In games like Fallout or Mass Effect you often have dialog options.  These happen during conversations where you can choose between three or four things for your character to say.  Now at first you might complain that this system is very limiting, you can only choose what you say out of the options the game presents you with.  You lack the freedom of real life where you can choose to say or do anything at all.

I propose that in real life our options are also limited.  In the middle of a conversation you can really only choose to say something that you can think of.  In the moments between the other person asking you a question and you responding you can’t think of every possible thing you could say.  Only one or two or maybe a few ideas will pop into your head.  Then you choose the best one, say it, and see how they resond.  Then hours later you’ll think of something better, you’ll think of the thing you “should” have said.  But basically you couldn’t have said that, it was impossible to say it, because you didn’t think of it at the time.  And you can’t possibly say something that doesn’t occur to you.

The same thing happens with our actions.  Often we have more time to make big decisions and that extra time lets us think of more choices to consider but we still can’t think of every single possible action.  When I’m trying to decide where to eat lunch I sometimes find myself in the middle of the meal when I suddenly think of another place that I would have preferred.  But I didn’t even think of that restaurant while I was making the decision.  Technically I could eat lunch at any restaurant in the city but realistically that’s too many choices to think about.  So I chose from the dozen or so that I thought of at the time.

Our actions are limited by our imagination.  I think there’s two truths that come out of that realization.  One is that we can try harder to be more flexible and imaginative when we’re thinking about our choices.  Try to stretch ourselves to think up an extra option or two more than we normally do.  If we make a habit out of imagining more options to choose from I think it will become easier and more natural over time.  And having more options to choose from is always good.  The other truth is that we need to be less critical of ourselves for saying or doing things that we later learn were poor choices.  We need to accept that in that moment we made the best choice we could with the information and the ideas that we had.  Wishing we had done something else that didn’t even occur to us at the time accomplishes nothing.  You might remember the choice you wish you made just in case you find yourself in the that situation again in the future, but as for what’s already been done don’t beat yourself up about it.

The Fall Of Leaves

 

When I was in 1st grade the teacher took us outside one day to gather leaves that had changed color and fallen from the trees.  We were told to find the “best” leaves, the “nicest” ones.  I had never felt strongly for leaves before but suddenly a competition broke out among us for who could find the “best” one.  It was a nice time.

 

“Mine is the best because it’s biggest!”

 

“Mine is better because it’s a darker red!”

 

“Mine’s bigger than yours so MINE’S the biggest!”

 

“You can’t count the stem!”

 

“Mine has more bumpy things so mine’s the best!”

 

“Mine is a prettier orange than everyone else’s so mine’s the best!”

 

“Mine tastes the best!”

 

“Ewwwww!  Don’t lick them!  ACK!  Don’t EAT THEM!!!”

 

It didn’t really occur to us that there wasn’t a definitive way to determine the quality of fall leaves.  We all thought ours was the best for one reason or another.

 

When we came inside we preserved our “best” ones between pieces of wax paper.  Then we added string and hung them from the ceiling.  For a while, and even after the snow fell outside, our fall leaves hung above our heads in that classroom.  They were pretty nice decoration.  And the debates about whose was best slowly died away as we realized they are all good, and the effect of having a whole bunch of them was nicer than if we only had one “best” one.

 

Today I was walking down the sidewalk thinking about all the fallen leaves.  “Somebody should rake these up and throw them away!” I thought.  “Of course I don’t want to do it, that unpleasant chore of raking leaves.  But SOMEBODY certainly should get rid of these ugly dead things.  They are constant reminders of the encroaching winter!  Be gone stupid dead leaves!”

 

And then I remembered how special those leaves had been when I was young.  How I appreciated their beauty and enjoyed them outside and in.  How I had spent time looking at leaf after leaf deciding which one I liked best.  How as a child I could appreciate how pretty they were.  I remembered how much joy those fallen leaves had brought me.

 

I think that if I could look at fallen leaves the same way that I did as a child I’d probably be a happier person.

The Point

 

I play a lot of Sandbox Games.  Minecraft being the most popular example.  But when non-sandbox gamers hear about Minecraft they usually say something like, “What’s the point of that?”

 

Fun?

 

I get it.  We often play games that you can eventually win.  Or MMO’s that, even if you never beat the game, you can gain levels or beat a hard dungeon or get a cool piece of gear and say, “I accomplished this!!!”  Or we play competitive games like Heroes of the Storm or Overwatch where the point is to win as many times as you can against the best players you can.  Or we play clicker games where … well the goals is to make the numbers get bigger.  And actually aren’t most of our games about making the numbers get bigger?

