A lesson from Go

Evidently the Japanese are not entirely unfamiliar with the Dunning-Kruger effect (“How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” in the words of the original study).

To get back to something less disturbing, I am still trying to learn Go. I can feel that I have come further than I ever have before. (I try to learn Go every time I have watched the anime series Hikaru no Go. So at least three times now, probably four.) This time, I feel like I have achieved lift-off, in a sense: I can actually watch other people play Go and understand some of what happens. When watching 17-kyu and beginner games, sometime their intentions are pretty transparent: They are trying to cut off the opponent, or capture stones, or avoid getting stones captured. So I watch and think: “He is not going to fall for that. He is going to connect at A, and you will have to play B to save your own group.” And sometimes the other player does fall for it, and I have this unfamiliar feeling of having actually seen something another Go player did not see (even if it was another beginner like me.)

And then I go back to the 13×13 training board against my Galaxy Tab, and it crushes me mercilessly. I don’t see the traps when they are for me, and once it takes the initiative, I never get it back. I am chased and either cut to pieces or besieged in a small territory while the computer reigns most of the board supreme. I guess Go is a lot like real life: It is easier to see what other people should do, but hard to see the same when it comes to myself!

An online friend (or nearly so) has just taken up playing Go as well, and described his first meeting with a Go robot as a lesson in humility. I guess that is one way to put it. Did you know that this ancient board game only has 5 rules, all of the quite simple? You can learn it in a couple minutes. And yet professional Go players have usually practiced for hours a day for a decade or so. Over the course of about 3000 years, no one has been able to master it, to find the sequence of moves that cannot be surpassed, the theory that can win every game.

That is the challenge of one of the world’s simplest games. And yet there are people who think that their amazing powers of logic lets them understand life, the universe and everything. If not in detail, then pretty well. Good luck with that.

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