Tag Archives: games

Who Are You?

Who are you? I mean, really, who are you? More about that later …

In a previous post, Common Sense about Space, Time, and Infinity, I wrote about the finitude of matter and energy (albeit an exceedingly large finitude) and the infinity of space and time. Now I’d like to draw some common sense conclusions about the personal space inside our minds.

Let’s start out with some permutations and combinations from some board games many of us know and play.

Tic-Tac-Toe allows two players to occupy squares on a 3×3 board with their x’s or o’s. There are 26,830 possible legitimate games that may be played.

Chess starts out with two sets of 32 pieces each on an 8×8 square board. The moves of the various pieces are complex and many can move forward, sideways, diagonally, and backwards. The number of possible chess games is estimated to be 2 to the 155th power (almost 10 to the 46.7th power).

The maximum number of Go games played with black and white stones on a 19×19 square board is 2.08 x 10 to the 170th power). That is more than the number of atoms in the observable universe, which is somewhere between 4 x 10 to the 79th power and 10 to the 81st power. In case you don’t know nothin’ ’bout ‘rithmetic, that’s the number 1 with 81 zeroes to the right of it.

Now these are very large numbers and it is highly unlikely that any game master has played all the possible games, but the numbers are not infinite, like space or time.

Let’s think about our minds for a moment. The average number of neurons (grey matter brain cells) in a functioning human brain is about 100 billion. The number synapses (connections between brain cells) is about 100 trillion. That means each brain cell is connected to about 1000 other brain cells. The average brain cell is capable of firing off 200 signals per second. That’s a capacity of 20 quadrillion signals per second produced by the average brain.

Thoughts are internal behaviors, ways in which our brains respond to the outer world, our inner world, and to other thoughts. Like externally observable behaviors, such as our overt actions, thought behavior can be very simple or exceedingly complex. A thought can be a perception of the outer or inner world, it can be concept, it can be a memory, it can be an emotion, and it can be a command that initiates a motor response or a complex string of motor responses.

Going back to games for a moment, the brain may be thought of as a game board and thoughts could be construed as the moves in a game. Given that is so, the number of thoughts in a human brain might be estimated around 3 to the 100 trillionth power. That’s still not infinite, far from it, but it still is much larger than the number of atoms in the universe and even beats hands down the most complex game man could think of.

You’d think that, with the number of thoughts we can think, we could perceive, conceive, and remember everything in the universe. Unfortunately that is not so because the things in the universe are hidden from us by distance, size, and other things, and our brains are architected and built in a limited fashion. The 6 or 7 million cones in our retinas are only capable of perceiving red, green, and blue, which represent a small part of the continuous frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. Colors don’t exist objectively. Red is just a range of frequencies around 4×1014 Hertz, while violet is 8×1014 Hertz, and all the colors we can see in a rainbow fall between these two frequencies. So the red cones fire signals up the optic nerve when they get excited by 4×1014 Hz worth of electromagnetism, the blue cones get excited about another frequency and the green cones get off on still another frequency. The optic nerve carries the “color” signals as well as the signals from the 120 million rods in the retina that are excited by individual photons, mostly in the shorter wavelengths. All those signals are interpreted by our brain into an alphabet of shapes, directions, and colors. We can’t perceive something if it’s not a shape, direction, color, or something we’ve been preprogrammed to perceive. Our programming is limited by our evolution. If we had evolved differently, we’d perceive differently.

When we conceptualize what we’ve perceived, say it was a crowd of slightly different individuals, we tend to group them together, smooth out the differences in our own minds, plug them into a hierarchical category, and store an averaged version of those individuals, remembering that there were a lot of them. That’s why we usually make such terrible eye witnesses, especially if we were distracted by having to survive. So unless we are highly trained to disregard our evolutionary programming, we can’t remember more than nine individual things, as they are, for more than a few seconds.

If we had solved the survival problem, maybe things would be different.

Now back to the original question: who are you? Hopefully you will translate that question in your own minds to who am I? I would think that I would know who I am, better than anyone else would know. I’m me. Myself. My personality.

But what is my personality? It’s my inner face (or interface) that I present to the outer world. But I adapt my personality differently to different aspects of the outer world. I present a different personality to my family, to my friends, to the people at work, to strangers, and to my enemies, to name a few. Ah yes, but it is I who present all those different adaptations of my personality.

So who am I? An “I” is a thought, a behavior, a complex game. Many thoughts compete for the title of “I”, but only one gets to win. Only one gets to control the mind, but does it keep control? What would it mean to me if one “I” would win instead of another? Is there another “I” behind it all who decides which “I” gets to be “I”? Are there as many different I’s as there are people or is there only one I?

