Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is chess a waste of time?

From time to time you have to ask yourself if playing chess isn't a waste of time. Aren't there things in life that are more worthwhile to devote your time and energy to? If we are to believe the media, our society is running towards the abyss. Mustn't I at least try to hit the emergency breaks? Aren't there wars to prevent, or to stop? Isn't chess just too trivial to spill your time?

Everybody has to answer such questions for themselves.
To me, a main consideration is if my efforts can make a difference. If not, it doesn't matter which windmill I fight. The windmill of chess improvement or the windmills of environmental polution, poverty and war.

It is not so easy to make a difference as it might look like. Matters have a momentum of their own. Changing things along the line yields unexpected results later. No matter how good your intentions are.

If there would be one person that could make a difference, it would be mr. Bush. Or mr. Putin, for that matter.
I'm sure that mr. Bush had the best intentions. But every action of his brought the world closer to the abyss. Which leads to the following statement: If you have the power but you don't know what you are doing, HANDS OFF!! Good intentions or not.
If you have no power, it doesn't matter what you are doing anyhow.

The road to the abyss is paved with good intentions, a lack of knowledge how to handle momentum and the arrogance to think that you have that knowledge while you have not.

How is it possible that someone who has no knowledge, can think he has?
How can he ignore all the evidence that he hasn't?
Even more weird: how can the people around him suffer from the same confirmation bias and vote for him? Year after year and president after president? Country after country?
It must be some form of collective hypnosis.

The study of confirmation bias, collective hypnosis and blind spots is the study of the human mind. Which is exactly what I'm studying while trying to improve at chess:)

Mother Nature has her own goals. To preserve her goals she makes use of the possibility to hypnotize mankind. Looking at our zombie-like worldleaders is very reassuring: no chance that anyone of them has the power to do anything on his own. The plans of Mother Nature are not in danger at the moment! When I play chess I can be reassured that it is according Her plans. The worries about spilling my time suck away the energy that could endanger the plans of Mother Nature. If those plans are always in the best interest of mankind is another matter. . .


  1. George Bernard Shaw on Chess:
    "Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time."

    Blaise Pascal":
    “If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy”

  2. Nice reflections Temposchlucker.
    Think globally, act locally ;-)


  3. DK,
    Bernard Shaw makes a distinction between wasting your time and not wasting your time. Such distinction is quite commonly made. To me such distinction is highly artificial. We always serve the goals of Mother Nature since we are always acting under her mesmerizing influence. Since we don't have a goal of our own, there can be no waste of time. Or everything is a waste of time, depending on the point of view you choose.

    About Blaise Pascal: if happiness would be our condition, it wouldn't matter if we would play chess or not.

  4. Wow, very nihilistic.

    You can control a lot of things at the small level. The problem is often that people want to change global patterns, which they have little to no power over.

    E.g., for the environment there is tons you can do, from recycling to conserving water and electricity, to driving less (Americans are learning what this is like now that gas prices are higher.

    Going to local city council meetings, school board meetings, can have a big influence. One of the influences is to bore you nearly to death.

    But on a larger scale...stopping Russia from invading Georgia? Or the US from invading Iraq? The common person has little control. I did what I could. I voted for Kerry. :)

    It is always entertaining to watch college students who think they are going to change the world. Their professors were in college in the '60s, when students did actually have a huge influence on the US gov't. But it took millions of protestors. Unless the draft is instituted in the US, people will be too lethargic to do what it takes to effect change.

    I guarantee, though, if the US started the draft, there would be massive protests in our country, and these things do have (small) influences.

    I hate political bumpers stickers. But perhaps the one I hate the least is 'Think globally act locally.'

    On chess, I have no idea what to say. I know it took too much of my time when I was doing it 2 hours a day, as I was also thinking about it, blogging about it, which probably put the total up to around 4 hours. Too much.

    It isn't any absolute failing on my part, in the big picture. Rather, it was a misuse of my talents. Now I spend time on things that, in the big picture, I am more happy with (i.e., science).

    But hell I still really like chess. It's the best fucking game in the world.

  5. bahus has a great quote on his rhp profile:

    "We are born and we die and in between these two events of a lifetime there is a lot of time that must be wasted. Now, whether it is wasted by doing mathematics, practicing law, or playing games, it is really quite insignificant.'"

    -- Clarence Darrow

  6. Blue,
    Acting without knowledge is nihilistic.
    We are educated in math and goniometrics. Hence we have a bias for straight lines. In nature there are no straight lines, everything tends to by cyclic.

    If we develop a plan, we think in straight lines. That's why we ALWAYS get unexpected results. In the end we have turned around 180 degrees, usually without noticing it or without the courage to admit it.

    It is not a plea to do nothing, but a plea to know what you are doing before you do something. If we aren't even capable of learning chess, how can we ever expect to rule something outside the chessboard? It's just bloody arrogance. A confirmation bias preventing us to see the proofs of our ignorance.

  7. wormwood, yes, ive read his exact quote there, at his handle at RHP. nice quote. dk

  8. Ceratinly a thought provoking post. I'd like to think even playing chess and interacting with others who do so can be meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Who knows if what we learn from chess or share with others will make a difference or not, but hopefully the thoughts and considerations we give to this game can be transfered to to other parts of our lives. I don't think it's quite as simple as "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." I will have to give this more thought. Thanks for stirring up the cobwebs of my mind.

  9. Polly has a good point. She is actually doing something positive with her chess. I, on the other hand, played pretty much only online, never coached, never was a TD, etc. Interesting point.

    Back to the point, just be wary of the following kind of logic:
    Nothing really matters, so it doesn't matter if I do X, Y, or Z.

    I would agree that nothing matters on a cosmic scale. We are squirt out of a vagina, we eat, laugh, cry, and then become food for various microorganisms, our brain decays, we are gone.

    But on a different scale, for those of us without cosmic pretensions, things do matter. Locally. To people. To species. To my dog. Trying to pretend things don't matter is as inauthentic as trying to not see the world as colored just because, intellectually, you know the colors are really creations of your visual system. Sure, meaning is created by brains, but that doesn't mean we can shut it off.

    I'm on vacation and have a ton of time on my hands. I'm sort of bored right now as it has been raining for three days straight and I can only play so much chess.