Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Chess Stories in Our Heads

From a NYT article on neuroscientist Dr. Michael Gazzaniga:

The left hemisphere takes what information it has and delivers a coherent tale to conscious awareness. It happens continually in daily life, and most everyone has caught himself or herself in the act — overhearing a fragment of gossip, for instance, and filling in the blanks with assumptions.

The brain’s cacophony of competing voices feels coherent because some module or network somewhere in the left hemisphere is providing a running narration. “It only took me 25 years to ask the right question to figure it out,” Dr. Gazzaniga said.

“One of the toughest things in any science, but especially in neuroscience, is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth,” said Thomas Carew, former president of the Society for Neuroscience and dean of the New York University School of Arts and Sciences. “Mike Gazzaniga is one of those in the field who’s been able to do that.”

Dr. Gazzaniga decided to call the left-brain narrating system “the interpreter.” The storyteller found the storyteller.

Emergent Properties

Knowing the breed well, he also understood its power. The interpreter creates the illusion of a meaningful script, as well as a coherent self. Working on the fly, it furiously reconstructs not only what happened but why, inserting motives here, intentions there — based on limited, sometimes flawed information.

The whole article (and the whole field) is interesting to me, but let's briefly relate it to chess.

Waaay back four years ago I wrote about Jonathan Rowson's book Chess for Zebras and briefly noted his references to "myth-making" and the stories we tell ourselves about what's going on in an individual game and what "kind" of chess player we see in ourselves. This brain research seems to back this up. Not only do we tell "stories" about the game of chess we're playing, it's probably impossible not to do so.

On the other hand, as my hero the late Grandpatzer Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby wrote, one way to get beyond patzer level is to emulate the computer in calculation and take "ego" out of the equation. One of the phenomena of blitz chess that intrigues me is how wonderfully it focuses the mind on the game. There is no time to look around at other boards, eat snacks or feel much emotion (until the game is over and one exclaims, "How could I make such a stupid move?!).

It occurs to me that at longer time controls, perhaps the ideal is a blitz-like total focus for a few minutes while calculating, and after the move is made let "the storyteller" of the left hemisphere have its way for a bit before becoming more of a "computer" again when it's your turn to move.

(NOTE: The great book Secrets of a Grandpatzer, which I wrote several posts about (link above) was out of print for years but has been reissued with a new introduction and...Japanese page headers? That's trippy. But the text looks the same. Highly recommended)

No comments: