Philosophical Musings And Go


Started as a conversation between TJ and Sebastian about the utility/morality of playing weaker players and, well, evolved. Please, do join us in some musings, and let us repeatedly try to relate our subjects back to Go as example, subject, and inspiration, just for fun. Beware, joining in may lead to enlightenment in sensitive or young deshis, lurker (and editor)discretion is advised.

(Sebastian 15k:) I am happy about your plea on rating, because I feel that playing only higher ranked players violates [ext] Kant's cathegorical imperative. Regarding your graph, I have a question: Which of the two valleys were you describing? I am particular curious to know why you got out of it so much faster the first time.

TJ: After not playing for quite some time, I met a friend online, and came back and played, I believe, a single rated game (looking at that graph, must have taken me a couple games, actually), which blew my rank back to the bottom again, since we played based on having a fun game, not on what my drifted rank was on the server, if I remember correctly. That's the first valley, again rising out of it with a quick rank-drift from not playing.

The interesting thing is after that valley, when I came back and started playing regularly again, you'll note that I stayed up there for a while when I was getting back into playing by actually winning a few games playing at my rank instead of my strength! The long-lasting drop happened only after I started playing weaker players, who tested my knowledge of life and death and my reading skills, proving I didn't have true strength. It took me longer to crawl out of that valley because I played with a confirmed rank starting at 17 kyu (I hit 18 kyu with a provisional ranking), and earned my way with (I hope) real strength up to my current rank. I would have fallen eventually anyways, no doubt, eventually, but it was interesting that I was learning more playing the weaker players than the stronger ones at that time.

Sort of like being picked out of an advanced class and being sent back to remedial reading when it was discovered that, although the student was really quite bright, he'd gotten into the class without anyone realizing he was nearly illiterate. *grin* It was probably really good for me, but I could see some people thinking such remedial learning must be beneath them, and thus only playing people at their rank and stronger where they'd occasionally win just knowing live shapes and proper pincers without the ability to defend those live shapes or defend against an unreasonable pincer played next to one of their walls. No doubt they'd gain some real muscle eventually while faking it, but I'd think that would be the hard way.

Sorry for my tendency to ramble on. One thought runs into another for me sometimes, making connections...I'll just allow a cut here and see if this particular group can live on its own.^^

(Sebastian:) No worries. This is your homepage, so whoever reads it, does so at their own risk :-) Besides, this is an interesting case in point of what you call "mirage rank". I agree that our rank depends on who we play against. I'm more doubtful about if the way you chose is really less hard than the way of playing against stronger players only. I would be surprised, because it is the morally better one.

TJ: Surprising that you mention Kant and follow it by reasoning that the morally better way is most likely the most difficult way. Even without considering categorical imperative, though, the way to wisdom is often transcending dichotomies like "That is good for you, this is good for me...d'uh, which should I choose?" and discovering that there can somewhere be "What is good for you is good for me!", and often better for "me" than the original option. Polarization into total dichotomy seems to be the first thing almost everyone reaches for in moral discussion. In Go, often the best way to win is to give your opponent what he wants, or at least not trying to destroy him and finding some kind of harmony to live in together, and there is a lesson about dichotomy in there somewhere. In my as yet young-to-Go opinion, this is a large part of what makes people find enlightenment in Go.

(Sebastian:) One of the most inspiring books I read was Delphin-Strategien, which started from the model that humankind is a fish pond. There are sharks, which only see the dichotomy you mention, and therefore only seek their own advantage. On a more enlightened level, there are carps, which are aware of the beauty of win-win situations and are very nice to their neighbours. They are the main prey of the sharks. And then there are dolphins. Like carps, they transcend the dichotomy, and they prefer to be on that side of the pond where the carps are. But if they are confronted with a shark, they quickly change their strategy. The book was about developing the agility to adjust ones strategy. Unfortunately, the book didn't mention that there is a fourth kind of fish, who appear like carps when they're near carps, but change into sharks the moment they don't need you anymore - like the person to whom I lent the book, and who never returned it.

But I digress. While it is nice to seek win-win situations, enlightenment doesn't mean we should close our eyes to the win-lose situations that certainly exist in Go. One of them seems to be that more people want to play with better players than with worse players. Therefore, if someone only plays with better players, he takes away a scarce resource. A truly enlightened society does not shrug its shoulders, saying "to each his own", in such cases.

TJ: A human carp or dolphin, or perhaps better, "uber-dolphin", takes the opportunity presented by a shark attack to convince the human shark that it would be better for them to aspire to be a dolphin/uber-dolphin themselves.

(added later) Given some time, I can even relate this back to Go now. Is it possible that Go is further an "enlightening" game because the better a player you are, the better you become at being able to live in harmony (no killing) and not having to ever resort to an all-out attack? If a person resorts to an all-out attack, meant to kill, against an uber-go-player, the defense is a response to the attack which, in the language of Go, would hopefully impart the wisdom of not launching all-out attacks, but instead becoming better at harmonious living. By thinking of what's commonly called an attack/threat as pointing the opponent in the direction you want them to live in instead of thinking of such play as an attack, which is often confused as being about killing/not killing by young Go-playing sharks, will one's game improve?

(Sebastian:) This is certainly the direction civilized societies go. Our forefathers probably had to resort to killing already when they sighted someone from the neigboring cave, whereas we only do this occasionally when someone is from a different "ethnicity". However, I don't think we will ever eradicate homicide. Humankind has just acquired a bigger arsenal by adding more subtle threats. While it is certainly preferable for all parties that a threat work without actually having to execute it (I wish there were an aternative to strikes to achieve equitable wages!), there always will be situations where it has to be played out. In principle, I'm actually happy that there is some struggle. We wouldn't have to learn life and death problems if we could figure it all out in advance. And if we could figure it all out before any conflict starts, then we wouldn't have to play go at all. It would reduce to "Komi 7.5?" - "I resign".

TJ: Trying to link this to Go, I may have obscured my point. What we think of as a "threat" in go can instead be looked at as a move with which the opponent must live in harmony. He who breaks harmony first may find themselves instructed about the merits of harmonious existance in the limited language of go by seeing their opponent gain from the discordance they created. The most emphatic negation in the language of go would be death of a significant group without equitable compensation, of course, but that's extreme; any gain is an argument against an opponent's discordance.

In life off the goban, I was trying to make it correspond to receiving violence or direct opposition or insolence with instruction instead of polar opposition (unless that's the best way to help them learn). This is, of course, in the case of the "defendant" being an enlightened/uber-being; we who have not transcended humanity can only do our best to emulate...rather like how amateur Go players emulate the pros! Most of us haven't a hope of reaching the goal, but we enjoy the path and keep walking it anyways.

(Sebastian:) Amen, brother! How could I disagree with that? Scartol, who also wrote about Scartol/Philosophy of Go illustrated this nicely with this picture:

Hey, how about that? I come wandering in, idly putting off my paper-grading, and I find an unsolicited advertisement of my work. Cheers, all. Interesting discussion! - S

I love the idea of connecting Go to different philosophical topics. I recently started a blog so that I could let some of the connections I build up over the course of the day flow out. I am, at the moment, working on understanding both the nature and the possible existence of a supreme being using Go. My blog is [ext] if any of you would like to read some of my thoughts. -KGS: Tianzi 4k

Philosophical Musings And Go last edited by Phelan on October 8, 2009 - 18:15
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