Life lessons from a game

go by luis de bethencourt

Rationality Lessons in the Game of Go
[Via lesswrong: What’s new]

Submitted by GreenRoot 120 comments

There are many reasons I enjoy playing go: complex gameplay arises out of simple rules, single mistakes rarely decide games, games between between people of different skill can be handicapped without changing the dynamics of the game too much, there are no draws, and I just like the way it looks. The purpose of this article is to illustrate something else I like about playing go: the ways that it provides practice in basic habits of rationality, that is, the ways in which playing go helps me be less wrong.

I’ve tried to write this so that you don’t need to know the game to follow it, but reading a quick introduction would probably help. (ETA: A commenter below has helpfully pointed to more go info online.) The main aspect to understand for this article is that go is a game of territory. The two sides vie to occupy space and surround one another. If a group of stones is surrounded without sufficient internal space to support itself, it is killed and removed from the board.

Lesson 1: Having accurate beliefs matters.

Here are three examples of a group of white stones being surrounded by black stones. The important distinction between them is whether the white stones will eventually be captured, i.e. whether they are “dead” or “alive”.


Each of these lessons is important for developing a resilient approach to the changing world around us. Go is a complex game that can teach simple lessons.

  • Having accurate beliefs matters.
  • Don’t be too confident or too humble
  • Update on new evidence
  • Be willing to change your mind
  • New evidence is the arbiter of conflicting beliefs
  • The road is long
  • Shut up and count

Some of the comments add a few others:

  • You need to lose in order to win
  • Small differences matter
  • Acknowledge mistakes and move to more successful battle
  • The present often overshadows the past
  • When you are behind is never a time to be conservative
  • Sometimes your best move is your opponent’s best move
  • Recognizing when intuition is not sufficient and careful analysis is needed
  • The tactical and the strategic must be understood simultaneously
  • Action without understanding will eventually produce failure

Not a bad set of things to learn from a game.