Can you hear the tug of war inside you?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays

Sometimes It’s the Situation that Is Evil

Human beings love structures. Give them a routine, a structured situation, any kind of behavioral pattern in which the outcome is known in advance, and they will embrace it with open arms. Dr. Eric Berne wrote all about it in his best-selling book, “Games People Play” (http://www.ericberne.com/games-people-play/).  Games may be frivolous or they may be deadly serious. Games are essentially patterns of behavior, called transactions, involving two or more roles that are usually filled by people. People who play a role in a game, who decide they don’t want to play the role or game anymore, often bring down upon themselves the wrath of the remaining role players. Psychologists and psychiatrists who subscribe to the principles of Berne’s Game Theory sometimes call themselves Transaction Analysts. Only Transaction Analysts are qualified to call a game that people are playing a game and to give it a name. Anybody else who dares to do so is called a “game caller”, which is the name of another game (a variant of “Oneupmanship”). The highest level of existence to which one may aspire, and which is mostly occupied by Transaction Analysts, is called a game-free existence. This describes a person who doesn’t play games, who does not engage in hidden or ulterior transactions.

Claude Steiner (http://www.claudesteiner.com/spl.htm) took the idea of game theory and developed it into life-spanning stories and scripts people followed. A person would choose (or somebody else would choose it for him or her) a story that would define the meaning and arc of that person’s existence from birth to death. Of course these stories were well-known, they had roles, and each role had a script to be followed. Many of the stories were tragedies and many were comedies, but I believe that even the comedies were tragedies. All the tragedies were Greek tragedies. Everyone knows how they turn out in the end. Stories are long-running complicated games and scripts are long-running complicated transactions.

In this vein I propose to analyze another pattern or structure called a “situation.” Like games, they are repetitious, have roles, and if not necessarily well-known, they usually are amenable to analysis. When people find themselves in a situation, they usually find themselves cast into a particular role in that situation. People usually follow the scripts that are available for their role. If they don’t, then they will be booed off the stage and somebody else will be solicited or drafted for the role. When they are released from their roles, people quickly enter other roles and play them according to the scripts available for those roles. Just like people, situations may be good or evil, or neither good nor evil. Josef Stalin was a good father who loved his daughter Svetlana more than anything, yet Josef Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 20 million of his comrades. When he played the role of father, he was a good man and he played his role well. When he played the role of dictator, he was an evil man and he played that role well too. How was that possible?

Several countries in this region are currently at war. A war is a tricky situation in which all sides struggle to gain some kind of advantage over the other sides while minimizing their own disadvantages. The situation of war has its roles and scripts, and endless variations on a few well-known themes. The only problem is that you can’t always tell who’s playing which role. The roles include government officials and clerks, combatant soldiers and non-combatant soldiers, non-combatant civilians and combatant civilians, heroes and cowards, aggressors and defenders, terrorists and those who finance them, hide them, and transport them, religionists who whip up the masses saying God is on their side, people who just want to work to support their families, people who are sick or wounded and need to get to a hospital, mothers with babies, husbands and wives, grandparents, lovers, poets, tourists, pilgrims,  doctors, policemen, prostitutes, criminals, ah yes – and “neutral” observers. As long as we are at war, and we will be at war as long as not all sides want peace, we will need soldiers to protect us. If we didn’t have soldiers to protect us or the soldiers didn’t protect us very well, some of us would become terrorists, if not now then at some time in the future. That’s what happens when one side maintains a consistent advantage over the other side but doesn’t eliminate their capacity to rise up against the victor. So we have a situation in which one side has a military advantage against the other sides, but the other sides still have the ability to shoot missiles into the “winning” side’s homeland and to blowup buses, stab civilians, and kidnap non-combatants. A poet is drafted into the role of soldier. He dons a uniform, is given a rifle, and is sent to guard some barricade between them and us. That’s his new role. The old role of poet has been folded up and stuffed in his pocket. He has a new script to learn now. A couple of burly young guys approach the soldier from the other side. They know the role he is playing, but he doesn’t know the roles they play. They don’t stop when he tells them to stop. They shout at him. One pushes him. The soldier points his rifle at them. A television camera records the scene. The soldier is relieved of duty and jailed. After being released, he goes back to his role as poet. He is not under any pressure to learn that script. It is already well-known to him, and it’s not a matter of life and death. On a TV set on the other side of the world, a news report of a soldier pointing his rifle at three young boys is presented by a respectable looking anchorman. People’s beliefs are confirmed by the news report.

Sometimes a child is forced by his peers to pick up rocks and throw them at the soldiers patrolling their streets. The child’s parents may be forced by social pressures to send their children out to throw rocks at the soldiers. They are forced into roles of rock throwers and supporters of the resistance. A young man may be pressured into a role of suicide bomber. Then again, he may just be a doctor or teacher.

Sometimes it’s the situation that is evil, and not the people trapped in the roles they have to play. Then again, there are evil people who consistently seek out roles that allow them to express their evil predilections.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel


Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose