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"Life is like a box of chocolates", chess, bridge, piano, and everything else

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

I see a parallel in life and creative endeavours, or something like chess, in fact bridge even. Looking at the last two, you begin with rules. For example, those associated with chess, the legal movements of pieces, etc., can be learned with comfort in a day, but whenever I have played the game, I’ve laboriously thought, if I do “that” they’ll probably do “that”, then I’ll do that; and it was hopeless. I always lost. I needed a more subjective, rather than objective approach. That’s why I marvelled at masters who would sometimes play perhaps 20 games at once, making moves in seconds compared to the minutes of each individual opponent. The master would use intuition to make their moves. Higher level bridge players can bid their hands in a similar way. Lesser players do well with somewhat mathematical systems like ACOL, but it’s slower, and doesn’t cover every statistical abnormality of the shuffle and deal.

Artificial intelligence is becoming frighteningly powerful for some. I studied neural networks in the early to mid-nineties. Back propagation was clearly the best system at that point. You’d train the network many times, by giving it data and telling it what it is. Eventually, the theory goes that you then show the network something it doesn’t know, and you ask it what it is. It could work very well. The overlap with the gaming examples, ought to be clear.

I've always told my wife that pianists don't learn Bach pieces. The thing is, they learn how to play counterpoint, i.e., melody against melodies, as opposed to pieces based on a melody with an accompaniment, which became more and more typical, after the Baroque period.

The skills to play counterpoint, include complete independence of each finger, from the others in the same hand, and all the fingers need to be strong. You can’t take your eyes off the music, and need to read very well, unless you memorise. It takes thorough rhythmic independence of the hands. In total then, you are "riding the bike", and you either ride or don't ride a bike. That’s how Bach playing is, rather than studying/ learning dozens of individual pieces.

Things start clicking. Just how so, isn't known. We similarly don't know what is happening in a back propagation neural network. What is a fact, is that very long-term dedication is needed, until a critical mass is reached. Personally, I don’t think it is anything like radioactive isotopes, having a precise point. I think there is a woolly or nebulous region, which is identifiable by a faster rate of increase in skills, than had previously felt typical.

Every week the late Roy Castle told my generation, that “dedication’s all you need”. Perhaps St Paul in 1-Corinthians was helpful too, because “faith, hope and love” would appear to me to be perfect, in our acquiring skills we highly desire. I think the Zen Buddhist notion of not thinking so much about the destination, but enjoying the journey, is utterly relevant.

All that’s left to say, is that I wasn’t really talking about chess, bridge, Bach, or anything else, was I? When you hit the critical mass, life... makes more and more sense. Validations of your personal thoughts and attitudes increase. It’s more fun, and the soundtrack is great.

Keep GOING !

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