Play Your Own Games

  • it's usually a good idea to optimise for weirdness
    • over-saturate the unusual parts
    • focus on what you're interested in
    • work on things that no one else is working on
  • this might be important and applicable not only for Career and Research, but also for life in general
  • how do you play your own games?
    • one idea is applying Novelty Search meta-heuristic learnings to real life
      • don't worry about clearly defined final goal (because that goal then was probably stated by someone else, and it's the Hamming's thing of "important problems in your field" narrowing down the field and important problems for you)
      • focus on building your own niches
    • Arthur Koestler (of The Act of Creation) would probably say that you need play in order to find these new niches

If there's a thousand people all competing to do the same thing, actually a lot of them could go and do other things. They could invent other games to play, some of which would be unique games. Games that only they in the world were playing, and it would both be more meaningful for them (...)

(...) you will always want to be in pool small enough that it's actually, to some considerable extent, friendly competition.


I'd rather just go and find an incredibly meaningful and important thing that you can do where you're the only person or one of a tiny number of people who are pursuing that end. (...)

He (Hamming) was a more competitive (...) person. He wanted to win quite often. Even his framing of asking, "What are the most important problems in your field and why are you not working on them?" That seems to me like kind of a silly framing. It's accepting the consensus social reality of what the field is, when in fact it is much better to figure out what are the problems that nobody in your field has understood are important yet. Sort of trying to invent new problems, and maybe even new fields.

A roundtable on Richard Hamming - Michael Nielsen

  • an interesting meta-observation here is that the way the question is framed implies the dimension of the answer - Hamming asking "what are the most important problems in your field" assumes that the field is rigidly defined by others, and that others have decided what the "important problems" are - instead of deciding for yourself what is the "field", and what are the "problems" (or maybe even being able to realise that the "field" and "problems" are up for discussion)

the evolution of mathematics, art, and technology are facilitated by exploration around recent discoveries, serendipity, and a plethora of diverse and conflicting individual objectives. That is, these human-driven processes of search also do not aim at any unified society-wide singular objective. Thus the types of search processes that continually innovate to produce radical advancements often lack a final predefined goal. This observation makes sense because a single fixed goal would either (1) be deceptive and therefore bring search to a point at which progress would effectively halt, or (2) if the goal is not so deceptive then innovation would cease once the goal is met.

— Novelty Search and the Problem with Objectives

innovation may result more from accumulating novel ways of life (i.e. new niches) than from optimizing fitness

— Novelty Search and the Problem with Objectives

People in the arts often want to aim for the biggest, most obvious target, and hit it smack in the bull's eye.

Of course with everybody else aiming there as well that makes it very hard and expensive to hit.

I prefer to shoot the arrow, then paint the target around it. You make the niches in which you finally reside.

— Brian Eno

The greatest rewards come from working on something that nobody has a name for. If you possibly can, work where there are no words for what you do.

99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice

Whatever they have is something needed to do their work - it wouldn't help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don't lack it. You don't need it. It has nothing to do with you.

Art & Fear

The whole high-level theme here was about leaning into, and capitalizing on, the weirdness (Play Your Own Games), so obviously the latter was my preference, and this is where I spent the bulk of my time.