The Positive Sum Game

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Quotes of the Day

"Greetings Professor Falken"
"Hello Joshua"
"A Strange Game.
The only winning move is
Not to play.
How about a nice game of chess?"
--WarGames, United Artists, 1983
Bare rock ... still ... bare rock.
And then ... <gasp> ... Green!
Cells clump. Organs specialize. Life senses Sol. Structures harden.
Forests grow.
In the lush green forests, species are born.
And for every species ... there was a story!

Finally, plants invented wood!
Turning soft cells into tall trunks,
Reaching high into the air, thickening the biosphere,
Making 100 meters of air freely available to crawling and jumping animals.
Leaves. Veins. Roots. Wood.
From bare rock ... Forests!
--SolSeed Viriditas de Terra Ritual
LOUISE: Sweetie.
HANNAH: What’s that term for that thing,
like a technical term,
where we make like a deal,
and we both get something out of it?
LOUISE: A compromise?

THE SCREEN shows a series of intertwined logograms.
Like a Persian rug of alien data
Ian magnifies one corner…revealing:
“1 / 12” …
AGENT HALPERN: Why hand it out to us in pieces?
Why not just give it all over?
LOUISE: What better way to force us all
to work together,
for once?
AGENT HALPERN: … how in the world
are you going to get anyone else to play along
and give up their data?

IAN: We offer our own in return.

IAN: So it’s a non-zero-sum game.

LOUISE: A non-zero-sum-game!
HANNAH: That’s it! Yes! Thank you, Mom.
--Eric Heisserer, Arrival Screenplay, Final Shooting Draft, August 20, 2015

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

[You] are sitting in a seat in the huge bowl of a stadium. Your [elephant] is sitting next to you. The audience is chanting something frighteningly violent. A huge monitor has been set up in central field and it shows bomb-eye views of the destruction of some foreign capital. You glance beside you and see [Terra] wearing [Gaia]. Gaia looks at you and she looks worried. You feel you should cheer her but are not sure how. So, you say something to fill the gap, "I wish people could see that war is a zero-sum game." you blurt out.

Gaia frowns, "I wish it were a zero-sum game. It is a negative sum game. The more you play the less alive the world is."

"But Gaia," you say surprised, "Zero Sum Games are bad because they discourage cooperation."

Gaia laughs, "No game is zero sum, Little One. You can play any game as if it is zero sum. But no game is zero sum."

You are puzzled, "What about something like checkers?"

Gaia smiles.

The audience is suddenly quiet, focused, on the edge of their seats. Now, the field at the center of the stadium is just bare rock except for two shrubs, one a clump of ferns, the other a tight cluster of green spikes, like the top of a pineapple. Between the two shrubs, you can just barely perceive a checkerboard and straddling the checkerboard is a tripod with a camera pointed straight down. The huge monitor is still there, and it confirms your perception because it displays the checkerboard from directly above. The timer on the huge monitor says, "TIME: EI:FE:LI.AN

Terra is standing behind the tripod. She is wearing Gaia, but Gaia is a pair of dark blue pants and a green and black striped shirt. She looks like a referee. You see a root reach in from the fern side and move a red piece, then a root from the green spike side reaches in and moves a black piece. The game continues, black offers an exchange, red takes a black piece and black takes the red piece made vulnerable by the move. More pieces are exchanged and then red takes three pieces and queens. As a second disk-shaped wooden piece is placed on top of the red piece to mark it as queen, the clump of ferns suddenly grows into a 4-meter-tall tree-fern-like plant. The monitor says, "TIME: GI:VE:TI.AN"

Terra reaches forward and places a green piece on the board and a large centipede appears on a third side of the board. Something seems peculiar about the game, other than just that it is being played by two plants and that a third colour has been introduced. But you can't tell what that is.

As the root from the spiky side of the board reaches in, you can see what it is going to do. In its hurry to crown a queen, red has left a series of pieces vulnerable. Black jumps them and queens its own piece. Immediately the spiky leaves leap from the ground as an 8-meter-tall scaly trunk appears below them.

Again, Terra reaches forward and places a purple piece on the board and a snail appears on the fourth side of the board. You blink and realize what has been bothering you. The board is no longer 8x8 but instead 11x11.

Play continues, the two plants maneuvering their still considerable number of pieces. The centipede and the snail maneuvering their single pieces. The snail always takes a long time to take his turn. The other players are exasperated. Then red sees its opening and queens its queen again. A third red checker is placed atop the first two and the tree-fern-like plant grows to 12 meters. The monitor says "TIME: FR:AS:NI.AN"

Again, Terra reaches forward and places an orange piece on the board and a worm appears on the fifth side of the board. You blink, confused. The board now has 5 sides and instead of being a grid of squares it is a grid of regular pentagons with 14 pentagons making up each side. Only you know that a grid of regular pentagons is impossible. There must be other shapes to fill gaps. But there are none. "How can a grid of perfect pentagons exist; it is a mathematical impossibility?" you mutter to yourself.

