The Autodidacts

Exploring the universe from the inside out

What Game Are You Playing?

Brad, a top footballer, sits in the bleachers watching the game. He cannot believe his eyes. He has come to watch his friend Edgar play, and Edgar is the worst football player he has ever seen. He stands around, chewing gum. When he runs at all, he runs like a chicken. He ignores the rules of the game, but somehow gets away with it. If Edgar has a strategy at all, it obviously sucks. He hasn’t made a single touchdown. How could he be so STUPID!!! Brad thinks, and gets up and leaves. He does not want to be associated with a player so bad that it’s almost like he’s not even trying to win. After Brad leaves the stadium, Edgar hits a home run, winning the game.

Have you been Brad?

I know I have. When I was a boy, I was a real nerd. I immersed myself in chemistry, astronomy, electrical engineering, programming, and other STEM fields. And it happened that many of the people around me when I was growing up did not share my interest in science. I was quick to think that they were stupid. But what was really stupid was judging people by their performance at a game they weren’t even playing. It can seem like the game I’m playing is The Game. It’s not. There are many games. There are many games more difficult than the Science game, or the Logic game. More relevant, too. There’s the being kind game. There’s the making money game. There’s the making art game. There’s the self-knowledge and self-control games. These were just a few of the games that other people were playing, that I hadn’t even learned the rules of.

For the past five years, I have been playing catch up in the games that the people around me were playing while I was playing the science game. The people I grew up around, especially the women who were least impressed with the science game, turn out not to be stupid at all, and to be far ahead of me in more enduring games, such as the understanding others game, the fathoming reality game, and the being a good person game. I’m the skinny little runt who’s just glad to get to play.

My sixteen-year-old nephew already knows more mathematics than I ever knew. And that’s great. I like watching that game from the bleachers, and seeing people play it well. And I don’t have to feel left behind, because it’s not the game I’m playing right now.