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Game of Life

We started this series with chess and then moved on to the socio-political topology of a typical corporate landscape. Both could be understood, in some vague and generous sense, in terms of a simple set of rules. If I managed to convince you of that satement, it is thanks to my writing prowess, rather than the logical cohesion of my argument. I am about to extend that shaky logic to the game of life; and you should be wary. But I can at least promise you a good read.

Okay, with that reservation stated and out of the way, let’s approach the problem systematically. My thesis in this series of posts is that the macro-level patterns of a dynamic system (like a chess game, corporate office, or life itself) can be sort of predicted or understood in terms of the rules of engagement in it. In chess, we saw that general pattern of any game (viz. structured beginning, messy mid-game, clean endgame with a win, lose or draw) is what the rules prescribe. In this last post, we are going to deal with life. In a trivial analogy to chess, we can describe the pattern like this: we are all born somewhere and some point in time, we make our play for a few years, and we bow out with varying amount of grace, regardless of how high we soar and how low we sink during our years. But this pattern, though more rigorously followed than our chess pattern, is a bit too trivial. What are the salient features or patterns of human life that we are trying to understand? Human life is so complex with so many aspects of existence and dimensions of interactions among them that we can only hope to understand a limited projection of a couple of its patterns. Let’s choose the pattern of family units first.

The basic set of rules in human life comes from evolutionary biology. As a famous man put it, nothing in biology (or life itself, I would think) makes sense except in the light of evolution. On the other hand, everything from gender politics to nuclear family units makes perfect sense as the expressions of the genetic commands encoded in our DNA, although we may be stretching the hypothesis to fit the facts (which is always possible to do) when we view it that way. Let’s look at the patterns of gender relations in family units, with the preamble that I am a total believer in gender equality, at least, my own brand of it.

Evolutionary biology tells us that the instruction encoded in our genes is very simple — just live a little longer, which is at the root of our instincts for self preservation and reproduction. In the end, this instruction expresses itself as a man’s hidden antipathy toward monogamy and a woman’s overt defense of its virtues. Although this oft-repeated argument can be seen as a feeble attempt at justifying the errant and philandering behavior of man, it has simplicity on its side. It makes sense. The argument goes like this: in order to ensure the continued survival of his genes, a man has to mate with as many partners as possible, as often as possible. On the other hand, given the long gestation period, a woman optimizes the survival chances of her genes by choosing the best possible specimen as her mate and tying him down for undivided attention and for future use. Monogamy indeed is virtuous from her perspective, but too cruel a rule in a man’s view. To the extent that most of the world has now adopted monogamy and the associated nuclear family system as their preferred patterns, we can say that women have won the gender war. Why else would I feel scared to post this article? Weaker sex, indeed!

Evolutionary biology is only one way of looking at life. Another interesting set of rules comes from spiritual and religious philosophy, which we will look at in the next post.

EvolutionInverted Logic

Evolution is usually described asthe survival of the fittest,” or as species evolving to adapt to the environment. To survive, to evolve, to adaptthese are action verbs, implying some kind of intention or general plan. But there is a curious inversion of logic, or reversal of causality in the theory of evolution. This is almost the opposite of intention or plan.

It is easiest to illustrate this inverted logic using examples. Suppose you are on a tropical island, enjoying the nice weather and the beautiful beach. You say to yourself, “This is perfect. This is paradise!” Of course, there is some specific gene containing the blue print of your brain process that leads you to feel this way. It stands to reason that there may have been genetic mutations at some point, which made some people hate this kind of paradise. They may have preferred Alaska in winter. Evidently, such genes had a slightly lower chance of survival because Alaskan winters are not as healthy as tropical paradises. Over millions of years, these genes got all but wiped out.

What this means is that the tropical paradise does not have an intrinsic beauty. It is not even that you happen to find it beautiful. Beauty does not necessarily lie in the eyes of the beholder. It is more like the eyes exist because we are the kind of people who would find such hospitable environments beautiful.

Another example of the inversion of logic in evolution is the reason we find cute babies cute. Our genes survived, and we are here because we are the kind of people who would find healthy babies cute. This reversal of causality has implications in every facet of our existence, all the way up to our notion of free will.

Ref: This post is an excerpt from my book, The Unreal Universe.