My subconscious and I

In the anime Hikaru no Go, the boy Hikaru can actually see the great Go player that resides in his subconscious. No one else can see him though. I can’t even see mine. It’s OK, he is probably not as good as Sai – just better than me, and that doesn’t say much.

I sometimes say to my subconscious: “There is a reason why you are the sub.” But this is not one of those occasions. Sometimes it just shows off. This was one of those times. Make that TWO of those times.

On my bus commute, I took the opportunity to watch a Go match on my Android tablet. It was a 7-dan player against a 6-dan. For me, that is comparable to a first-grader watching two English majors debating Shakespeare. While I find it vaguely interesting, I don’t really aspire to understanding a game on that high a level. My subconscious may disagree: At a certain point, it basically said “Black is going to play there”, pointing to a spot on the (virtual) board. Plop! Black put down a stone right on the spot.

I looked closer at that particular move, and actually it was pretty clear that bad things would have happened had black not secured that spot right away. But the thing is, I had not seen that by thinking logically and reading ahead. Rather, some corner of my pattern matching brain must have picked up enough Go to expect the next move based on what it had already seen of successful (and, in my own case, utterly failed) games. Now, as high-level games go, this particular move was one of the more obvious. But the fact remains that I did not see it with my rational conscious mind, but instead a “voice in my head” (not literally, but more like an independent thought) spotted it straight away.

Later in the day, I took a look at the opposite: A lowbie game, still on the Pandanet-IGS (Internet Go Server). A 17-kyu – the lowest rank on IGS, but still way above me – was playing someone in the Beginner Class. As it happens, the beginner was in the process of winning when I arrived. Looking over the board, I quickly spotted a large group of white stones that were dead as a doornail. (We say that a group is dead when it can be caught by the opponent and there is nothing to do about it.) In this case, black could kill it in three moves, and there was nowhere else on the board where such a big opportunity existed. (Or if it was, neither I nor they found it!) I watched intently, but neither of them seemed to pay the slightest attention to the huge group, 15-20 stones by my counting. In the end, they both passed, which ends the game. They counted the territory, and still no one of them made a move to remove the dead group.

It was glaringly obvious to me as an observer, so I thought by myself: “If a 17-kyu player does not see something as obvious as that, and I see it, I must have made quite a bit of progress.” So I fired up the Go-playing robot program in my tablet. It crushed me again, just as badly as it usually does. I had made no progress at all.

And this, dear congregation, is the story of my life. I can see things that are above my play grade, with the help of the imaginary voices in my head. But when it comes to myself, I seem to make no progress at all.