August 03rd 2009
I’m still reading Eternal Golden Braid, I have been on and off for maybe a year now and every few chapters gives me enough to ponder for a few months. I’m sure it’s part of the reason I’m so absent minded and mumbling to myself sometimes. Anyway here are a couple of thoughts I had.
The first was about chess. I always used to like chess, I thought it was a fun game but that was until I started to program. After coding for a while and learning how the various chess computers worked by brute-forcing the game I could only think of chess in those terms, as an amazing number of possible combinations that I was too small minded to hold in my brain. When you think of chess like that it seems pointless, I was saying to myself “There’s a move here which is perfect but I can’t see that far ahead, I’m just guessing”.
Anyway I’m happy to say I no longer think like that, if you read the book he explains how everything is made up of low level parts but there can still be meaning on a higher level. The example he gave was an ant colony, although made up of mindless ants functioned as a pretty advanced entity. You could say “Bah! It’s just a bunch of ants” but that would be ignoring what the colony achieves as a whole. Now I think although chess is ultimately made up of all these combinations of moves you can still think of it in higher terms like attacking that area of the board or protecting your queen. Suddenly it’s fun again!
The second thought I had involved the clash between logical people and for lack of a better term hippies. (Now depending on who you ask I fit into both groups so maybe I have a good insight.) Anyway I noticed how ‘hippies’ always came out with all this crazy crap about meditation and relaxing or not worrying and most logical people would just write it off immediately. The problem was that although a lot of the things they said where illogical, it seemed to work, they where relaxed with good posture and a positive happy frame of mind.
Now obviously excessive computer use plays a part in bad posture and illicit drugs might play a role in a happy frame of mind but there is still something there. I gave this a lot of thought and whilst reading the book I came to a realisation. When reading the example Kōans like “If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?” your immediate reaction is to reject it. The problem is if it leads to enlightenment maybe it’s worth dwelling on. I suspect the reason is you need something illogical to stop the recursion in your brain, you’re constantly thinking about thinking about what you just thought about and it’s impossible to get any peace. Although the Kōan is obviously junk if taken literally I think it helps you focus your mind away it can help you relax and could be a worthwhile thing. So I guess my point is maybe there is real value behind this stuff even though it ‘sound stupid’ maybe it’s not wise to judge so quickly. Maybe the logic is that there is no logic, maybe you can be a hippie with an analytical mind.
I can’t recommend the book enough, it has helped me understand a lot of things like this that have bugged me for a long time. I’m going to work through it several times until I understand every last bit.