Life as sudoku

SudokuDo you ever do sudoku puzzles? If not, this page will explain what they are. On the face of it, the puzzle is simple, just a matter of filling in the blanks by logical consideration of the other numbers. But only on the face of it. An easy sudoku is indeed trivial but a difficult one, on the other hand, will neatly illustrate how hard a “logical” problem can be. I admit I find many puzzles too difficult and abandon them, which is saying something because I hate to lose.

It occurred to me the other day that life is a lot like sudoku. It presents you with what optimists call “challenges” and pessimists “problems”, and leaves you to get on with them. You can either refuse to take the challenge or rise to meet it. Some problems (I am a bit of a pessimist or, as we pessimists like to say, a realist) are easy to solve; some can be solved after a struggle; still others are beyond any hope of a solution. With these, all you can do is give in gracefully, angrily or resignedly, depending on your style.

Nothing new there, you say, and I agree, except that, as I mentioned, I hate to lose. I always feel I ought to be able to solve any problem that comes my way, despite knowing in my heart that this is hopelessly optimistic. (We realists can be maddeningly optimistic at times.)

I tend to approach life as I approach sudoku (or do I approach sudoku as I approach life? Hm, one or the other.) That is, I grapple with problems logically. If that sounds as if I am boasting, let me disillusion you: logic is fine in its proper place but people who approach everything in a strictly logical way often fail to solve even the simplest human problems. A logical mind is both a blessing and a curse.

Simple sudoku puzzles can be solved by means of a few simple moves, what you might call the algorithmic approach. The more difficult ones need a more holistic approach of the “what if we did this and then that and that? No, that doesn’t work, so what if…” sort, what you might call the chess-player’s strategy. As for the most difficult ones, well, who knows, as I have never found a way to crack them.

This echoes my approach to life: I spend far more time planning how to tackle a problem than in actually tackling it but once I have devised a method I stubbornly use it until the day when it doesn’t work. Then I throw up my hands in despair. I think this has something to do with my inability to make decisions or draw recognizable pictures of an elephant (or of anything else). I lack artistic flair, aka the intuitive approach.

Tigger is more your intuitive type. Problems I find insurmountable she solves in a trice. While I am poring with furrowed brow over a sudoku she will look over my shoulder and say “I can see where a number goes!” So which of us is best at sudoku? Interesting question; I’m glad you asked it. I think we are about equal. If the puzzle is easy or medium, Tigger will probably complete it quicker than I do. If it’s difficult, she will (sensibly) give up sooner than I do. I may then go on to complete it at great effort or I might also give up but only after spending far too long on it. I am strangely dogged for a cat.

Sudoku has one feature not shared by life’s problems: you can do the puzzle in pencil and then, if it goes horribly wrong, rub it all out and start again. I am the only person I know who does this. (Tigger says I am addicted to sudoku but of course she is wrong: I am merely obsessive 😉 ) As I say, I am dogged and hate to lose. Fortunately, my laziness saves me in the end.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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5 Responses to Life as sudoku

  1. caveblogem says:

    When they first started publishing sudoku in the newspapers here I worked on one every day, and was stuck with the same feeling, that they were a lot like life, albeit for very different reasons than the ones you gave above.

    My feeling came from my leanings toward constructivist epistemology. I tend to view “reality” as something that we make. If there is a “real world,” (a big “if” to constructivists), then we believe that encountering it is a lot like sudoku. The numbers represent these interactions.

    We know we cannot put a 3 in a particular line, for there is already one there. We know that we cannot put a four there, since there is one already in the box. But we don’t know what the number “really” is until we close off the other possibilities by negative elimination, or guess and prove ourselves wrong. The only knowledge consists of knowing “what is not.”

    The analogy breaks down when you actually solve the puzzle, of course. But it breaks down for constructivists on a daily basis as well. We are constantly confronted with conundrums like that. It’s a little Zen-like.

  2. SilverTiger says:

    Interesting. I have no doubt that there is a “real” reality out there. The idea that we somehow contruct reality seems illogical to me. For example, if I construct reality, how did I construct “myself”? Or do I merely imagine that there was a time before I existed?

    No, for me, the findings of science hold together far too solidly for the world to be some kind of Buddhistic delusion. The only reasonable defence seems fully blown solipsism.

    If you don’t find it too much of a bore, how about rehearsing the constructivist prospectus in a post? I might then be moved to post a contrary view. Could be fun.

    Email SilverTiger

  3. caveblogem says:

    I’ll see what I can do. I threw my back out playing tennis this morning, so I might have time to squeeze it in now. You might find it a little unsatisfying, though. For example, I’m not willing to assert that there isn’t a reality out there, or that the world is a buddhistic delusion.

  4. SilverTiger says:

    I’m sorry to here you have put your back out: I know how painful and inconvenient this can be. The first thing is to take care of your recovery and worry about philosophy later.

    Whatever you have to say, I am sure I will find it interesting.

    Email SilverTiger

  5. Pingback: Introduction to Radical Constructivism I « Pretty Good on Paper

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