Monday, July 23, 2007

A brief reflection

Thank G-d, life is not like a game of checkers. It seems that computer scientists have verified that "there are no surefire winning moves in checkers, just mistakes that lead to losses."

Of course the primary way in which life is not like checkers is that life is made up of infinite variations of "moves" that cannot be cataloged even by the most sophisticated of computers. The other way that life is not like a game of checkers, is that the "mistakes" we make are often our pathways to discovery, growth, wisdom, and enlightenment. This has certainly been true in my own life, where many of the "bad" or "wrong" choices I made in relationships, school and career, led ultimately to deeper self-knowledge, awareness, and greater enjoyment and happiness.

In the mornings as I walk Rosie the dog at dawn and listen to the rumbling and clanking of the strip mining equipment just over the hill from my holler, I am filled with fear that we (humans in modern industrial societies) are making terrible, irrevocable mistakes. Despite growing knowledge and awareness of climate change, we (in the collective societal sense) seem locked into mistaken actions that will inevitably lead to losses; losses of an entire world as we now know it.

Then my imagination kicks in, and I ponder the possibility that perhaps we (humanity) will be better off, happier and saner, in a world where the illusions of economic growth and technological gadgetry have finally been shattered.


E. R. Dunhill said...

I just read about the checkers revelations in Science. Coincidentally, I was just talking to one of my coworkers about the Knight’s Tour problem and mused a little at the ramifications of such a problem in a universe of quantum positions. I think the checkers study moves in a similar direction.
“…perhaps we (humanity) will be better off, happier and saner, in a world where the illusions of economic growth and technological gadgetry have finally been shattered.”: I read Turtle Island a few months ago and found that Snyder was writing about this very idea. Snyder can be the stereotypical hippie (though I think he comes by it honestly), but he makes a strong case for the value of art, community, and spiritual pursuits. Likewise, I’ve been thinking about Pirsig and Thoreau quite a bit in the last several weeks, leading me to ask again, “What is the benefit of all this clamoring? Who gains in this? Who loses?”
I had for some time thought that this was perhaps one of those quarter-life crises, although, as long as it’s been going on, I am apparently planning to live to 120.

Sue said...
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Sue said...

ERD, Wow! Thank you. Until you mentioned it, I had totally forgotten. However, upon refelction, I do believe that I first began this train of thought (about what the "benefit of all this clamoring" is about, and wondering if there was not perhaps a better way) after hearing Gary Synder read aloud from Turtle Island. It was 1969, my first semester at Oberlin College, and he was the first outside speaker at the noon convocations. So if having these questions is a "life crisis" mine's been going on for 38 years!

I have started working on a short story (my first -- I've written and published poetry and essays, but never tried fiction), prompted by "A brief reflection." I've taken my greatest fears for this region, imagined them coming true more than 30 years down the road, and then looked for the humanity within that. Still a work in progress.

I am familiar with the Knight's Tour problem and with the basics of quantum mechanics (I do not fully grok the mathematics of it), but not quite sure what you intend to convey in linking the two. Please enlighten me. (I am suddenly reminded of a bumper sticker I saw 25 years ago on a door in graduate housing at Univ. of KY -- "Heisenberg may or may not have slept here.")

E. R. Dunhill said...

I envy you having heard Snyder. I missed the chance to hear him read a while back, I think at the Folger.
The Knight’s Tour musings on quantum spaces and the spin-property of quarks: I’ve been fumbling over how to parlay this conversation into something that might make an ounce of sense as a blog comment. It was a conversation between a geek with a background in photogrammetry and an author of speculative fiction. For my part, I was wondering aloud if it might be possible to use such an algorithm in predicting and influencing the behavior of particles in some "useful" way- say for creating quantum-scale machines, computers, or optics. For the record, I never got anywhere near that kind of goofy math, either.
The Physics Building at U of MD is also periodically graffitied with "Werner may or may not have been here!"