Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chess of life

I have the luck of having been introduced to chess quite early in my childhood and taken a liking to it. Of course, in the digital age, it is a game that tends to disappear and it is not one of the games that spurs creativity as a recent academical article as noted. On the other hand, chess has many advantages for self-development, and it is also a tool to a certain understanding of the world, in an ideal-type of way.
The concept of ideal-type is actually a good one to start up with the subject of chess, as no ideal-type exists in reality. The problem is that every words represent an ideal-type. For example, “ chair” represents something in our mind, but we never see it in the world exactly as we see it in our mind, so we create a group of things we observed that can belong to that group. The problem now is that such groups make sense only in relations to others as the limit of a group can exist only if they are other things that have borders as well.

So if concepts that make sense of the world is stuck in borders of this world, we find our thoughts on a checkerboard. BOOM ! Here I start with my chess concept ( it is not mine, it is actually more Wittgenstein's one, I have just adapted it). So we are stuck with generalisations in our mind of everything that surrounds us. Each generalizations have its limits, and our mind can only collect a limited amount of rules-concepts-generalizations-heuristics-devices. 8 by 8 cases, separated by black and white so we know every time what are the limits more or less. So we have a structure of understand that is a checkerboard. What you can see though is that a checkerboard will never move. It is 8 by 8, it is black and white. Point. It won't transform. It is a tabula rasa of understanding that is slightly useless as though we have understood more or less the limits of our understanding, no one can say that they have not changed there minds and that the relations between concepts have not changed.

So we need pieces. The pieces are the words we are going to define, the cases we are going to give depth to so we have a dynamical understanding of the world. Pieces are shit complicated to understand as they represent something for their modus operandi but their m.o. are useless if they would have been alone on a checkerboard. Indeed, a rook can move everywhere, and then would represent everything, if he had nothing to stop him. Something that represents everything, represents nothing. So again, a piece functions is only defined in relation to others. A bishop can move far and well, compared to a King, but it is kinda stuck, compared to a rook.

So we have dynamical concepts moving around in relations to others, but also in relations to where they start from. And here, we observe a hierarchy of concepts, where we have loads of little understandings, which can be sacrifice because they can be replaced easily by others. Who cares for the word chair, as I have the verb seating, I have stools, I have sofas and armchairs. On the other hand, I do care for future, past or present, because they are important for me to know where ( when actually) I am. And what about Me. Could Me be a king, that I might lose on a checkerboard? Anyway, we have a hierarchy of pieces, that is assigned rather by their uniqueness than by their function.

I would like to make a parenthesis here concerning pawns. A pawn can go a very long way and be transformed into a key piece for someones understanding of the world. Let's say use the color blue, which is not that important ( it didn't really exist in ancient greek, and there are a multiplicity of blues in Inuit ). It is a color. The thing though is that in relation with, let's say phenomenology or linguistic or history of art, we can start detail the color in all its specificities in a culture at a given time and how it might represent part of the view of the world this culture has. Bam ! The blue was a pawn of daily language that became a Queen to understanding the world. The pawn had to travel from its original position, to the furthest point it could go, and by always sustaining its relations to other points without falling out because its position was to be taken by a stronger piece.

What is weird though is that the responsibility of a concept and the power of its modus operandi are different as well. Indeed, let's look at the fundamental concept for a game of thoughts: the King. It's function is to go slowly where it will find a safe roof, which is not really impressive, and yet it is the most important piece. As such, it is only because we have a game that we have King, and it is the importance we put on this singular concept. If we take the Queen, we can make it as relevant we want to the other pieces as we wish. The Queen is the other singular piece of the game and it can do pretty much what we want her to do. Would we wish though to let her stay at home to care for the King, she wouldn't be that important anymore. She has a defined function, but her importance depends only in the relation she has been put with the others.

So what is left within a game are the rules of the games. Indeed, the modus operandi and the rules are slightly different. First of all, the rules are set in the times of the games. For example, first moves can be different from other moves, and the clear example is that a pawn can move two steps if it is its first move. It is afterwards restricted. Another example is the King and the move called castling, where he moves two steps to hide behind a rook. He can't do so if he moved previously, or the rook moved previously, or if he is moving through a mate. Such moves are therefore constricted by the rhythm of the game. Rules are also quite tricky as they are sometimes unknown by most of the players. For example, en passant is a rule that not everybody knows, where a pawn can take a side pawn that moved its initial two steps. So the more rules a player knows, the better off he is.

So now we have introduced the player. Rules apply to him. Would he touch a piece, he has to move that piece and would he stop touching that piece, he can't change his mind to move that piece until it is his turn again. The player is constricted by the rules but like a piece can move within the rules limited by him. The main rule being the goal: mating the king ( not as finding him a suitable queen, but attacking him and living him no escape). The player assign the importance he wants to each of the pieces to defeat his opponent. That's where the opponent enters our realm of understanding. The game is Manichean, it is one against the other. To play well, the importance is not only to put your piece in a favorable place in relation to the other pieces ( and even the pieces of his own colors which assure his defense but also his moves to come) but to anticipate the other players move.
That's where it becomes tricky. Concept fights one another, over an important idea. We are almost in a Hegelian fight between a thesis and an antithesis. We are actually exactly there. As personalities that compose the self are nothing more than define in opposition with other personalities. We anticipate the other players move and most of the time, you anticipate the other player's best possible move. This is where the game gets tricky, because the best move can be set three turns afterwards by a succession of apparently irrelevant moves. We have to put our shoes in the other player's mind and assuming that he is slightly more stupid than we are ( would we think he'd be smarter, he would anticipate our anticipation and counter the our own counter-move). Would he be more stupid though, we can find ourselves at lost, since we foresaw wrong and would change tactic in mid-way leaving maybe an unexpected opening. The argumentation never goes as expected.

That's why we can fight ourselves at chess ( and the here-presented symbolic chess). Indeed, you just need to turn the checkerboard to see from the opposite perspective what has been going one and even better, you know what is anticipated from the opposition and go on this eternal fight of counter-anticipation. Internal discussion over what is right or wrong, over we should follow passion or reason, are set within a checkerboard, where there is a king one side and the other, and there are different arguments for one and the other, which are set within the limit of our mind and sometimes, unexpectedly, a pawn through experience would become more important that when it started and would reverse maybe the game we thought was set for ourselves.

Of course, we can cheat. To cheat we just have to be sure the opposition hasn't seen what we did or ignore the rules we have set ourselves. A game of chest, professionally, is noted down, so there is always a repercussion to inconsistencies of a game.
There are so many things to say about the games of chess set in our lives. We can observe that it is a relation game, and it is not necessarily because you have a lot of concepts on your side that you will win. It can for example mean that you did stay on a good defensive the whole game, but you went nowhere to attack the other, and worse, you stuck yourself and an opponent horse came through to stalemate you where you haven't left place to escape. Too many words can block winning an argument because of confusion when the other can move its concept freely to counter or attack.

The infinite variations of games means it is impossible to know how a game will end. It does depend on the players level of the game, but even then, every body forget pieces or make mistakes. It is of course impossible to apply a chess game to reality, but somehow, all of reality is applicable to a chess game. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose but we always lose a little, rarely it is a stalemate. And there is always another game coming.

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