Rune VikHansens article on Chessbase


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Thibault de Vassal    (2008-12-10)
Rune Vik-Hansen's article on Chessbase

Chessbase just published a long article by the Norwegian philosopher Rune Vik-Hansen (graduated from the University of Tromsø in 1999 with a thesis on Heidegger's concept of Dasein) on consciousness and development of chess skills.

"Conscious memory", "Pattern recognition", "Pattern vs. Structure", "Exformation", "Chess Improvement", "Conceptual problems"...

What do you think about it ?

Normajean Yates    (2008-12-11 01:46:47)
my response...

Excellent, thought provoking article.

About subconscious thinking - I am in two minds: as an existentialist I am uncomfortable with the concept: yet there are memory/thought acts which bear no other explanation yet. The famous existentialist psychiatrist R.D.Laing who applied Sartre's work to psychiatry, also did not dwell on this issue, really..

I believe it is partly volition, partly innate - the innate part being proneness to 'subconscious', involuntary and in particular obsessive-compulsive thought patterns in OCD or in certain bipolar depressive states [I am bipolar depressive type 2], which responds to high-dose fluoxetine...

I am more comfortable with the part of the article I quote in the next paragraph, although there no reason we should have a specifically '*chess* pattern-recogniser organ' [1] - more likely we have an innate but more general 'chessy' pattern-recogniser-faculty ('organ') which takes in chess too. [our music-hearing faculty i.e. the ear can hear music, but not only music..] *This* is what the author Rune Vik-Hansen means, I am certain.

[from the article:] 'Playing on Noam Chomsky’s LAD, or Language Acquisition Device, we might say that chess players are guided and supported by a, perhaps slightly Kantian sounding, CAD; “Chess Acquisition Device, making is possible to display sound chess judgment which foundation is the subtle interplay between knowing what to keep and what to discard among triggered moves and in the final part of this article, we will have a closer look as how to increase and improve our chess judgment to form better decisions over the board.'

I will only add that subsequent investigations and deeper questioning of de Groot's subjects (experimented chessplayers? ;-) ) has shown that this faculty/device/organ is less important to chess ability than de Groot thought...

[1] I am calling this presumed faculty/device an 'organ', just like Noam Chomsky occasionally does [in his *linguistics* output, not in his *political* output! :)] - even if you choose to think of it as just a metaphor, it is a very hepful and suggestive metaphor.

Philip Roe    (2008-12-11 15:32:43)
Interesting for sure..

Impressive, not so much.

He seems to make a big distinction between conscious and unconscious thought with no real justification. The fact that electrical activity can be detected prior to awareness does not tell us much. Daniel Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" is the most satisfactory account that I have read, and his "multiple drafts" theory is not unlike Runes, except that it allows for a more sophisticated interaction. Roughly, the conscious mind sets goals "I want to attack on the k-side" and the subconscious suggests means "How about Qh5" which the conscious rejects or selects for further review by setting a new goal " Lets see if Qh5 works". By ignoring this interplay Rune creates difficulties from which he cannot extricate himself. And Dennett also asks himself much tougher questions like "why is there consciousness at all? What evolutionary purpose could it serve?"

Interestingly, the subconscious seldom suggests really silly ideas, like Qh5 if there is a pawn on g6 and nothing else going on. Indeed, the filtering out of "non-candidates" can be quite impressive. I recall a moment from the BBC TV series The Master Game. Bill Hartston, an IM and a psychologist, was momentarily taken aback by an unexpected move made by his (weaker) opponent. "Why didn't I see that?" A few seconds later "Oh, that's why I didn't see it!" (the move involved an unsound combination) Hartston was about to coauthor a book on chess psychology with John Wason, and his remark was not entirely in jest.

Hartston was suggesting, by his remarks, that he could usually trust his unconscious not to show him anything irrelevant. That, to my mind, is one of the things that characterizes a strong player. The irrelevant moves just don't occur to them.

So then what about blunders? Well, the system is very fallible. It IS just made of meat, and the real surprise is that blunders do not occur more often. But the blunders made by strong players seem different from the blunders made by rabbits. They are usually relevant to something, but they have a hole in them. I dont see anything at all about Runes proposals that would eliminate blunders, except through the indirect route of making you a stronger player.

Ilmars Cirulis    (2008-12-11 17:13:41)

My favourite (about consciousness) is

(It is a little bit chaotic, I must admit.)

Don Groves    (2008-12-13 00:15:45)
My €0.02

I greatly appreciate the "exformation" concept -- but the person who coined the term got it backwards! In a human communication, "in-formation" should refer to inner (unstated) data and "ex-formation" (from the Greek prefix 'exo-') should refer to outer (stated) data. Now we are stuck forever with yet another mis-defined term.

The author didn't cover the importance of visualization, i.e., the ability to "see" how the board will look after a series of future moves. For me, this is the biggest stumbling block to improvement in OTB chess. This type of visualization seems to me to be a conscious function as opposed to subconscious.

In discussing blunders, the author failed to point out time pressure as a primary cause. Again, this is a problem created by conscious awareness.