Derek Sivers
Finite and Infinite Games - by James P. Carse

Finite and Infinite Games - by James P. Carse

ISBN: 1476731713
Date read: 2023-10-10
How strongly I recommend it: 9/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

So abstract. Maybe the most abstract book you’ll ever read. Compares “finite” games with rules and winners, versus “infinite” games without winners where we can play with the game itself. Is it about a job versus a calling? Religion versus spirituality? A story versus story-telling? Who knows. Thought-provoking if you can apply the metaphor to whatever concerns you.

my notes

Know what the rules are = know what the game is.

The rules establish range of limitations on the players.

Rules are not laws; they do not mandate specific behavior, but only restrain the freedom of the players, allowing considerable room for choice within those restraints.
If these restraints are not observed, the outcome of the game is directly threatened.
The rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won.

Rules are valid only if and when players freely play by them.

Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.

Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them.

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

What the rules establish is a range of limitations on the players: each player must, for example, start behind the white line, or have all debts paid by the end of the month, charge patients no more than they can reasonably afford, or drive in the right lane.
If these restraints are not observed, the outcome of the game is directly threatened.
The rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won.

The agreement of the players to the applicable rules constitutes the ultimate validation of those rules.
Rules are not valid because the Senate passed them.
They are valid only if and when players freely play by them.
There are no rules that require us to obey rules.

The rules of an infinite game must change in the course of play.

If the rules of a finite game are unique to that game it is evident that the rules may not change in the course of play - else a different game is being played.
Finite players will be unaware of this absolute freedom and will come to think that whatever they do they must do.

To account for the large gap between the actual freedom of finite players to step off the field of play at any time and the experienced necessity to stay at the struggle, we can say that as finite players we somehow veil this freedom from ourselves.
Some self-veiling is present in all finite games.
Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them.
Each part or position must be taken up with a certain seriousness.
So it is with all roles.
Only freely can one step into the role of mother.
Persons who assume this role, however, must suspend their freedom with a proper seriousness in order to act as the role requires.
A mother’s words, actions, and feelings belong to the role and not to the person.
The issue is whether we are ever willing to drop the veil and openly acknowledge, if only to ourselves, that we have freely chosen to face the world through a mask.

To believe is to know you believe, and to know you believe is not to believe.

Infinite players enter into finite games without the seriousness of finite players.
They embrace the abstractness of finite games as abstractness, and therefore take them up not seriously, but playfully.
They freely use masks in their social engagements, but not without acknowledging to themselves and others that they are masked.
They regard each participant as that person playing and not as a role played by someone.

When we are playful with each other we relate as free persons.
To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion.
To be playful is to allow for possibility.

A familiar form of playfulness often associated with situations protected from consequence - where no matter what we do (within certain limits), nothing will come of it.
This is not playing so much as it is playing at, a harmless disregard for social constraints.

Infinite players avoid any outcome whatsoever, keeping the future open, making all scripts useless.

The Master Player who already knows what moves are to be made has a decisive advantage over the unprepared player who does not yet know what moves will be made.
Infinite players, on the other hand, continue their play in the expectation of being surprised.
If surprise is no longer possible, all play ceases.
Prepared against surprise
Prepared for surprise

Death in life can be regarded as an achievement, the result of a spiritual discipline, say, intended to extinguish all traces of struggle with the world, a liberation from the need for any title whatsoever.

Infinite players desire to continue the play in others.

Infinite players play best when they become least necessary to the continuation of play.

Start something we cannot finish.

A name is given at birth - at a time when a person cannot yet have done anything.
Unlike titles, which are given for what a person has done.
Titles are given at the end of play, names at the beginning.

No one can engage us competitively unless we fully cooperate, unless we join the game and join it to win.

If we defer to titled winners, it is only because we regard ourselves as losers.

If I accept death as inevitable, I do not struggle against mortality.
I struggle as a mortal.

The limitations of finite play are self-limitations.

Infinite players do not oppose the actions of others, but initiate actions of their own in such a way that others will respond by initiating their own.

Evil originates in the desire to eliminate evil.
Do not attempt to eliminate evil in others, for to do so is the very impulse of evil itself, and therefore a contradiction.

Finite games cannot have fluid boundaries, for if they do it will be impossible to agree on winners.

Competition, however strenuous or costly to the player, never prevents the player from walking off the field of play.

Society is the sum of those relations that are under some form of public constraint.
Culture is whatever we do with each other by undirected choice.
Society is all that a people feels it must do.
Society is all that people do under the veil of necessity.
Society is a freely organized attempt to conceal the freedom of the organizers and the organized, an attempt to forget that we have willfully forgotten our decision to enter this or that contest and to continue in it.

It is a highly valued function of society to prevent changes in the rules of the many games it embraces.
Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture.
Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.
Cultural deviation continues what was begun and not finished in the past.

Society’s citizens must find ways of persuading themselves that their own particular boundaries have been imposed on them, and were not freely chosen by them.

Only those who consent to a society’s constraints see them as constraints - that is, as guides to action and not as actions to be opposed.

Property must be seen as compensation.
Whoever is unable to show a correspondence between wealth and the risks undergone to acquire it, or the talents spent in its acquisition, will soon face a challenge over entitlement.

We cannot be justified in owning what we do not use.

We display the success of what we have done by not having to do anything.

Alexander and Napoleon took their poets and their scholars into battle with them, drawing ever larger audiences to their triumph.

Art engenders creativity in its beholders.

Art is never possession, and always possibility.
Nothing possessed can have the status of art.

Poets do not “fit” into society, because they do not take their “places” seriously.

Society is defined by its boundaries.
Culture is defined by its horizon.

Each new speaker of its language both learns the language and alters it.
Each new adoption of a tradition makes it a new tradition, allowing the past to be past.

Who will urge us to theatricalize our lives by supplying us with a repeatable past.

Sexuality is a drama of origins.
Sexuality is the only finite game in which the winner’s prize is the defeated opponent.
The seduced opponent is so displayed as to draw public attention to the seducer’s triumph.

Suffer others. Allow them to be as they are.
Suffering others, they open themselves.
Open, they learn both about others and about themselves.
Learning, they grow.

Students of history, like students of nature, often believe they can find unbiased, direct views of events.
Abandon explanation altogether.
I can explain nothing to you unless I first draw your attention to patent inadequacies in your knowledge.
You will remain deaf to my explanations until you suspect yourself of falsehood.
Explanations succeed only by convincing resistant hearers of their error.
If you will not hear my explanations until you are suspicious of your own truths, you will not accept my explanations until you are convinced of your error.

He was not astounded that there are so many different truths.
His conversion from one explanation to another.

Storytellers do not convert their listeners.
Ignoring the issue of truth and falsehood altogether, they offer only vision.
Storytellers invite us to return from knowledge to thinking, from a bounded way of looking to an horizonal way of seeing.

The attempt to control nature is at its heart the attempt to control other persons.

Myth provokes explanation but accepts none.

The very liveliness of a culture is determined by how frequently they depart to seek new continents of knowledge.

Our first response to hearing a story is the desire to tell it ourselves - the greater the story the greater the desire.

It was not Freud’s theory of the unconscious that led him to Oedipus, but the myth of Oedipus that shaped the way he listened to his patients.

The Torah is not the story of the Jews; it is what makes Judaism a story.

Myths, told for their own sake, are not stories that have meanings, but stories that give meanings.

Myth provokes explanation.
Explanations eliminate myth.

No myth is necessary.
There is no story that must be told.
Stories do not have a truth that someone needs to reveal, or someone needs to hear.