The Game of Opposites

Is life just a game?

DISCLAIMER: This article is the motherlode of all that I had in mind about four years ago. I’ve published it many times before and hoping it will stay this time. I recommend some water to keep your brain hydrated. The Cosmos series is a tribute and an overview of the body of work of the philosopher Alan W. Watts(see the P.S. section of article Reality Is Bliss for more information).

The basic game of the world, also the basis of all other games, is the game of Hide and Seek. It’s an immense on and off system. Yes and No. Black and White. Positive and Negative. What looks like explicitly different, is implicitly the same. They are one. This is the secret conspiracy of the opposites. As you cannot have a one pole magnet, you cannot have positive without the negative. They imply each other. This is the game we all agreed to. Whether we were aware of it or not. The following is an attempt to describe the game aspect of the universe, and it’s rules.

Do people realize that they’re all playing a really funny game? The game goes like this: Whatever happens from now on, we’re going to pretend that it’s not a game. That’s the first rule. One might say that very serious people find this to be their favourite game to play, but they will not even admit to playing games. That’s when the situation demands a comedic relief that reminds them that deep down inside, they’re just as rascals as everyone else.

This of course isn’t the only game human beings are playing. We also play social games, mind games, verbal games, physical games, sports games, economic games, video games and countless other kind of games. One can see the entire cosmos as a game, from a certain point of view - the basic energy of the universe is essentially playful. From the dancing of tiny wavicles all the way up to spinning galaxies.

One has to keep only one thing in mind about this concept. Take the principle of a wave. Everything that has a crest, has to have a trough. One cannot have a half a wave. Once one understands that thoroughly, they’ve mastered the entire game. This sounds terribly simple, so I will elaborate more.

The nature of an energy system, such as ours, is that it is vibrating. On and off. This pulsation is necessary and without it, we wouldn’t be aware of significant changes in our surroundings or insignificant events. Everything in the universe has this pulse, be that as light, sound, motion or even emotions in human beings. It is all a vibration, or play of energy, from the breathing of our lungs and the beating of our hearts, to the twinkling stars in the night sky. These range from very short vibrations such as sound, to very long vibrations like birth and death.

The problem however is, we tend to ignore the dark, negative, space, interval, trough side of things and only regard the light, positive, solid, beat, crest side as the important one. The time between the beat and the interval sometimes takes so long, we forget that we’re still arriving to the other side. The secret however is, that they go together like back goes with a front. They are inseparable.

Any one ‘thing’ in the spectrum of life, has an opposite to it - be that as a spectrum colour, sound, smell, sensation such as pain or pleasure. This duality is built into the nature of our very beings. We as humans have a brain with two hemispheres, two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, two arms and two legs. This polarity however does not separate the opposites from each other, on the contrary, it’s what unifies them. Like the head unifying the two hemispheres. This unity doesn’t just apply to human beings, animals and creatures, it underlies everything in our universe.

Sure, people are very different from, let’s say whales. But they’re not separate from each other. Our own science proves this, by the field of ecology. When a biologist studies a specimen, they will eventually learn that that particular creature, goes exactly, with a particular kind of environment. They go together simultaneously. You cannot find flowers without their insect equivalents, or vice versa. They are in fact one organism. It’s just less apparent to us if we think that an organism is simply the restricted mass contained within a confinement of the epidermis. When you see that every creature is a field of behaviour inseparable from its environment, it implies that there are no such things as separate events in this world. It is all one process pretending to be many. In this way, one cannot find whales in a world where there are no people.

This pretending is an essential rule of the game. Masquerading, peek-a-boo, now you see it, now you don’t. It is another aspect of the same principle. Only, the time it takes for us sometimes to arrive at the crest takes so long, we feel that the crest is nowhere to be found. That there was no such thing as positive - that the darkness might actually win the game. But that is the role of the black, to be in a position of almost conquering the white, even though it is actually the balance and harmony of the two opposite forces playing off of each other endlessly.

