Hofstadter’s Law

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law. (From Gödel, Escher, Bach)


In the past, I have taken the idea of Hofstadter’s Law as a sort of cynical statement on our inability to predict and plan our work with certainty–combined with our tendency to have greater ambitions than we have capacity to act on those ambitions.

But more recently, I’ve been thinking about how it relates to Finite and Infinite games .

In a finite game the goal is to win, to get the high score, to understand the rules and apply your skills as best as you possibly can to “finish” the game.

On the other hand, an infinite game is one in which the goal is to never stop playing. The game is played for its own sake, and if necessary, the rules are modified and tweaked to keep the game going.

It is curious how many things appear to be finite games in life, but are in fact infinite games. Or at least, can be made into infinite games with a mere shift in perspective.

In a world of finite games, Hofstadter’s Law reads as a cautionary tale, or even a bitter social commentary. But in an infinite game, it sounds more like a call to be patient, and to focus on the long term rather than expecting every action you take to pay off right away.

After reflecting on this point, I decided to bump the number of digits for issue numbers on this blog to 4, rather than 3. In all honesty, I doubt that 1,000 days is enough for me to master the art of daily blogging. Bumping that up to 10,000 gives me more confidence.

This is a funny way of looking at things, isn’t it? But it’s been super liberating for me, and I think I’ll have a lot more to say on it in the decades to come.


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