Ch1 L23: On intelligence – part II (games)

  1. In the last post, we opened up the discussion about the two complementary drives which help us adapt thus survive: assimilation and accommodation [1]. To investigate the process, let’s study it from the very beginning: when a baby is born.
  2. In parentheses, we should know that compared to other species, the humankind baby prematurely comes to the world since standing on two feet shaped smaller hips and constricted the birth canal. Add the factor of the relatively big head of babies and you’ll have a high rate of death in childbirth. So, natural selection favored women who gave birth earlier [2]. That’s why our babies require more care until they can manage to get their basic things done.
  3. Thanks to the built-in instruction, a newborn baby can mainly function two external things: to cry which is a call for parents to take care of its need(s) and to suck. Piaget called it the stage of reflexes [3]. When a nursling starts to suck its mom’s nipple to get colostrum, it satisfies its need which induces pleasure. Earlier we discussed that pain and pleasure are our first emotional tools to learn things [4]. Pain warns us to avoid an experience whereas pleasure encourages us to repeat it.
  4. Piaget observed that on the first days, a nursling sucks everything closed to its mouth. He ran the experiment on his own son, Laurent [5]. He gently touched Laurent’s lips with his finger and Laurent started to suck it, but very soon he realized that there’s no milk coming out of it, so he started to cry. However, Piaget repeated the same experiment when Laurent wasn’t hungry, he sucked the finger for a longer period. The same experience happened with a quilt and linen. He sucked them for a while and then stopped.
  5. This experiment has three important insights. First of all, translating the instruction verbally, it only says “Suck it”. So, in the beginning, babies don’t know what the “it” is. Their reflex responds to any stimuli close to their lips. Then according to the outcome, they can accept or reject them. Piaget has concluded that at this stage babies don’t assimilate, it’s simply lack of the ability to differentiate [6].
  6. Secondly, “Suck it” implies the innate generalization; because “it” includes everything. That’s why babies try to examine almost everything with their mouth. Here, parents come to their rescue if the experience is dangerous, taking the object away from them or saying no. So, babies learn that there are some restrictions to which they need to accommodate.
  7. Thirdly, when a baby is hungry, it rejects sucking a finger, pacifier or any other objects because the food is their first need. However, when the need is fulfilled, they can enjoy sucking different objects. This action can be considered the first game a baby plays.
  8. A game is originally an activity through which we learn, develop and hone some skills to increase the chance of future success. Sibling cubs engage in fights not to hurt each other, but to build some muscles and improve their predatory skills. Stereotypically, boys play with balls, guns, cars, etc.; whereas girls are more interested in taking care of their dolls and playing with their dollhouse.
  9. Apart from its original reason, since games induce pleasure, we might also play them to alleviate our stress [7].
  10. We can loosely categorize games into two groups of individual and social. In some cases, the games can easily fall into either category; but most times, they can be both individual and social. For example, reading a novel is an individual game though it can be a social activity or have social benefits.
  11. Let’s take another detour and analyze the effect of art on our lives. When you read a novel, your brain creates a virtual reality (the first VR that we’ve created) in which you experience things that you might pay a higher price doing them in reality. For example, when you read “Crime and punishment” [8], you can put yourself in Roskolnikov’s shoes and ask yourself if you would kill the old pawnbroker lady, an experience which could cost your freedom or in some countries your life.
  12. If you’d easily say “No, I wouldn’t.”, I’d say that you couldn’t completely feel his struggle, because you should feel his desperation: Not only he didn’t have any money, but also he’d need to pay an amount to someone. Furthermore, you’d need to pay an extra amount to what you’d borrowed as the interest. On top of everything, you couldn’t foresee any promising opportunity to obtain some money. Now you should feel desperate which triggers an enormous amount of fear consequently anger [9]. Well, what would you do in this situation?
  13. Now, social restrictions (morality and law) should stop you. Here, Dostoevsky brilliantly pictures the effect of society on Raskolnikov. When he was struggling to take the final decision, to kill her or not, he went to a club and he overheard a conversation between two men, one was saying that the old pawnbroker lady was a parasite, she didn’t have any family or relatives and she just destroys others’ lives with usury. So, if he could kill her, he would. This conversation sums up the resultant of the social opinion on killing the lady, telling Raskolnikov that people would be on your side, so there would be no one and nothing to stop him. So, how could you resist killing her?
  14. Then you go through the whole experience of killing her and accepting the punishment. when you finish the book, you’ll be someone stronger, ready to deal with situations like this and more understanding towards those who’ve committed a crime [10]. Reading a book like this can stir up pain and suffering in you, but I’d like to analogize it to vaccination. The injection is painful and we receive weakened pathogens which help our body practice killing infectious bacteria or viruses to be prepared for real diseases.
  15. Aristotle [11] used the word catharsis [12] to describe the function of art, mainly tragedy, which means purification or purgation. While reading a book, looking at a painting or sculpture, dancing, watching a movie or play, or listening to music, our soul (?) becomes purified [13].
  16. The social games fall into two general categories: the win-win or zero-sum games; in other words, teamwork or competition respectively [14]. There are countless examples of each type you can exemplify. For instance, rituals are among the first games that humankind invented. It could’ve been all win-win if there hadn’t been any sacrifice. We’re gonna discuss them in coming posts.
  17. In the next post, we’ll resume the discussion about assimilation and accommodation.

Exercise 23:

  1. Think about the question I asked in the first post [15]. Is playing games related to Death or not?


[1] assimilation is the drive that changes something according to our thoughts or plans, and accommodation does the opposite: it changes us to adapt to the thing. For example, when you eat something, your brain commands your fingers to grab it which requires accommodation, then you move the food to your mouth (assimilation), then you open your mouth according to its size (accommodation) and you bite then chew it (assimilation). So, you see that our actions consist of assimilation and accommodation in different situations. We can also think about them in mental or cognitive development, what we discussed in the previous post.

[2] Professor Harari explained it in “Sapiens: a brief history of humankind

[3] You can refer to “The origins of intelligence in children” by Jean Piaget.

[4] You can find a brief discussion about pain and pleasure in the 18th post. Link

[5] He also repeated the experiment on his two daughters Jacqueline and Lucienne and many other kids.

[6] Again you can refer to “The origins of intelligence in children” by Jean Piaget.

[7] In the 6th post, we discussed that happy hormones inhibit the fear and stress terminals in the brain. Link

[8] Link to “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

[9] In the 4th post, we investigated the relationship between fear and anger. Link

[10] You might hardly relate yourself to the situations like this. First of all, I should tell you that it could happen to any of us. Most people who committed a crime hadn’t any intentions to do so beforehand. Secondly, most probably you haven’t physically killed anyone. But could you easily say that you haven’t killed anyone in your mind which means that their existence is indifferent to you? Remember that “the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference” Elie Wiesel.

[11] Link to Aristotle

[12] Link to catharsis

[13] Though we can’t possibly have a universal definition for art, thanks to the cacophony of isms, we can use its vague and rather magical effect on us as a very loose definition. Besides, to call something art depends on the audience as well. For instance, what I might find extremely cathartic might not affect you at all.

[14] We can comparatively have a lose-lose situation. For example, in a football league, a tie can be a lose-lose game for both teams compared to the other teams in the league.

[15] Link to the first post


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