The Game Of Go As A Model Of Change

A tool for understanding the New Story?

One of the articles in Sustainable Habitat (IC#14)
Originally published in Autumn 1986 on page 62
Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute

Myths and rituals reflect fundamental images in the subconscious of a culture, as well as helping to transmit these to following generations. This process is familiarly clear with formal religious rituals, but it also functions in secular rituals – such as games. For the past year, I have been exploring the metaphoric implications of two games, Go and Chess, and I’d like to contribute these thoughts to the evolving New Story.

Go is a Japanese board game whose objective is to enclose more open space than your opponent can enclose. It is played on a grid of 21 vertical and horizontal lines; small colored stones are placed on the intersections in an alternating fashion by opposing players. For these stones to be captured, they must be surrounded, and the unoccupied space they encircle must be completely filled in. When this is done, they are removed from the board. Stones are then placed so as to enclose as large a space as possible, while not being so large that your opponent would be able to enclose an area within your circle of stones.

Several battles can unfold simultaneously in different portions of the board in attempts to close space, to limit the size of the area your opponent controls, and, if possible, to capture your opponent’s stones so that the space they occupied is now your enclosed space. Invariably, the action begins in the corners, moving then to the sides, and finally focussing in the center of the board, since space is most easily enclosed in this order. The game is over when there is no more uncontested space to be enclosed.

As a model of change, Go has a logic that is decentralized and not hinged on any single character or battle. Chess, in comparison, focuses on the capture of a "King" and is a linear battle to "kill" the "King." This points to the assumption that control of a social position or person is required to have power in a society. Go, in comparison, presupposes a more organic process, with change beginning in the corners of a society, with networking then occurring between corners, and finally the center of the board being surrounded and captured without the necessity of direct confrontation. An unexpected "overnight" success might be explained in this manner. The "game" can be "won" even without control of the center of the board, if more space is enclosed in the periphery.

If one substitutes the words and concepts of collective consciousness (or morphogenetic fields) for space, it becomes possible to recognize Go as a model for change. Using this model, change can be seen as both gradual and disjunctive. Initially, change can develop gradually in a morphogenetic field, beginning in isolated corners and slowly enclosing larger and larger areas of consciousness. Next, corners are networked together, as a pattern of activity, or a subculture, spreads to encircle greater quantities of consciousness. Finally, in a "moment," an old pattern, when it is surrounded completely within and without, is "captured" and disappears, or suddenly becomes a non-viable alternative. Thus we have a model incorporating both gradual and disjunctive processes which may explain change that can occur in morphogenetic fields on the individual level (enlightenment) or the collective level (evolution).

Robert Israel is a doctor in Pine Ridge, SD.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!