 

The point of most games is to accomplish a goal.  My favorite game at the moment is Zelda Breath Of The Wild (the best Zelda maybe EVER) and the point of that game is to kill Gannon.  Now that goal is vague, you can play a loooooong time before ever fighting Gannon.  But you can also skip almost all of the game and kill him right away.   There are speed runs of people doing that in less than 1 hour.  I mean they start a new game, wake up naked in the shrine of resurrection, and are killing Gannon one hour later.  That’s amazing!  That’s a challenge and it’s a goal they set for themselves.  But for me what’s great about Zelda BotW is that there’s a huge world to explore and exploring it is FUN.  That’s why I’m in there, that’s what I enjoy, exploring the world.  And once I win the game, hopefully after finding close to 100% of the neat things, I’ll move on to other games.

 

So when someone hears I play Minecraft, or Kerbal Space Program or Farming Simulator and they ask, “What’s the point?”  I know what they mean.  They like to have goals to work towards.  In a sandbox game you aren’t explicitly given a goal by the game.  You make up your own and I love that.  I like getting into Minecraft and thinking about what I want to do and then doing it.  When games tell me what to do, for example when WoW gives me a quest, sometimes I think, “I don’t want to do that.  I have an idea of my own that I like better.”  Kerbal has a mode that gives you “missions” that are basically quests, they tell you what goals to pursue.  I never play that mode.  If I feel like building a colony on Mars (called Duna in Kerbal) then that’s what I’m going to do!  If I wanted somebody telling me I can’t build a Mars colony I’d work for the real NASA.

 

On the other hand I understand why people enjoy being given a quest, goal or point.  People like having direction, they enjoy a narrative or simply knowing what they’re supposed to be doing.  Have you ever watched someone play Minecraft who doesn’t like sandbox games?  The first thing they say is, “What am I supposed to do?”   And if you answer, “Whatever you want!” they just quit the game.  That’s not fun for them.  What they want is a goal to work towards and to achieve.  Solving problems and accomplishing goals and making progression is part of the fun for them.  And sometimes for me too.  As long as the task being given is enjoyable then it’s still fun.  Again, the point isn’t actually to do whatever task the game is giving you it’s just to have fun.  And the goals and quests are supposed to be a way to facilitate fun for people who like that sort of structure.  You could argue the point is to beat the game or finish the quest or whatever but really the point is still to just have fun.

 

Whether a person likes open sandbox games or games with strict goals and progression probably says a lot about their psychology.

 

It goes beyond video games of course.  What’s the point of building Lego’s or collecting Funko Pops or painting WarHammer models or watching TV or reading books or playing golf or any of our other hobbies?  The point of any and all recreation is to enjoy the experience and to be revitalized in your mind and body.  To rest and prepare yourself for your work or whatever challenges you face in life.  If your recreation has any point beyond your personal enjoyment then you’re doing it wrong.

 

Personal Assistants

An important person like myself naturally has a personal assistant.  I couldn’t get through the day without her.  She schedules my appointments and makes sure I’m on time to meetings.  She answers questions I might have and tells me about good places to eat.  And in the middle of the night I can ask her what time it is so I don’t even have to open my eyes.  I just say, “Hey Siri, what time is it?” and she tells me.  She’s great.
Everything has a digital personal assistant built into it these days.  The iPhone obviously has Siri.  All the Not An iPhone phones have assistants too. Windows has Cortona.  Electronic Digital Assistants are like fidget spinners, everybody has to have one nowadays.
Obvy, I like this because I saw people talking to the computer and the computer answering them on Star Trek.  So many things from Star Trek are starting to pop up in real life that a hard core nerd could almost believe Star Trek is real.  You know, late at night when you’re only half awake and asking Siri what time it is.  I can almost see myself on the bridge of the Enterprise and … I mean, a hypothetical other person could forget Star Trek isn’t real….yet.
There are some privacy concerns with phones and TV’s and other devices listening to you all the time.  If you’re phone is listening for you to call it’s name does that mean it’s listening to everything?  Who else can listen to your phone listening to you?  It’s not something I have to worry about too much because nobody cares if I’m asking Siri what time it is in the middle of the night.  And I can’t think of a single conversation I’ve had today that anybody would want to listen in on.  Usually I can’t make people listen to me even when I’m talking right at them.  Plus there’s all kinds of security to prevent people from spying on you through your phone.  But it’s important to point out that this technology isn’t perfect.  Unlike nuclear energy and gun powder this new technology could potentially have negative side effects.
There’s still a long way to go before we maximize this tech.  A robot voice in my phone that can schedule things in my calendar is nice and all.  But until we put that AI in a robotic body that can walk around and play basketball and give hugs we’re only taking advantage of the minimum of what this technology is capable of.  Siri needs a body.  So she can carry my luggage and do stuff.

