Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mathematical Rebirth

It's been a busy spring, but I want to be sure to post to the blog when there's something I'm excited about.  Given that this something has to do with games, spirituality, and math... I think it counts.

When I was 12 or 13 years old, I became obsessed with a little book in my school's library.  Rebirth: The Tibetan Game of Liberation described a strange cousin of "Chutes and Ladders."  Seemingly originating in the 13th century, this was a game of 104 squares that essentially led you from hell (at low numbers) to heaven (at the top).  You started out near the middle, at square #24, and you rolled dice to determine where you go next.  You can go up or down, of course.  Each square has its own unique set of rules for where the dice take you next.  You can get stuck in some squares for a long time.  The closer you get to Nirvana at the top, the less of a chance you have for going back through the nasty stuff at the bottom...


"Playing" this game is supposed to be a meditative exercise that gets you thinking about your karma, and about how all the ups & downs of life are just transitory distractions from the important things -- well, the important things if you're a Buddhist, anyway.  :-)

I've never been a Buddhist, but I was obsessed with this thing as a kid.  Along with D&D's systematized lists of gods and outer planes, I suppose I was eager to find some mathematical rigor in the often woo-woo world of spirituality.  I copied out the board onto a large piece of cardboard.  I still have it, 40 years later.  Here's a piece...


A few days ago I got to thinking about this game again, and I looked up some details online.  For the fun of it (shut up), I wrote a computer program to simulate the square-by-square rules and was thus able to run thousands of random games.  It was cool to learn that the most probable number of "turns" was about 93.  The shortest possible game I think runs about 18 turns, and the longest ones that my computer churned through were about 430 turns in duration.  Oh, the wheel of karma can sometimes be cruel.

I was also curious about how the game tended to progress from the lower to the higher levels, so I made a graph of 200 random games, with time normalized such that the longer and shorter games all are squeezed into the same start-to-finish range:


I find it interesting that there's such a tight cluster of activity in the lower realms (below about square #26) in the first third of the game, then the probabilities spread out to nearly everywhere.  Once you're about two thirds of the way done, though, you rapidly converge on the higher nirvanas and make increasingly steady progress to full enlightenment.

I also found an article by someone named Jonathan Doner, which proposed that the overall concept of this game could be "reskinned" straightforwardly to other spiritual traditions.  (I'm so doing that.)  The article goes on to talk about how playing the game could be a useful means of general education for an enlightened citizenry -- a possible path to the ancient Greek concept of paideia, perhaps.  For sure, it reminds me of the lofty sacramental goals of my own little slice of nirvana: the Glass Bead Game.  We'll see where this leads....

Monday, February 6, 2017

Whole Earth

This past weekend, we explored a few new antique stores and indoor flea markets around our new (since 2015) home.  I came across something that I'd been sorta-kinda hunting for, for at least a decade.  Of course I knew I could order these things online, but it never rose to that level of importance.


But now... I'm left gibbering "Where have you been all my life?!?"

Click on any of these for bigger, more legible versions.

Seriously, this freakin' thing is amazing.


I've skimmed up to page 19 or so, and found dozens of new insights.  The edition I have is 450 pages long.


I think I've dreamed about reading this, but after waking up I never knew what it was, or whether it was a real thing.


Is it going to change my life?  Still too soon to know.  I'm not about to go living in a yurt or making my clothes from macrame.  That's only a tiny part of what this thing was all about, anyway.  It will help with developing the GBG.


I have so much to learn.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Apollo Mnemonic

Why do I do the things I do?

You won't find the answer to that question here, just one of the things.  :-)

Last week, I was sad to hear of the passing of Gene Cernan, the last astronaut to set foot on the Moon.  That got me thinking that I've always wanted to have the names of the Apollo astronauts memorized.  Growing up, they were always quite important to me, but I think I could have only rattled off the crews of Apollo 1 (whose fatal fire just had its 50th anniversary yesterday), 11 (duh), 13 (because of the movie), and then just Cernan from 17 (for his special final status).

Again, I don't know why I would want to memorize them all, but I've done similar things in the past.  I once could recite the names of the first two centuries worth of Roman emperors in order, and also the names of the 20 divisions of the Mayan tzolkin calendar.  Maybe a few other lists that I've, um, now forgotten about, too.  :-)  It's not like I ever made a public show of that knowledge... it's just that I liked knowing it.

Anyway, I still don't know if I'll try to cram these astronaut names into my memory, but I did have fun creating a one-page "cheat sheet."  If I go ahead and try to memorize, I'll stick this in my pocket and refer to it as I study.  I looked around for something similar, but all the other infographics were either too busy (i.e., wouldn't look nice printed on paper) or didn't contain what I wanted.  I jazzed it up a bit with the mission patches and the informal call-signs for the ships, and I thought I'd share it here:


Clicking on the above gives you a medium-resolution JPG image.  I've also put a nicer PDF version at this Google Drive link.

Hey, if I can't use this blog to share the fruits of my weirdness, what good is it?