PRINCIPIA SCACCHORUM, Part 5: How Hidden Power Structure Rules the World
The hidden machinery of thought process
Can we crack open the black box of chess thought process? It would be astonishing to glimpse inside the brain to find out what goes on there in total darkness, move after move, game after game. Alas, it is impossible, as most operations of our chess-I are flying on the auto pilot, unnoticed from the outside.
As a result, chess educators and authors of chess primers are facing a challenging question about how to make the beginner set up properly, early in the learning process, core gears of this incredible, impenetrable black box, before the gears are put into a sturdy case and the box closes. Do those who teach really know what kind of quality gears should be initially installed there? Attempts to tweak this central, internal mechanism of thought later on, once the black box's logic grows too complex and rigid and its operations automatic, are destined to be much less effective (actually, in most cases, it is almost impossible to update this operating system, as we see the majority of chess players reach a certain plateau and stop improving).
In order to put more light on this, we need first to understand how we act in the world.
How humans respond to the complexity of the World
There is a complex, mind-boggling situation before you. How do you interpret it in your mind and how do you choose your next move?
Human mind's solution to the overwhelming complexity of the world is using very simple rules to reduce the situation to its bare bones in order to cut out the trivial many from the vital few (forget about neuroscience and its ill-fated attempts to bring everything down to the level of neurons and synapses).
Humans simply simplify. All the time. The image of the world around us that we hold in our head is just a model. The human brain is able to effectively internalize things in simple, small-scale models of reality. These abstract mental models are deeply held structures of thinking. They are our mental tool box for acting and making decisions in the world.
We can't avoid using them, it is simply the way we are wired. Our only choice lies in deciding which fundamental concepts to pick up at Moment One and how to use them. Only if such a repertoire of concepts existed in the brain, we could say that we are actually perceiving anything.
If, for example, the first very few chess sessions with the beginner failed to instill important basic concepts, the brain would develop some hazy notions on its own anyway because it wants to stick to the same old beaten path. Typically, these ineffectual habits mean aimless wood pushing. A good case in point is this game I observed between two boys who were in chess for several months at the time, 1.e4 d5 2.Bd3 Bg4 2.exd5 etc.
The game shows what happens when there is a serious lack of concepts in place. So called "chess blindness" infects millions, or 99.5 percent of all chess population. There is an almost utter void the traditional early teaching has left in their minds. No trace of most basic concepts in the brain whatsoever. Clearly, "we simply don't see anything in our mind's eye for which our learning has not prepared us," Leonard Nash said.
The early chess teaching at Square One appears to be broken, "fundamentally flawed" as Nimzovich warned us in 1929. The chess educators don't yet seem to have noticed, never mind tried to understand, or, oh my goodness, to fix it. An absolute S.N.A.F.U.
Basic chess mental models
Although unbelievable simple (what will be witnessed as you read on in this and coming articles), the basic mental models of thinking are still poorly understood.
"The cognitive constraints are very elementary... People never mention them in [speak aloud] protocols, though they obviously follow them. One cannot find them in chess books, and I have found that chess players are not familiar with them. The cognitive restraints seem to be very much like the grammatical rules. We follow them unconsciously and unintentionally to represent the environment in a senseful manner." (Pertti Saariluoma, 1995; the Finnish Professor's authority is two-fold, he teaches cognitive science and he is a FIDE Master, rating 2350).
During a game, these elementary mental models, our basic chess instincts, subliminaly hint us where to turn attention in the current position. This then triggers higher-ranked mental structures, they start to interact with each other, evolving ever more and more new ideas.
But what is the basic conceptual repository at the foundation of all this mental construction? Something without which it would be absolutely impossible to build up any higher-order chess concepts?
It would be thus very useful to lay out sort of chess axioms that chess players use in their thinking process. The chess starting points that underpin all chess knowledge and its practical applications.
Force is central concept
Before taking on the axioms let us mention one core concept permeating all chess.
The central concept in chess is the concept of force. Everything in chess starts and ends with it.
In our game, the use of force is throughout. Chess is all about direction (what is the overall aim? =strategy), distribution (how to position troops?), and concentration of force (where to focus the most effort? to achieve power superiority at decisive points).
If you think about it, all reality is made up of force. This is true not only in the physical world (remember from school Michael Faraday's concept of force and how he used lines of force to explain phenomena of electricity?), but also in social interactions, like competition in sports, or coercion and conflict in international relations.
For example, say you are reading a world news story. You won't be able to grasp its true meaning if you are unaware of how power players behind it are connected and what their real agenda may be. You see their moves, but what you don't see is the hidden underlying power structure and its motivations and intents.
As Dr. Lasker put it, you need to understand the reason for the moves.
Now, let us get down to our business, the Axioms, the most basic concepts that "unify, bring together disparate ideas and disparate knowledge and make sense of them." (Neil Turok, Astonishing Simplicity of Everything)