Our digital computers are also based on this principle. The binary system of arithmetic, where every number can be represented by 1 or 0, was developed by Gottfried Leibniz who based his model on the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, - I Ching - where you flip a 64 sided coin of black and white to make help you make your decisions. Even though there are 64 possibilities, those possibilities are based on the two opposites of Yin and Yang, black and white. Black represented by a broken line, and white represented by an unbroken line. But out of all those outcomes, there isn’t in there, a single wrong one. Many relatively modern leaders have been basing their political decisions on a coin tossing, in other words, a game. This makes one wonder, just how serious are these people?

There is a saying which goes that life isn’t just black or white, it consists of many different shades of grey. But against some areas, grey seems dark, and against some, light. So it always boils down to these two opposites. In fact, all information that there is can be expressed in terms of black and white. For example, every television broadcast is sent to the screen as a stream of pulses. These pulses, if put on a magnetic tape, can be expressed as a yes or no. It is the same with our nervous system. If a neuron carrying a message fires, that registers as a yes, and if it doesn’t fire it registers as a no. This means that all of our perceptions are made of complicated arrangements of yeses and nos, in every conceivable way. But the important thing to remember is, the positive cannot exist without the negative.

The game most popular that people are playing however is, they are trying arrange the world and the problem of life in such a way as to have the white side win only and get rid of the negative completely. And such a problem cannot ever be solved. It is completely meaningless because the negative always comes with the positive, by the principle of polarity - it is a game rule that cannot be beaten. And once one accepts that situation fully, it frees them from certain predicaments. There is another side to this which I will delve into in another part in this series.

Not only can you play off two as one, but you can play off three as one. Take a ball floating in a vacuum. If the ball is not in relation to anything else, and is the only noticeable thing, it cannot be said to even moving. Take two balls, and they can move in relation to each other, but no one knows which is moving and which is staying still. Take a third ball, which establishes a third dimension and can move in relation to the two balls. Now, is the ball moving away because he doesn’t like the other two, or are the other saying goodbye to the third one? Introduce a fourth ball and the argument becomes who will be the fourth.

Now, if the black and white can be said to be one by virtue of implication and polarity, that means there is no such thing as separation. But if you introduce a third variable it collapses back into two, which is very odd. Of course it’s odd, because the other two were standing as being even. Black and white. But now the third stands against the two, making them the new Yin and Yang. Two makes one which stands against one. The same phenomenon happens with four, five, six and ad infinitum. And everything in our universe is based on this relativity principle. Including the dynamics of social behaviour.

This is where we get to society and the myriads of games it offers. We tend to take our social roles with just enough of sincerity to belong in the game, and with just enough seriousness, to keep ourselves in the game. Take the situation of our educational system. People are making it a first hand protocol after arriving to a new school to belong to any sort of role in the school setting, as fast as possible. But no one ever tells them about the rules of that particular game - it’s something they have to experience first hand through other people telling them who they are, in subtle ways. Their parents, teachers, elders and most importantly, their peer group. This is one of the most destructive games humans play on each other, and yet from the stand point of society, it is completely necessary.

This belonging and quest for a consistent identity might start early in our childhood, but it keeps persisting our entire life. We find new ways to keep ourselves in the rat race by necessities such as the economy. When you stop a person in the street and ask them, hasn’t it struck them how odd this 9 to 5 business is? Chances are they’ll say they’ve never really thought about it. And that is frightening. People tend to go on doing their thing, without questioning the system that defines their behaviour throughout their lives. And if you introduce them to certain points of views, it begins to bug them. Especially if you make it apparent that what their vocation in life is, is just a temporary role from which they check out at the age of 65.

All this role-playing, hunting for pleasure and acceptance throughout life might get exhausting in time, up to a point where people feel like they don’t want to participate in the social game any longer. And our society hates nothing more than non-participants. People will seek them out to belong in their desperate group of odd fellows. Even our every day common speech reflects the world as a game. When a person is good at hooking up with people, we call them a player. When we go hunting or fishing, we call the catch big game. We say someone is a sore loser, or a bad sport. We talk about good gamesmanship and are always trying to one up either other people, or the universe. This one-upmanship never ends.

