciprocation.

In bucket #3, “every interaction you have with another human being” is nothing more than mirrored reciprocation.

Kaufman’s model overlaps with the Mimetic Theory of the philosopher Rene Girard. I’ve previously written about it in “Life is the Ultimate Imitation Game”.

(B) The most powerful force across all 3 buckets is “dogged incremental constant progress over a long time frame”, a.k.a. compound interest.

Albert Einstein said “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”

Yet, being consistent is what we do not like to do. As Kaufman says, this is called variance drain in geometric terms: “Whenever you interrupt the constant increase above a certain level of threshold you lose compounding, you’re no longer on the log curve. You fall back onto a linear curve or God forbid a step curve down. You have to be constant.”

(C) Make “Go Positive, Go First” your life motto.

To understand means knowing what to do. Now we heard about mirrored reciprocation and compound interest, what should we do? Kaufman says: “You have to go first. And you’re going to get back whatever you put out there.”

This is similar to what Rhonda Byrne writes about in her bestseller “The Secret” – she argues a fundamental law of the Universe is we attract what we are and what we think we will get.

However, human’s loss aversion means that a 2% probability of failure is enough to deter us from acting at all in the first place. Kaufman challenges us to up the game: “If you’re getting beat(en) in life, chances are it’s because you’re afraid of appearing foolish. So what do I do with my life? I risk the two percent (chance of being foolish or fail).”

Begin the Doing => Join Me For The “Discovery Challenge”

To move beyond preaching to truly “understanding” (knowing what to do), I have launched the “Discovery Challenge“:

Pledge: I have started reading the interviews in Discovery Magazine to get a grasp of the big ideas across disciplines. I am referencing this PDF resource here (special thanks to the author for compiling).

Join Me: I will be summarizing the Big Ideas in future issues of my email newsletter, delivered every 1-2 weeks, with the motto of “Brainy is the New Trendy. Funny is the New Sexy.Subscribe here to receive the newsletter and curated ideas for free.

Reach Out: If you have other suggestions on how to develop multidisciplinary thinking, feel free to email me at fullybookedclub.blog@gmail.com or reach me on LinkedIn – I’d love to hear from you!

No road is long with good company.

Turkish proverb