Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The birth of a thought.

When a thought arises in the mind, you can ask yourself "where does it come from?". I imagine that there is a subtle area in the mind where the seeds of thoughts (idea's) take shape. It is invisible what happens in this subtle area. Only when the thought already has some form it becomes visible in the conscious mind.

If you look at a new chessposition, there seems to be a gentle rain of thoughts about the position. You need your discrimination to decide which thought is good in the given position and which thought is bad. So one area where you can work on is your ability of discrimination. But the non-rethoric question is:
"Can you have an indirect influence on what happens in that subtle area of the mind where the conception of thoughts takes place so that the quality of the gentle rain of thoughts improves?"


  1. What you seem to be describing is what the GMs call intuition, which they say is built up via experience, and which is often defined using terms like 'pattern recognition', 'fast', 'automatic', 'based on lots of experience.'

    Basically, it is what we are trying to build up in the circles, but which absolutely must be built up by playing lots and lots of games (and going over them, preferably with someone better) and going over annotated games. Because it ain't just patterns on the board that are under the purview of intuition, but even things like time management, thought process, and these are best built up OTB in my opinion.

  2. This reminds me of a very interesting book on the psychology of conscious experience, A cognitive theory of consciousness, and which is summarized by Baars here. In psychology his 'global workspace' theory has become the main model of consciousness. I summarized his theory briefly here.

    It would be interesting to see his theories applied to chess intuition. Let me give it a shot.

    In the language of cognitive psychology, what the masters call the operation of intuition may be the operation of a kind of specialized chess module (I use 'module' in the limited sense that there is a specialized processor that does a hell of a lot of computation/remembering but operates unconsciously), forms the basis for our pattern recognition (just as we seem to have neuronal machinery dedicated to facial recognition whose operations we don't have conscious access to, but we sometimes experience the results of its processing).

    (Sometimes 'module' is reserved for innate processors, but obviously there is no bloody chance it is innate [perhaps a Chomskian could say it is really just part of our language module]: I am using the term somewhat loosely. Also note that 'module' is a functional, not anatomical category: these functions are likely carried out by multiple brain areas in parallel, not a single little phrenological locus).

    This chess module carries out all sorts of operations at the unconscious level and spits out certain details that are made available in our 'global workspace', i.e., certain information is made available for conscious evaluation and higher-level analysis, made available because it is required to guide our behavior on the chessboard, is an important stored pattern that we need to consider, etc.. The module is very smart, in GMs it is smarter than they are. Beginners are in the unfortunate place of having built up no intuition yet, of having to rely solely on conscious evaluation of all the aspects of the position.

    So I interpret your question as 'How do I improve my chess module?' I think you know the answer to that. Experience, but especially with feedback so that improvement is possible, fine-tuning of the parameters of the processing going on.

    I think one reason I am sounding like a one-hit wonder about getting a coach is because having a coach going over games with me (for a few months now) is so damned helpful: my module actually had acquired some bad heuristics (bad thinking habits: habits are unconscious), and he is helping to expunge them. He is like my 'chess mom', with all the craziness that entails, a kind of voice in my head that nags at me when I'm about to do something he doesn't want me to do. But since he is an IM, when I follow his advice, it actually improves my play. And my module slowly tweaks to be in alignment with his advice. So my intuition gets a little better. Since his advice is specifically tailored to my module, it really seems to be an accelerant for sound intuition building. But any learning with feedback should help (puzzles with correct answers, annofritzing, reading what the experts say, master games analysis with the 'cover and guess' method).

    (Aside: I wonder if we could refute Chomsky's poverty of the stimulus argument for the innateness of the grammar organ by using chess: is there a poverty of the stimulus argument to be made that chess is innate? If so, the argument is obviously bologny.).

  3. In a recent game:

    1. e4 d5 2. f3 dxe4 3. fxe4 e5 4. Nf3 Bc5 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. Nc3 a6 7. h3 0-0 8. g4 Nc6 9. d3 Na5 10. Bb3 Nxb3 11. axb3

    {I feel my position is very solid. My opponent can't castle, they have
    doubled pawns, and I have the bishop pair. But how to proceed? A queen-side pawn advance would undouble his pawns, while a kingside pawn advance would weaken my king. I don't see any immediate way to attack his king while it's stuck in the center. I'm looking for something more specific than "open the position" -- doh. :) }

    This is the realm of strategy. A better player, upon looking at the position, easily came up with a reasonable plan. When I asked him how he did it, he said it got easier with experience.

    After a bit of book knowledge from Silman, experience means analyzing the annotated games of masters or your own games annotated by a good player. Another approach is to use PCT's Strategy module.

    But then I see you already wrote one of the best posts on this:

    So I feel rather silly now!

  4. Glad to see some good posts here. The Temposchlucker blog is fantastic brain food!

  5. Blue,

    I read the summary by Baars. It is very logical and according to my own experiences. To improve the unconscious chessmodule in the brain, feedback is needed.
    This feedback has the following elements:
    1. The moves that are generated by the module.
    2. Correction of those moves.
    3. Conscious learning of the corrected moves + the context why the new move is better.

    In your opinion, a coach is the best means for point 2 and helps with 3.

  6. About Chomsky's POTS:
    In Holland there is much wind which makes it heavy to ride a bike.
    When I was a child, I constructed a Magnus-rotor on by bike in order to reduce my pedalling efforts.
    Later I heard (and was shown drawings) that my grandfather has experimented with a Magnus rotor on his bike too. My grandfather died 12 years before I was born.
    How great is that chance?

    This seems to suggest that knowledge is transferred by conception over two generations.