Life is a Zero-Sum Game

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Paul Murchison 1 month, 4 weeks ago.

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  • #5817


    Is life a zero-sum game? Is every win connected to a (unknown) downside?

    If I get a promotion it appears as I am obviously winning, right? But there are obvious downsides coming with my promotion, e.g. I might have to move to another city, change my working place, learn new skills, work harder, more responsibility, less time for other things, loss of old co-workers/friends,etc.

    The same is true for spiritual accomplishments, such as equanimity and serenity. Those accomplishments also come with a price, such as hard-work,etc.

    So, seen from these perspective life is a zero-sum game!

    Even if we only look at basic desires such as basic security, food, human connections and so on. Apparently there is no equivalent downside with these basic desires, is there?
    However, if we look closely there are downsides as well: Impact on the environment, social pressure to keep up with the peer-group, fear of loosing these basic achievements, hard work to acquire, etc.

    What is your view/the middle way view on these things?

  • #5818

    Barry Daniel

    What do you think, Georg?

  • #5826


    Yes, it appears to be that life is a zero-sum game.
    But in the end I suspend judgment because there is no way to know.
    And even if life is a zero-sum game, then I still be rather healthy, wealthy, intelligent, etc. Do all these things come with a downside?
    Well, who knows? and what does it matter? 🙂

    On the other hand, at least the confidence in the belief of a zero-sum game reduces the desire for material objects and other fantasies! So, it enables a calm and peaceful lifestyle!?

    What do you think, Barry?

  • #5827

    Barry Daniel

    Hi Georg
    What you appear to be saying then is because of uncertainty no one judgement is in effect better than another and nothing really matters.

    If that’s the case, then I would disagree. For me, scepticism means we ‘may not know’ rather than ‘we know nothing’ and rather than being a recipe for relativism and indifference it’s the actual starting condition for us to make more appropriate judgements. Because we can never be sure our judgements are right, we need to hold them provisionally which means we’re open to dis-confirming evidence which often can make them more adequate.

    I therefore think things do matter. Enormously in fact. I think engagement with climate change matters, trying to treat people fairly matters (and animals too). My relationship with my partner matters. I think this email to you matters. Even if better evidence came along about climate change (which I extremely doubt). Isn’t it far better to be doing something now, just in case?

  • #5831


    Hi Barry,

    What you appear to be saying then is because of uncertainty no one judgement is in effect better than another and nothing really matters

    I agree!
    Well, I would also say:
    It is both, I personally find the belief “zero-sum game” helpful in reducing extroverted desires and at the same time I don’t see how this belief could be experientially proven.

    So, yes, I try to say that ‘we may no know’ but I am confident that life appears to be a zero-sum game.

    By the way, would you agree that arguments based on “both…, and…” appear to be of incremental or provisional nature?

    Isn’t it far better to be doing something now, just in case?

    Yes, doing what we love appears to me the only appropriate way of spending our time 🙂

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by  georgschiller.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by  georgschiller.
  • #5834

    Barry Daniel

    Hi Georg

    When you say ‘I don’t see how this belief could be experientially proven’ that is arguably just your left brain talking with its craving for certainty. It’s the same argument climate change deniers use.

    You don’t need certainty in order to make more adequate decisions, you just need your beliefs to be as coherent as possible given the circumstances and for you to recognise that they may be wrong, so you can adjust or discard them should better evidence come along.

    By the way, Hitler appeared to be doing what he loved, but I can think of far more appropriate ways of spending my time than the path he took.

  • #5835

    Robert M Ellis

    Hi Georg,
    I’m guessing that the ‘zero sum game’ you’re talking about is another way of talking about karma or cosmic justice. That’s not a topic I’ve written about much on this site, but it’s a common form of metaphysical belief. I’ve written about it in ‘Middle Way Philosophy 4: The Integration of Belief’ section 4g. In sum, it’s another metaphysical belief because it is absolute, opposed to its opposite, repressive of alternatives, and heavily associated with group norms. We have no way of knowing whether there is cosmic justice or not.

  • #6471


    The meaning and value of life cannot be discovered nor measured by a same human being since we cannot understand god nor prove he is present. This is my personal view of happiness so please do not comment anything harsh or beyond appropriacy.

