Ever heard of the Shannon number?
If you are a chess aficionado, that might ring a bell.
The Shannon number was calculated by the mathematician Claude Shannon.
It answers one specific question – how many different chess games can be played?
What’s your guess?
How many different chess games could we play?
According to Shannon, if an average game is composed of 80 moves, there would be 10120 different games that we could play.
Ten to the power of one hundred twenty! Can you believe it?
This number is so big that it’s hard to fully comprehend.
So let’s try to give some comparisons to get a better grasp of it.
If we count all the grains of sand, on all the beaches on Earth, we would get about 1019
Now, if we count all the stars in our Universe, we would find that there are about ten to the power of twenty four.
So, with these points of comparison, the Shannon number and its complexity appears enormous, right?
But, what if we change our perspective?
What if instead of being a chess amateur, we look at the game complexity from the point of view of a go player?
This is also a strategy board game, but its complexity is approximately 10511
Ten to the power of five hundred eleven compared to ten of the power of one hundred twenty. Suddenly, the Shannon number seems kinda small.
And now, what if we change perspective once more?
What if we compare the Shannon number with the complexity of Life itself?
After all, we are all playing the game of Life.
And it’s obvious that the complexity of chess or go is tiny compared to Life.
So what’s the whole point of the Shannon number?
It turns out that there is a reason why the mathematician Shannon calculated it.
And it’s not pure curiosity.
Shannon demonstrated the impossibility to use pure computing power to establish all the different games of chess.
To know all the possible outcomes.
Basically, he showed that computers couldn’t “brute-force” the game’s solution in order to win.
Instead, machines had to “copy” humans.
They had to learn how to play chess.
They had to play games, lose some, win some, and progress their understanding.
This is pretty much the same with Life.
There is no way we can “brute-force” solutions. There is no way we can sit, think of all the possible outcomes, list them and pick the best one.
Life is just too complex.
We will never know it all.
We have to play to learn and get better at the game.
So, yes, we only have one game of Life – at least that we know of, but if we shift our perspectives a bit, we could see that we play several “mini” games in one Life.
Like the “job search” game.
Like the “intimate relationship” game.
Or like a chess game.
Nobody, not even genius, sits for the first time in front of the chessboard and knows how to play.
We have to learn the rules.
What works best in which situation.
We are either taught or we learn from our own experience.
We can’t crack the game by simply thinking of the different possibilities.
They are simply too many. And that’s also assuming we would know all of them.
When we engage in a romantic relationship, there are and will always be unknown.
Why is my partner upset today?
Is he loving me less than before?
Did he sleep well?
Maybe he is feeling sick?
Or something is troubling him?
Did he change?
Does he think our relationship changed?
It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and get lost in our thoughts and all the possibilities
But when we do, when we take action, we can reduce this uncertainty.
Questions such as “How was your day?”, “Did you sleep well?” or simply “Is there something troubling you?” can already go a long way.
The first step to playing chess is learning its rules. Then, if you want to improve, you train, you learn, you keep playing.
That’s why we actually do need more than one job interview to become good at this “mini” game.
That’s why if we have open and regular discussions with our life partner, we will be better at understanding him or her.
Thinking alone has its limitations.
But when we pair it with doing, we progress and our growth is limitless.
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