Thursday, December 29, 2011

HEXAPAWN, aka You Got Book Learnin', But You Ain't So Smart

What is Hexapawn? Why do I have a picture of a human brain (no, it is not a cauliflower) alongside a game board? Well, let me explain. I am afflicted with epilepsy, which is not actually a disease per se. Rather, it is a broad term describing disorders where the synapses within a brain misfire. Synapses structure that permits neurons to pass electrical or chemical signals among one another. I will refrain from going further down that road, as it is very complex and better handled by a professional. But, I want to talk about Hexapawn and the brain.
No, stop that right now! This is NOT boring. I will make sure of that. Just read. Let me ask you something? Have you ever known someone who is highly talented, but suffers a significant failure, only to allow their spirit to be crushed? You know, the person who fails and says “Oh well, I guess I just am not cut out for that.” Maybe you hear that person (whine), “It was too hard. I guess I will just keep the job I have.” Another one is, “The next time, I will just mind my own business.” You can think of some examples yourself. I have a relative who precedes many of his sentences with “I know you probably don’t have time to talk to me but…..”, or “You don’t need to talk to me now, I know you are busy. I was just wondering….”. Crushed spirit. Anathema to people who are determined to live a successful life (like me).
If you speak to, or read of, a person who achieves significant success, you will invariably hear stories of failure. Remarkable failures, in fact. This person viewed each failure as a learning opportunity. Just like working on your car, doing a math problem, mastering your job, learning to ride a bike, how to maintain a successful relationship…a successful person’s failures have helped that person to be a future success. This is because he or she learned from failure. Following disappointment, that person eliminated the actions that precipitated those failures. In other words, they aren’t going to do THAT again. Now they know, it doesn’t work. How many times have you failed at something, and if someone were to ask you what you will do the next time to succeed, your reply was basically, “I don’t know what I will do, but now I know what I WON’T do (you won't do the thing that resulted in failure).”
I have failed in politics (a number of times), in business, in some career goals, and I have sometimes failed to be the best father or husband I can be. I have failed to live up to my standards as a Christian. On three occasions, I trained for MONTHS to run a marathon, and never successfully completed one,due to injuries (although I will succeed THIS year). MAN OH MAN, I have learned a LOT. My inevitable successes are due in large part to my learning moments (i.e. failures).
Sometimes, when you are a homeowner, or when you buy Christmas presents for your kids, you have to put something together or install something. It can be nerve wracking. My wife sometimes gloats by saying, “I am the one who is mechanical.” It so annoys me, because it pricks my male pride. Anyway, when we would assemble something, a swing set perhaps, I would read the directions Lydia, on the other hand, would just “start messing with it”, and she would have things assembled while I was still reading. Was she REALLY so much more mechanically inclined than me? I don’t know about THAT. She used a better “heuristic” (way of learning). She “messed’ with the thing, found out a certain approach would not work,then tried an alternative approach. That often (but not always) is quicker than painstakingly reading instructions. So, now I know. Now, I try figuring it out on my own BEFORE I retreat to instructions. Have you ever known a nerd who is a genius with book learning but can barely tie his or her shoelaces? Perhaps the nerd gains comfort from books because he or she is so intelligent and is good at mastering the contents. But, in doing so, he tends to refrain from doing “hands-on”. He has had such great success studying books, so why try a different approach? Hence, the proverbial genius with no “common sense”. That nerd has just failed to hone "common sense", whereas people who are not so good with books do a lot of hands on learning, so obviously they refine that approach.

Have you ever build a robot? You can build one out of matchboxes and jellybeans. Oh, yes you can. It is not my idea. Jeffrey Satinover (2001) wrote a book I am currently reading, entitled “The Quantum Brain: The Search for Freedom and the Next Generation of Man”. He explains his hypothesis of how we learn through experience, by explaining how to create a robot that plays Hexapawn. I will make it as ridiculously simple as possible for purposes of this blog, but feel free to refer to his book (Amazon) for a more detailed explanation. Fundamentally, if a person lines up 25 matchboxes to create the hexapawn board (like Tic Tac Toe), he or she can then put jelly beans in each box. For brevity’s sake, I will not detail the exact colors and proportions of Jellybeans that Satinover used, but the point is this: First, you “play” Hexapawn against this computer (i.e. matchboxes and jellybeans), by making your move, then randomly drawing a jellybean from the corresponding box, to represent your “opponent’s” move. When you win a game, you then eliminate that jellybean. The next time you land on that matchbox, you draw a different jellybean. When you again win, you eliminate THAT jellybean (perhaps by eating). YOU ARE PROGRESSIVELY ELIMINATING THOSE LOSING COMBINATIONS (moves). What is left, ultimately, are those jellybeans that creating a winning combination of moves. Voila! This is artificial intelligence. The computer has corrected itself and become increasingly more intelligent. In theory, it inevitably wins. (If this is not clear, post a comment, and I can elaborate).
LESSON: You learn and improve by LOSING. You do NOT learn by winning (according to Satinover).
Lesson: Do, and learn, and succeed. Doing, and not giving up, is in ITSELF a victory. The great irony: failures can be successes! It is entirely up to YOU. If you CHOOSE (yes, we have a choice. You can use “failures” as a learning moment to reach your ultimate success. What is success, by the way? Most people use objective standards. In other words, the world programs them how to think, and they swallow it hook, line, and sinker. The world tells them what success is, so that is what they aspire to achieve (often wealth, power, sex appeal, or fame, or even a Corvette). Be like everybody else? How unbelievably mundane! The truly happy people, those who have joy and guaranteed success, are those who set their OWN standards of success and work toward those, realizing they cannot fail, because even if they do not reach their objective, they WIN! They win because when they go to sleep at night, when they are on their deathbed, they can look back and, like the Apostle Paul, say, “…I have fought the good fight…”. That, in itself, IS the very definition of success.
So, use those darn synapses. Allow them to continue to correct themselves, by DOING, by LIVING. If in doubt, ere in the way of guts! Ere in the way of courage! Ere in the way of adventure! Ere in the way of passionate love! Ere in the way of compassionate self-sacrifice! Ere in the way of doing the heroic, those things that will create a lasting legacy. Choose your brass ring and go for it. If someone says you cannot, or should not do it, well, God gave YOU this life. You do not answer to them, but to God. THEY have enough to worry about with their own life. So, do it. Not tomorrow. NOW!
I leave you with the well-known observation by my favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt. It is actually an excerpt from a speech he delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, in 1910, entitled “Citizenship in a Republic”. This excerpt has come to be known as:


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

With that, I bid you adieu.