Beside you Gaia says, "Metaphorium."

Startled you look at her, "Gaia, how can you be here beside me and also down there refereeing the game?"

Gaia repeats, "Metaphorium."

Play continues and the snail still slows the game to a ... snail's pace. Red and black continue to dominate the game. In fact, even though pieces are being taken and no pieces are being added, somehow more and more pieces are filling the board. "Metaphorium!" you mutter to yourself. The centipede takes a red piece with one of his five green pieces, leaving red vulnerable to black's next move and suddenly black queens again with the same queen. A third black disk is placed on the black queen and the spiky topped tree grows to 16 meters tall. The monitor says "TIME: FA:ME:NN.IAN"

Terra reaches under the tripod and places a yellow piece on the board and a salamander-like creature appears on the sixth side of the board. To your relief the board is now a grid of regular hexagons. You count 18 on a side. But it is nearly empty. Most of the pieces have disappeared. All the major players are still there but they have very few pieces compared to what they had. One side of the board is frozen and covered in ice. Dry dust blows across much of the rest.

You hear a rumble which seems the shake your bones inside your body. You realize it is a laugh and see Yahweh sitting at the East end of the stadium. There is just one seat at that end of the stadium, and it takes up the whole end of the stadium. You see the innumerable rows of regular sized seats ending beside his one huge one and realize that the stadium is vastly larger than you imagined. Your bones are still shaking, and your heart is still racing. Your elephant trumpets in fear. Yahweh's laugh did not feel like a friendly laugh.

You turn to Gaia, "Why did Yahweh laugh like that?"

She seems as startled as you and you see the fiery cracks healing all over Terra's body. The rumbling laugh shook her also. Even though Gaia has spread over more of Terra's body and she is richer and greener there is a paleness in her face mask. She seems sick.

Yahweh's gaze turns directly toward you, "Determined One, you can celebrate these little advances in the thin layer of Life, which is Gaia on Terra, but it is all for naught. The universe is a negative sum game, the more moves you make the less free energy there is left for everyone. And I have predetermined the ending."

The stadium is changed. You and your elephant and Terra wearing Gaia are sitting at one end and Yahweh at the other. The entire field is a giant checkerboard covered in millions of squares only a centimeter on a side. It is covered in black queens and you have just one tiny blue piece. Your elephant is shaking with fear at the sight of Yahweh and the army of black queens. You are debating your next move when you realize that for a long time a dust devil has been playing back and forth along the right side of the board. Many of the pieces which seem to be black queens are revealed to somehow also be red queens when the wind blows past them.

You also realize that Ruach spoke before Yahweh, "Unpredictable things emerge from your predetermined endings. The same physics that makes the universe, as a whole, a negative sum game, is at play when plants are creating more possibilities than they destroy even as they are fighting over a limited supply of free energy. The adjacent possible may include a way to turn the whole universe into a positive sum game in the same way that it contained a way for the surface of the Earth to become a positive sum game."

The queens nearest to your blue piece turn one after another into blue pieces. Your elephant trumpets with newfound hope.

El appears on the left side of the board. Blinding golden light blazes fourth from him and from his scepter and from his throne. Even Yahweh shields his eyes unable to see the board clearly in the glare of El's power. El speaks to Gaia, "But you will never know if the adjacent possible contains what you seek. The adjacent possible is a hidden story which, by its nature, mostly remains hidden even as you explore it. In fact, the more you explore it, the larger its hidden part becomes. Even if you find a way to make the universe a positive sum game, later someone may find some other part of the adjacent possible which returns it to a negative sum game. So, you will never know how the story ends."

In the glare of his golden light, you cannot tell if more pieces are turning blue or if they are returning to being black queens. Your elephant despairs again. The board, it seems to you, although it is difficult to tell in El's golden glare, is morphing into something else. Then there is a blinding flash of white light which somehow makes El's golden light pale afterward. In the pale golden glow of El you see a cross lying on the field and Jesus is lying on the cross. He stands up and speaks to you, "But, no matter how bad the story becomes, you can always have hope that a new portion of the adjacent possible will appear and allow complexity to re-emerge. The good news is that, although you can never be certain that the story ends well, you can also never be certain that a bad part of the story, even a part where all life dies away, is a final ending."

Your elephant feels comfort and in the soft glow of that comfort you return to your regular life.

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