I’m Wrong

Nobody is right about all the things all the time.  It’s statistically impossible* to be right all the time.  Which means you have, all of us have, a bunch of beliefs that are probably wrong.  That we’ll probably figure out are wrong at some point in the future.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could just sit down and go through the list of things we believe and figure out which ones are wrong now and just get it all sorted out?
I believe a lot of things.  That NASA is good for humanity.  That shooter games were the better when I was young.  That one day Self Driving Cars will be the norm and the people who want to drive by hand will do it as a fun hobby.  That Picard was the best captain.  That Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition was the best edition.  That we as a people need to be able to disagree and discuss our different points of view without hating each other.  That reality TV is probably not “reality” at all.  That Pepsi is better than Coke.  That The Hobbit trilogy of movies was fun, but the book is better.

I believe a lot of other stuff stuff too that I won’t list here.  Because people listing things they like on the internet is overdone and because the list would be longer than <insert humorously long thing here>.  The interesting thing is that I’m probably wrong about some of these things.  Now this doesn’t apply to things like my liking Pepsi over Coke because that’s just personal preference.  But ‘NASA being good for humanity’ or’ Self Driving Cars will one day be common’, stuff like that I might be wrong about.  I am almost certainly wrong about several things that I believe right now.  And what’s infuriating is … I can’t tell what they are!

Is NASA good for humanity?  I think so.  I think the technological progress we make when exploring space is a very tangible benefit to the world.  And learning is a good thing in general, it advances humanity.  But am I wrong about NASA?  Are there better things we could spend our money on?  It seems like NASA’s budget is usually around one percent of the US budget, that’s a terribly small percentage but it would still be a lot of money for many other programs.  Would another government program be more beneficial to humanity?  I think NASA is a good thing to spend our money on but how can I be certain?

Will Self Driving Cars be common place in the future?  Well this is a prediction, it’s a guess about the future, and predicting the future is always hard.  It seems to me that once people can Tweet, read FaceBook, eat breakfast and take a nap safely while the car drives them to work people will jump all over that.  It’s scary though, people are nervous about Self Driving Cars, it’s entirely possible that fear will prevent the technology from catching on.  Or even being legal, people afraid of self driving cars might lobby for laws against them.  So it’s hard to be certain about this.  Plus there’s the possibility that they won’t work very well, I believe we have the technology and will continue to improve the technology to build very safe self driving cars but it’s at least possible that I’m wrong about that.  I think Self Driving Cars will be awesome, but how can I be certain?

We as a people need to learn how to disagree and discuss our different points of view without hating each other.  That sounds like a great idea to me.  But it presupposes that currently people are hating each other when holding different points of view.  I feel like everything we see in the news media and social media is people hatefully shouting at each other for believing differently.  But what if that perception is faulty?  What if most people can sit down and discuss different points of view with civility and respect for each other?  What if it just seems worse than it is because shouting is entertaining enough to be shown on our various media’s while calm discussion is not?  I’m confident that we should discuss differences politely, but how can I be certain that we aren’t already doing that most of the time and I just don’t see it?

Those are three things I believe that aren’t just personal preferences.  And when I look at each of those three things I think I’m right about each of them.  But I know that I can’t be right about everything, no human is right about all the things all the time, so I might be wrong about one of these things and not even realize it.  I might be staring at something I wrote that is wrong right now and I don’t even see it!

Usually when you change your mind about something it’s because you’ve learned something new.  Or you’ve learned that some fact that you had based your old belief on is wrong.  Or you’ve had an experience that causes you to look at things a new way.  It’s hard to think about things you believe and reevaluate them without any new data.  So the best thing to do is keep learning.  Keep seeking out new information.  Keep listening to people who believe differently and find out why they do.  Then, as you learn and grow, go back and reevaluate things you used to believe to see if they still make sense with what you know now.

Every once in a while I drink a Coke, just to see if I still like Pepsi better.  Go out today and drink a Coke.  Or if you already like Coke best then drink a Pepsi, you know what I mean.

*Is it only statistically improbable or is it close enough to impossible that we can just round it off?