    The concept of zero may vary according to subject however if speaking to happiness or the level of a human life, it is a zero. Human beings are born with natural desires which may differ in strength or length. Human beings are also born to experience a thing called misery or the opposite of happiness-unhappiness. Every misfortunes and unhappiness cannot be blamed to god, for wealth, power or position, acceptance, or anything anything we want comes after this thing-misery. Nothing can be obtained for nothing. It is the happiness we wanted that brought us the unhappiness. It is the unhappiness that brings us the happiness. Misery may be temporary however when being experienced it is a pain, making us wanting to end it. But we can’t because without throwing away the desire to be happy, we cannot end the misery. Praying to god to end the misery means to end your hope to be happy since happiness comes after a work that deserves such happiness. We humans are something that only looks fo happiness therefore the work behind it can be miserable. The more we want happiness, the more we have to suffer in order to get one. Our life is zero. Misery and suffering can be seen as -1. Happiness then is a +1. Happiness is obtained from pain therefore -1+1 is a zero. One cannot say that he is happier than him because he has done a suitable pain and work to to get or preserve it. He has experienced more pain to get greater happiness. Yet again this means -2+2 is zero. If a child was born into an environment where everyone thinks will be the happiest, well they are not right. As mentioned happiness cannot be obtained from nothing. It is the going up the steps that makes one happy, not starting from a higher step. The higher a step is harder to preserve it, so going down the steps is easy if without effort and suffer. It is the going up that teaches one the importance and the value of happiness. One who does not know the value of happiness was never happy.

    To summerize, happiness comes after pain and suffer. Pain and suffer for success comes if wanting to be happy. This is why life is a sum of zero. Positive one is gained from negative one. It is not the number that measures one’s happiness. It is how many times one went back to zero after negative one. That is the happiness.

    Thank you

    • #7422

      Paul Murchison

      As for cosmic justice; this sounds commendable, but the problem I have is the bona fides of those seen to dispense such justice? From a cosmic perspective it seems we often really need to rely on our secular gut feelings.

  • #6484

    Robert M Ellis

    Hi Emily,
    I agree that happiness and unhappiness are interdependent, and to some degree we can only recognise one in the context of the other, by contrast. However, it does not follow from this that life is a zero-sum game, i.e. that the amount of unhappiness has to precisely equal the amount of happiness. It could just as well be the case that in order to appreciate happiness we just need a certain small amount of unhappiness. In discussion of the problem of evil there is an argument known as ‘the argument from excessive evil’ which makes this point. The amount of suffering faced by a cancer victim, for example, is far in excess of what is needed to stimulate appreciation of life in them or compassion in others.

    • #6493


      I appreciate your reply to my comment on zero sum game theory.

      I agree to your opinion that happiness doesnt have to equal unhappiness. By living this much life, I feel like I can say that happiness is so wide and high that even a small part of this whole happiness can be such a mistery. I believe in each person’s mind and heart, there are different types and colors of happiness just like how we have different genes and that you and I are having such discussion. I appreciate your type and belief of happiness however I define my happiness to be how many times I have reached success not how much happiness I reached from success. This is because I believe that we, humans have desires and to fulfill this desire, we need time. Humans are not eternal therefore time can be misfortune since our instinct to create desires and acheive them are never ending unlike life. Time is limited and desires aren’t. Behind our desire’s shadow lay the same amount of happiness as how much we tried to reach it. Although you are right that unhappiness (time in this case) and happiness do not have to equal in amount, don’t you think that the more you want something the longer time seems to have been consumed because you wanted it to come to you faster? That’s what time is for. That’s why time is a gift for the human beings. We spend the precious time, little by little, to take a step closer to what we desire. The further your desire stands from you because it is too big for your present size of your ability, the more time has to be spent to walk towards it. Within the time we have spent to go to our dream may be some good times however again, what was those time come from? From your decision and path to the dream. Having already stated that my definition of happiness is success, those good times we have had during the journey will not be categorized as happiness but a pleasure. Yes, some may spend time in something they did not desire for (like those cancer victims). Time is gift. How it is spent depends. In best case, it may be used for dreams. Cancer is not evil. It is not a misfortune. It is just one way of so many others a one can die. One can have desires while having cancers. They will spend time to reach it. Some will. Some may not. Did you say that one can reconize happiness by recognizing the opposite? Then wouldn’t greatest happiness be recognized by the greatest sacrifice? – perhaps death? They may be perhaps so much equal in power that there comes a perfectly stable zero, where nothing can be felt. Yet life is charming because it has death in it. Time is precious while at the same time a misfortune because it has death in life. Cancer was his death and the end of his life. It was way of his life. No one can say he was unlucky. Everyone dies. We are all different in everything – whether in the definition of happiness or in death. Perhaps that victim of cancer had his own definition of happiness.

  • #6491



    • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by  emilysong0126.

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