But there are few ways in which one can check out of the game completely. The most obvious of these ways is in the process of becoming dead. But it is a very serious offence to check out of your own free desire, whenever you’ve had enough of the game. Can people see the paradox in this? It’s against the law to commit suicide, but once you’ve committed suicide, there’s no one to be held accountable - so what’s the point in such a rule? The answer to this is simply that it is an indirect way to keep people in check and serves those who uphold the rules. But this is not the only way to check out of the game.

Another way is to become a monk and go on to a spiritual retreat. It completely gets people off the hook of participating in the society, but the downside is you cannot call upon the services of society to your aid anymore, such as the police. But usually, one that has in them the deep desire to abandon society, and study matters of philosophical and spiritual in nature, does not give a hoot about social services. He is an outcast.

The third way, one which I tend to lean towards, is by making a conscious choice of minimizing interaction with the system and not taking anything seriously in society. This goes towards matters of social, educational, labour, monetary, religious, racial and otherwise. Nothing is ultimately serious. This immediately will make one an outcast in the term’s most basic understanding. So one has to be subtle, and hone their skills, so as to not tread on any toes. But from the standpoint of this fool, everything in society is seen as a game - and when people start taking their games too seriously, the fool gets the giggles. Not because he’s out to get them, but to remind them, that it will all fall apart eventually despite how hard they persist. The basic principle however, makes it sure that it will all be built up again. And then fall apart. And so on it goes.

However, even though our social institutions can be seen as games, that does not mean that they are mere, or just games. Even though Hamlet is a play, it is not a trivial entertainment venue. Same with concerts that play the music of Mozart. Would people classify them as mere triviality? Of course not. So there is a clear distinction between something profound in the nature of the cosmos as play or as a game, and the games we make out to be in our every day lives. A very smart person will exist on two levels simultaneously. One where they get involved with necessary things that life has to offer to get by. And the other where they can remind themselves quickly that whatever is going on, is not ultimately serious because of its playful nature.

And we use the word game in various different senses. To most people it means something frivolous. But I mean to use it in a more profound sense. A game is an agreed upon event, in which the participants are fully aware of it being so, only, we have a certain kind of awareness which blocks seeing that it is a game, and we call that an ego, or conscious attention.

There are and have been people throughout history that have had glimpses into the fact that the game is a game. That they knew and sincerely felt it was all a fake. This experience can be found documented in several far eastern so-called religions dating back for more than 5 millennia. I would rather label them as ways of life more than religions but that is entirely my own preference and besides the point.

There have been victims in great wars and times of extreme agony that have suddenly had the very compelling sensation that there isn’t a single grain of sand that was in the wrong place in this cosmos. That it was all an amazing show, one of harmonious in nature. But in many of the cases where the person thought they were going to die, the potential explosion turned out to be a dud and they survived the ordeal to tell the tale. But as these things more often than not go, the families and/or loved ones of those victims swept their experience under the carpet saying that their brains were just hallucinating under extreme stress or something.

But, this experience can and will keep hitting people out of the blue. And at that moment, there’s a very real and dangerous possibility, that the person in this situation will get their wires crossed and go out of their minds. It’s like getting 20 billion volts shot up through their electric hair dryers - their mind will be blown and it will stay blown. Which is why this potentiality is usually left to a specific state of affairs that everyone will face sooner or later in all fairness. Worry not, just keep in mind what a fantastic game it all is, and have some fun in the process. Have a ball, as they say!

L.

P.S. Did you know that our word person means a mask? It is derived from its Latin root persona which meant the megaphone mouthed masks the actors wore in plays in Greek and Roman theatres, where the stages were open aired and the voices needed to be heard clearly. Persona, that through which sound comes. In due course of time the mask came to mean the actual person. So next time when you hear someone ask someone to be a real person, they are telling them to be a genuine fake.

Credits and sincerest thank you to https://alanwatts.org.