tetris and morality

The moral question, How To Live, is hard to answer. But it's especially hard to answer in spoken language. Many of the concepts involved are difficult to put into words. It's hard to find examples that aren't highly personal, and hard to understand for strangers. But I was just playing Tetris, and I think it will do nicely to illustrate a part of the answer.

For those who don't know, Tetris is a game of falling blocks of varied shapes, and you must choose where they fall to make them fit together into solid lines. You have to be quick to decide where to put a block because you only have a limited time before it falls.

Some people might be tempted to pause their Tetris game for every new block and calculate exactly where the best spot is. I'm sure this is possible. However, to get a good score in real time, you can't just calculate exactly what to do.

Similarly, in real life, we never have unlimited time to make a decision.

How, then, do Tetris players play, if not by calculating what choice is best? They use their intuitions. They create various patterns they are familiar with and consider good. And they set specific goals within the game and play moves designed to achieve those.

Example patterns to aim for are: higher on the edges, lower in the middle, or bumpy shapes, or flat lines. Or everything solid except one thin line to be filled in later with a single line piece for bonus points (if you clear many lines at once you get more points).

Example goals to aim for are to uncover a buried hole so it can be filled in, or to not stack more pieces over a certain feature.

So suppose we find ten people with different intuitions and have them all play 10,000 games of Tetris. We ignore the first 2,000 as just practice. During those practice games, players will learn how best to achieve their personal goals. They'll learn all the little tricks that help them get where they're trying to go. They'll learn pattern recognition and come to intuitively respond to all the common patterns.

Coming back to morality, they are learning how to get what they want.

In the later games, we will see some players are better, and some are worse. And we will see they all consistently play in certain ways which they feel are best (they were asked to try their best every game, and perhaps paid depending how well they score).

Each player represents a set of intuitions that together those intuitions are a Tetris playing strategy, and the best strategy will on average score highest. The others are doomed to mediocrity.

However, there's one more thing! I used to create holes to fill in for bonus points a lot, and if the line to fill them in didn't come for long enough, I'd lose (lines have a 1/7 chance to come, but if you play enough, sometimes you won't get one for thirty pieces). I don't do this nearly as much anymore. When I see holes like that I worry.

I used to create flat areas. They seemed less messed up. But it turns out a lot of pieces don't fit nicely onto flat, and work better on bumpy shapes.

I used to put a lot of pieces in the middle if that seemed convenient, or a bunch on the edge if that was. Didn't care which. Now I've changed this, and I go to significant lengths to stack the edges and keep the middle low.

I used to hate to bury any holes intentionally, and would put it off as long as possible, letting the holes get deeper, and sometimes getting out of it, and sometimes getting screwed. Now I do damage control early. I can recover from lots of small problems, but I can't risk any big ones if I want to score well.

So the point is, to be truly good at Tetris, one must change his intuitions, to feel that certain patterns are better, and others worse, than one originally felt. With enough changes, I've found I die much less.

And back to morality, to be truly moral, besides figuring out how to achieve what you want, like, and intend, you must also find ways to change what you want to better things. No matter how good you are at creating holes in your Tetris position in search of bonus points, or how good you are at making flat structures, you'll never be very good.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

stupid biased media


Much of what Sen. John Kerry says about Iraq is consistent and reasonable. He voted for the war because, like just about everybody else, he believed that Saddam Hussein was dangerous. He criticizes it now because Hussein turns out not to have had weapons of mass destruction after all,


and because the Bush administration's handling of reconstruction has been incompetent.

Has been just fine. Attack the president on strategy, fine, but not tactics. He is privy to info you're not and advisors you're not to decide which road which supply truck should use. You *do not* know better how to plan those details. The people planning the details are not incompetent.

Had everybody known two years ago that Hussein's weapons program had fallen apart, there would have been no convincing argument for war.

Because sponsoring terrorism and killing people doesn't justify force against him...

By insisting in Friday's debate that Hussein presented a "unique threat," President Bush made himself appear blind to reality.

what, there are other identical threats? which other threat is the same? idiot.

