Friday, January 22, 2010


Maybe this is nothing new, but it's still fascinating.

Here are the links to read:

"Jonah Lehrer on Carlsen and chess intuition" by Arne Moll at Chessvibes
"Chess Intuition" by Jonah Lehrer at ScienceBlogs

Consider this passage from Jonah's article,

This is a truism of expertise. Although we tend to think of experts as being weighted down by information, their intelligence dependent on a vast set of facts, experts are actually profoundly intuitive. When experts evaluate a situation, they don't systematically compare all the available options or consciously analyze the relevant information. Carlsen, for instance, doesn't compute the probabilities of winning if he moves his rook to the left rather than the right. Instead, experts naturally depend on the emotions generated by their experience. Their prediction errors - all those mistakes they made in the past - have been translated into useful knowledge, which allows them to tap into a set of accurate feelings they can't begin to explain. Neils Bohr said it best: an expert is "a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field."

So it sounds like intuition is "emotions generated by experience."

Also, I really like that definition of an expert; "a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field."

Carlsen developed his intuition by deliberatly practicing against computer programs all those years (at least 10 years?) and learning from his mistakes.

To me, it sounds like the best bang for your buck at getting better at chess is to play against computers or stronger-than-you players, deliberately, often (as much as you can) and to learn from the mistakes you made.

Maybe ... but maybe not.

Moll's article goes on to state, "Still, mere exposure to more positions is not the same as being able to use them in a sensible way. The idea that working with computers can influence intuition is similar to the idea that the internet may be changing the way we think."

He quotes a neuroscientist who says, "Assembling a new combination (”associations”) may be relatively easy. The problem is whether the parts hang together, whether they cohere. We get a nightly reminder of an incoherent thought process from our dreams, which are full of people, places, and occasions that do not hang together very well. Awake, an incoherent collection is what we often start with, with the mind’s back office shaping it up into the coherent version that we finally become aware of — and occasionally speak aloud. Without such intellectual constructs, there is, William James said a century ago, only “a bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion.”

This is just fascinating, fascinating stuff.

By the way, Jonah Leher's book How We Decide looks very intriguing.  I'm going to look for this the next time I'm in the bookstore.

1 comment:

  1. I think learning by playing opponents stronger than you is definately a good approach, but I'm not so sure about playing computers - they're just so strong (and incapable of blundering) that you can't play creatively or speculatively in the same way - you would just learn to play 'anti-computer chess' where you close the position and try to work with a small advantage. On the other hand, I think playing against a computer from specific positions may be a good approach.