Friend Who Always Pays for Dinner (previously known as Dr Giant Steps and Fellow Gravitational Wave Detector) and I went to a Burmese place for dinner yesterday. Well, the Burmese place is not actually relevant to the story but I still wanted to show off that I tried yet another cuisine.
On the way to the restaurant we chatted about the concept of decision making and Artificial Intelligence. Well, he talked and I listened. He plays go on and off and was telling me how the game is far more complex than chess. The general idea behind it is that it’s theoretically possible to win a game of chess through brute force but that can’t be done for go because there are more possible configurations of the go board than atoms in the universe. Google has made some breakthroughs in developing an AI go player.
I’m now going to talk about something completely different. I was reading a book on the psychology of a highly sensitive person. The book is surprisingly titled “The Highly Sensitive Person”. Dr Elaine Aron suggests there are four defining characteristics of an HSP: Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional reactivity (or empathy), Sensing the Subtle.
To the highly sensitive person the world perhaps feels like a massive game of go. To start with we’re more finely tuned to subtle signals than the average person. (median, not average, Dr Dinner Payer gently corrects). No matter how deeply we process the information we are given the world is just too complex to throw up clean answers. To make matters worse, HSP’s can add more complexity through sheer imagination. Of this mess we then want to make sense.
There are no guaranteed right answers. How can there be? We don’t even know what the questions are! That is no deterrent, however, to the more persistent among us. Can you imagine then, even for a moment, being a brute force algorithm against a go game? Can you imagine trying to win a game of go not through heuristics but through sheer stubborn analysis?
Yes, you’re right. That can only lead to overstimulation – a feeling of being overwhelmed by everything around you. The classic analysis paralysis. You cannot make a move. How can you? You’ve set yourself up to find the “right” answer. You want to find the one atom in the entire universe that is right for you. You will not accept anything less.
All around you, meanwhile, other players are using a different algorithm – one better suited to navigating the world. Instead of brute forcing their way into finding the one special atom, their target is to win. Their target is to be good enough to beat the board they are up against.
To drop this pursuit of perfection, however, is to willingly acknowledge that you might fail. Remember the third trait of an HSP? It’s emotional reactivity. The fear of the unknown is far more powerful than anyone realizes. It’s an age old fear, one best articulated by Hamlet.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remembered.
This fear of the unknown makes us believe in the mirage of control. We think that if we control what might come, we can save ourselves from a world of pain. Thus we spend our lives trying to control outcomes. We spend our lives trying to brute force our way through a game of go when really, what we need is just a strategy and a leap of faith.