But the question that matters in this election is: What next? Should we fight on in Iraq? Or should we leave as soon as possible -- on the theory that all this nation-building stuff is bound to fail

It's working. If you disagree, argue it.

and that winning hearts and minds among allies will boost our security more than battling Iraq's insurgents? And beyond Iraq, what is the role for preemptive war and nation-building in the next phase of the war on terrorism?

On this crucial issue, neither candidate's position is completely clear.

Of course Bush's view is clear. His strategy is to fight offense, kill the badguys wherever they may be found, and help people be free whenever we have the opportunity. He's only said this 47 times, though...

My colleague Robert D. Novak insists that a second Bush administration would cut its losses in Iraq, despite everything the president says to the contrary.

Why quote an idiot? Why propose lunatic theories w/ no argument? Bush said he will stand firm and win, remember? He said Iraq is a key battleground that we must be victorious on, remember?

The worry with Bush is that he underestimates how hard the "hard work" is:

No, the media does that. Over and over and over. The administration never has, never will. Remember this press briefing?

media: Did you overestimate how ez it would be?

ari: no

media: didn't you say it'd be a cakewalk?

ari: no, you guys said that.

media: didn't you fail to warn us it'd be hard?

ari: we warned you on 321 occassions. *lists them all*

media: shouldn't you have warned us more clearly?

ari: we feel the 321 warnings were very clear.

media: isn't it going badly because you overestimated how ez it would be?

ari: you already asked that.

media: are you sure you sent enough body armor for our troops?

ari: Bush asked all his generals if they had everything they needed and felt comfortable with the war plan and felt it would work and we would win. They all said yes. Of course we will continue to send additional supplies, but quit arguing tactics, you don't know what you're talking about.

media: isn't it a quagmire like vietnam because they are fighting back so intensely?

ari: ask me that again in 3 days after we take the capital. this is going even faster than the last gulf war. idiots.

and that's enough of that. off to take a shower. ugh.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


"First of all, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I never explain anything."


worst motto ever. it's like the opposite of mine ("Explanations for the curious"). explanations are the bestest thing ever. everything else is boring.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)


thesis of piece: israel must befriend EU or become pariah, as US power dwindles

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

curi42 (11:30:36 AM): christian: world w/out God is grey, bleak
curi42 (11:30:54 AM): european: hah! the world *is* grey, bleak. so no God.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

School Is Like Broccoli

Parents have this broccoli stuff they've decided is Good For You, and make you eat it. They don't listen when you say you prefer steak.

Schools have this Educational Method (including homework, tests, textbooks, lectures, etc) they've decided is Good For You, and they have the Right Answers (which are sometimes wrong), which are also Good For You. They make you eat it. And they sure don't offer steak.

PS you can tell textbooks are worse than real books, because when real people (not students) go to a bookstore to buy something, they don't choose a textbook.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Language Preferences

Google results for:

"I like girls" - 26,500
"I like men"   - 21,200
"I like women" - 13,500
"I like boys"  -  6,900

I believe this is revealing.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

98 words

Talk about a sentence! source

The influence of example is itself prevalent; but you will probably meet with those who will particularly endeavor to corrupt and incite you to vice; because, as you may yourself perceive, your early attainment to so great a dignity is not observed without envy, and those who could not prevent your receiving that honor will secretly endeavor to diminish it, by inducing you to forfeit the good estimation of the public; thereby precipitating you into that gulf into which they had themselves fallen; in which attempt, the consideration of your youth will give them a confidence of success.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

curi42 (4:07:46 PM):
Tell me you love me
Tell me that you're mine again
Tell me you won't turn away
curi42 (4:07:53 PM): it's scary these are approximately synonymous

also scary how common such *possessive* sentiments are

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

interesting parallel

"I am wrong" is no better a contribution to an argument/discussion than "I am right" is. "I concede" is no better than "I win".

if the arguments are on the table, either everyone already knows you won/lost/whatever, or they disagree about the result, in which case telling them what it is would be dumb.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)