“Life is a game, you just don’t get unlimited continues.”
-Dante, Marvel versus Capcom 3: The Fate of Two Worlds
I had a bit of an epiphany the other day. I had it while I was solving some baduk problems on my mobile. The problems are rated for difficulty. So there are problems which are designed for 30k to 25k (“really easy”), some that go up to 10k (pretty ), and then there’s the problems around 9, 8, and 7k which are just easy. It kinda makes me laugh when the level of play I’m currently ranked at, which is about 9k, is still considered “easy,” but whatever.
The thing is, I’ve been stuck at 9k for a long little while now– I’ve been at this rank since about October. I have made some progress and am closer to 8k, but I just can’t seem to break this plateau.
But I noticed something strange– when it came to problem solving, I’m able to solve problems at the 7k or 6k level.
Now, that might not mean too much to you, but the thing is, in the baduk world, the rankings are pretty accurate. There are usually huge differences at the single digit kyu and dan levels that amount to decisive comparisions of overal skill and style. Basically, I shouldn’t be able to solve problems that are a couple of levels higher than my actual playing ability.
But I can.
Which lead me to a theory– perhaps it’s because of the format of the problems. Maybe something about the ‘problem’ environment, they way it’s set out in a microcosimc way, the way you see a chess or sudoku puzzle in a newspaper, that inherently makes it easier to do than a real game.
So I started thinking about the way that my problem solving ability was better than my actual game playing ability. In essence, this translates to a distinction between “theory,” which is composed of the problems; and “practice,” which has to do with the nitty gritty unpredictableness, the street fighting of an actual game of baduk.
Translated to life, it’s the difference between the theory of how we deal with life’s problems on a theoretical level versus how we are capable of applying all that theory to the world.
I managed to isolate one big difference, to begin with. The thing about a problem is that you know there is a solution. That makes it inherently solvable by sheer persistence. It’s the difference between being able to open a door with a combination lock on it, versus a door that’s blocked by a huge boulder that you’re simply not strong enough to move. One of these situations is solvable by method and discipline: you can try every combination, and eventually you’ll find one that works, because the nature of the problem is in the utility of solution.
However, the boulder is a different story– without some addition to you, you’re just not meant to be able to do anything about it.
So, that lead me to another strain of thought– that the higher ranking of the problem assumes that these are problems of boulders that I could lift. Smaller stones, in a way. Meaning: i’m not meant to beat these problems by persistence. I’m meant to beat these problems by simply being able to lift them out of my way, with little or no effort. Only my current “natural ability” is supposed to come into play.
The significance of that is clearly visible in the idea that we have “20-20 hindsight.” When we look at a problem knowing that there is a possible outcome, everything seems so easy. But at a particular time? In particular circumstances? We only have our current level of natural ability.
By natural ability I don’t mean what you’re born with– I mean what feels natural to you through internalization and practice.
So the thing about how this applies to real life is that in real life, compared to problems, we don’t know if there are solutions. Think of it like a door that’s got a lock on it, and though there’s no boulder, maybe the combination lock doesn’t work. Maybe some gears on the inside are worn out. My point is this: the difference between a theoretical problem, either before you attempt it, or in hindsight; versus a real life application, is that in many cases you don’t know if there is a solution.
And that changes everything.
In a game of baduk, instead of solving a problem by trial and error on the board (that is to say, in “reality”), I should internally be playing out all the moves in my head… and the only actions that actually come out should be the solution. That, I think, is the way that demonstrates an internalization of the requisite skill level to be of a certain rank.
When you’re playing a real game, you don’t get to try and put down a stone here or there and if it doesn’t work out, ask your opponent for an undo. No– you get one chance, and that’s it.
That brings me to real life– and it’s a fundamental difference between that which we think about and dream about and what we actually push out into the real world.
It has to do with the knowledge of solubility.
If we know something can be solved, then it becomes only a question of hard work and persistence. But if we have no guarantees? Then we’re more hesitant– that unknown makes us fearful about reprecussions, and stunts our adventurousness.
It’s like how when we’re still in school, it’s so easy to focus– because we know that school can be passed. We just have to pay our dues, get through it all one day at a time.
On the other hand, life after the schoolbell is completely different– you don’t know if you can get a job. You don’t know if you have what it takes. You don’t know how this plays out.
I was thinking though. If you look at people who are ‘successful’ or who have done ‘incredible things,’ what do they have in common? Is it just luck? Did they open doors for themselves because they were lucky enough to get the right combination in a brute-force password break, or, did they go through a door simply because the boulder in front of it was really light to them?
Meanwhile, some people are still trying to dial in the right password. Others are still trying to lift that boulder.
The conclusion I arrive at is that people who are successful have more of a connection between problem solving and reality than people who are unsuccessful.
People who are good at doing things tend to learn more from problem solving– they tend to internalize it better, so that it becomes part of their natural ability to simply remove obstacles when they run into them. I would say that these people have a syncrhonization between their internal and external– some sort of resonance between theory and practice that allows the two aspects of their psyche to feedback. I don’t really know what to call this, so lets call it indvidual dialectical resonance (IDR).
Now, I won’t go as far as to say that people are naturally like this (although some people are obviously more talented than others). Some people obviously have high IDR levels, and that makes it seem like they’re just good at life or something. No matter what bad things happen to them, they just seem to roll with the punches and hit back really, really hard, with a grin on their faces. It’s because somehow, they combine a genuine sharingan ability to assimilate loss and success, and synthesize it into an understanding of their place in new environments, despite unknown variables. Basically– wheras most of us separate the world of games from reality, these people almost seem to be gaming reality.
So how do we get there?
How do we cross over what we know from problem solving into the real world? How do we turn theory into practice?
I guess it goes in small steps– we need to, as it were, play harder, to the point where our real self begins to internalize the madness of our gaming practice.
So what’s holding us back? It’s this separation– the separation into black and white of what we think we’re allowed to dream, and what we think we’re allowed to do. It’s a disconnection between what we dream and what we can do.
But if, just what if, we could take our dreams seriously? How to do that… it seems that what is requisite is either courage, or an autism by which we lose our sensibility of the distinction between the two worlds.
So then… where do we find the courage to try what we think, if practicing that is the only way to get better at doing things? Who gets those chickens and eggs in motion?