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Look how his finger drags itself across the trackpad. He's not doing that on purpose, certainly not with purpose. His five-minute break ended when he lost the last game, and he knows it. He looked at the clock when he saw there were no more moves. And yet, here he is, starting a new game of solitaire.

He knows he shouldn't, which is an easy thing to know in a case like this, but deadlines are on his mind, ten thousand words of various term papers he still needs to write, all pounding in the back of his head, inexplicably linked to and called forth by any thought he ought to be thinking. And here's solitaire. So near and so far, such a wide field of thought. So distant from term papers and deadlines, and yet so easy to reach from the place he needs to be, to do all those things he ought to do. What else could happen, where else could he stray when his sense of duty and tenacity is tired from actually functioning for more than three minutes.

There's so much to think about solitaire. It's a game full of natural dynamics worthy of being made into allegories. H.G. Gadamer used it to explain a certain principle of hermeneutics once, but though he struck an important part of the game in that, he still only scratched the surface of Solitaire's potential for allegory, since that was not his topic1. Indeed, the game of Solitaire is one of the great mirrors of life, a monumental allegory of the human experience.

Let me explain, while our dear lazy idiot over here starts yet another game. We'll just ignore him for a moment. The rules and the goal of Solitaire are simple2, but these simple rules make it so that some basic issues and strategies naturally emerge.

There are seven stacks on the board (actually called the tableau, usually), the first starting with one card in it, the next with one more, and so on; the uppermost card of each stack facing up, all below it facing down. The remaining deck is available at the side to be drawn from. When an ace turns up, you can put it to the side, where you can then put the two of the same suit on top of it, and so on. It is the goal of the game to sort the entire deck to the side like that. On the board meanwhile, you can do another kind of sorting, where a card can be dragged onto the next higher card of the opposing color, while Kings can be placed on an empty stack. This way of sorting is how you free the cards stuck in the stacks and the deck.

You want to free the cards in the stacks, and you need the kings on the floor to do that, since you won't free those cards if there's a king sitting on top of them. But how do you do that? Do you start with low stacks on the left, so that there's a free space for the king when one turns up, or do you start with the tall ones on the right, because there are more cards to be freed up there, and you won't be setting down any kings in any free space if you don't find kings? Besides, they won't be much use if the queens and jacks don't turn up.

So, you can move a red nine off a low stack, emptying it completely, or a high stack, while there's a queen out on a different stack, but no king in sight. Which do you take?

You always draw from the deck in threes, seeing all the cards you draw, but only having access to the uppermost card on the draw pile, which is naturally the last one you drew, until you put that card somewhere else, at which point the one that was below it is on top3. After you have exhausted the entire deck this way, which means it is now entirely on the draw pile, you turn it over without shuffling, and start drawing again. This means that if you take out a card on one of your first draws, this changes which cards will turn up as the first card of each draw after that the next time you cycle the deck. Handling the deck with foresight in this regard, so that nothing you need ends up getting stuck behind things you can't sort onto any pile, is one of the big ways in which a lot of games that seem unwinnable to the novice can actually be won.

Your last draw from the deck has turned up the two of spades, the ace of spades, and the seven of diamonds in succession, the ace and the two being blocked in by the seven. The eight of clubs is sitting naked on the board, and the seven of hearts is there too, on the very top of the rightmost stack. Do you play from the deck, or see what's hidden in that stack?

Of course, generally you want to get as many cards as you can out of the game, unless, perhaps, if it immedeatly costs you, like in the last example. But you don't want to do it willy-nilly in any case, you want to do it somewhat evenly. Otherwise you may end up, for example, having too many of the red cards out before the black aces have even showed up, making it impossible to sort out the board, as you need those red threes, fours, and fives, to sort out the black twos, threes, and fours.

The ace and two of hearts are out, though nothing else is, and the deck has turned up the three, four, and five of hearts in one draw. The chance won't necessarily come again soon, since you've drawn something out of the deck earlier. Do you put them all to the side?

Your options are limited in the extreme, but they are options. You don't automatically know when you've lost, because you can't know at a glance if you still have meaningful options, because whatever moves the moves you have left turn up is predetermined and certain, but unknown. In the end, you won't know if you fucked it up, or if the game could have never been won in the first place. You can try to find where your significant choices are during the game, but you usually won't find all of them, because there are many small things that could be significant just as well as they could be entirely insignificant. So there's luck and there are choices, and both matter, and both intermingle, and in the end you can't know which counted for what.

Most of the time there are less than three available moves, even when you count drawing from the deck as a move. This inevitably means that you start playing in a mechanical way. Most of the choices you get can best be resolved by applying a sort of policy to follow algorithmically. A habit. On one hand this serves the games original purpose as a devouerer of time, as it lets you play while forgetting yourself, on the other hand it serves that grand analogy of life I was talking about.

The passivity of play makes it so that, as in life, it is not in those moments, when you feel free will coursing through your veins, while a palpable, clearly visible question of morality is put before you. It is not in those moments that the course of your life is decided. It is instead in the customs and habits you allow yourself to develop, that you meaningfully shape your life. So it is in moments when you barely feel any independence from causation at all, that you take your most relevant actions.

Take our resident idiot here for example — or, mine, really — he wouldn't have the least issue if you jammed him into a trolley problem. He could probably manage to make a candid, morally tight decision, if the circumstances were clear. Maybe he could tolerate significant danger to himself, or even certain death, if these circumstances were grand enough, and tied to a defined, tangible choice. But he can't manage to stick to writing a term paper due in a week for half an hour. It's beyond his capabilities, because the entire situation is so tiring and ordinary. What he needs here is a strictly held policy concerning the length of the time he works and the length of his breaks; and he had that, he made that policy, but he doesn't have the strength to stick to it because all of this is just so ordinary4.

Hyping it up, trying to make it into some heroic act of endurance doesn't help much either. That way he just gets ripped to stressed out shreds between the ordinary nature of the situation and the utterly ridiculously overemphasized weight of his failure. So now here he is, losing the third game he's started after his break ended.

That is a thing Solitaire can teach you. That, to pretentiously use Kantian terms5, it is not in the arbitrary, or even spontaneous, aspects of an act in which your free will comes to bear, but in the autonomous aspect of your character; in stable self regulation6, not merely un-caused action.

Speaking of good habits and un-caused actions, I'd very much appreciate if a certain someone would get back to work, dammit!

But you see, he's not doing it. Really makes a voice in a head wonder if there's any of ye olde autonomy in it after all.

I suppose it would be time for the next break now, if he had started to work at all. Might as well play another game.

Still, that sort of thing makes you wonder if Plotin and co. had a point with the whole "soul as a prisoner in the body" thing7.

Funny thing is, he's all solitaire now, but he hasn't won a single round in the thirty minutes he's been playing. Maybe if he wins this one I can rip him free. Sorting the cards out when they're neatly stacked, the game practically being solved, gives you the kind of exhausted semi-satisfaction that makes that sort of thing easier8.

Here we are, nicely done. Had to play out the hearts and clubs early to get the other aces, but he got it done. Always nice when that works.

Let's hope he actually gets to work now.

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