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Randrew

Chess: Compatible With Objectivism, Or An Escape?

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I was wondering if there were any serious chess players out there who have struggled with this question, as I have. Actually, I think I already have the answer, in the form of Ayn Rand's explicity-expressed opinion, although it seems that it could fit in with Galt's description of work.

First, I present the argument against Chess-ambition. Here I quote Rand's "Open Letter to Boris Spassky" from PWNI (54-55):

"Chess is an escape--an escape from reality. It is an 'out,' a kind of "make-work" for a man of higher than average intelligence who was afraid to live, but could not leave his mind unemployed and devoted it to a placebo--thus surrendering to others the living world he had rejected as too hard to understand. . . . Unlike algebra, chess does not represent the abstraction--the basic pattern--of mental effort; it represents the opposite: it focuses mental effort on a set of concretes, and demands such complex calculations that a mind has no room for anything else. By creating an illusion of action and struggle, chess reduces the professional player's mind to an uncritical, unvaluing passivity toward life. Chess removes the motor of intellectual effort--the question 'What for?'--and leaves a somewhat frightening phenomenon: intellectual effort devoid of purpose."

On the other hand, recall John Galt's paragraph on the virtue of Productiveness (946):

"Productive work is...a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one's purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one's values--that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind..." (946)

Although chess doesn't really have a strong connection to "the earth" or "matter," there are many kinds of productive work that also don't, such as the various and sundry abstruse branches of higher mathematics. In the case of pure mathematics, its creators work without an eye to specific applications, and may even die not having seen their work influence productivity. But it is still considered productive work.

Thoughts?

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I was wondering if there were any serious chess players out there who have struggled with this question, as I have.

I have never been a serious chess player, but for a brief time I played in a few tournaments in the early 1980s. During that time I tried to see analogies between chess and Objectivism. Things like reason is our only means of knowledge, purpose, hierarchy of values, etc. In my own twisted corrupt way I tried to use Objectivism to help me play chess better and I tried to use chess to help me understand Objectivism better. Obviously I screwed up somewhere.

"Chess is an escape--an escape from reality.  It is an 'out,' a kind of "make-work" for a man of higher than average intelligence who was afraid to live, but could not leave his mind unemployed and devoted it to a placebo--thus surrendering to others the living world he had rejected as too hard to understand.
This probably applies to Bobby Fischer. I do not believe that it applies to Kasparov.

. . . Unlike algebra, chess does not represent the abstraction--the basic pattern--of mental effort; it represents the opposite: it focuses mental effort on a set of concretes, and demands such complex calculations that a mind has no room for anything else.

If this means that there is no conceptual thinking in chess, then either this is simply wrong or else I don't know what conceptual thinking is.

By creating an illusion of action and struggle, chess reduces the professional player's mind to an uncritical, unvaluing passivity toward life.
This does not seem to be true of Kasparov.

Chess removes the motor of intellectual effort--the question 'What for?'--and leaves a somewhat frightening phenomenon: intellectual effort devoid of purpose."

That's why I quit chess. Sometimes I have that problem with philosophy.

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Randrew,

An interesting post.

My answer is that ultimately chess is "merely" a game, an entertainment and that AR's letter to Spassky is correct.

On the other hand, if a sports star can be considered a hero so can a chess master be admired as someone who has mastered an art form and who competes at the highest and most gruelling levels. And the major chess tournaments are certaily big business nowadays.

As an entertainment chess can be every bity as interesting as a baseball or football game.

Many chess organisations for youngsters claim that chess is "good for the mind" in that it supposedly develops logical thinking and problem-solving skills. While this idea is useful from a marketing point of view I have not found it to be true. Chess develops chess skills and I think the spill-over into any other "useful" applications is largely over-rated.

From an Objectivist stanpoint I would say that if playing chess gives you a sense of joy and it does not become addictive, then go for it. My son's chess playing has certainly given him opportunities to travel all over N. America and to Europe and he enjoys the game both competitively and socially.

Regards,

Brent

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If she didn't like chess, you can only surmise her feelings for Connect Four or even checkers. But, who cares? Relax. So, she didn't like games. What the heck do you care? It is fine for enjoyment, although I find it dubious to pursue "professionally".

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In the case of pure mathematics, its creators work without an eye to specific applications, and may even die not having seen their work influence productivity.  But it is still considered productive work.

Thoughts?

The reason math is considered productive work is not in it's application but merely because it is a science of understanding reality- understanding the things in our world, how they interact, and how they behave. Math is productive work simply because of it's nature as a science of understanding reality- it can then be applied in any number of ways.

Chess is not because the "reality" is made up and therefore not applicable to our world (which is why it is a game).

It may be a fun game but a game it is and as such cannot be considered productive work completely on it's own.

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Chess is not because the "reality" is made up and therefore not applicable to our world (which is why it is a game).

It may be a fun game but a game it is and as such cannot be considered productive work completely on it's own.

So then how do you justify the glorification of professional athletes and sportsmen (take Andrew Bernstein's "Open Letter to Michael Jordan")? Can it seriously be claimed that a basketball player is more 'concerned with reality' than a chess grandmaster?

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First off I would like the point out that I never tried to justify the glorification of professional athletes. Personally I find sporting events to be rather boring and I am not really a fan of any professional sports teams. I value sports when I engage in them from the enjoyment I get out of playing them.

That is why I said "completely on it's own". Chess, all alone, just a two men in a room playing chess could only be considered productive work in that if others desire to pay to watch them they are then producing entertainment. Same thing with a basketball game and anything of the like. Though i'm still not sure on whether the fact that it entertains people counts as productive work.

Music and film and whatnot I think are different because you are offering them a product. It may be entertaining them but that is secondary, the primary is that you are producing a piece of art.

I guess the next issue is whether or not men who are playing a game and they are good at it, is it art? if it is it could be considered the same as music and film and the like. Gonna do some more thinking on this one.

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Chess and Objectivism?

Not in Fischer's case as he is a breathtaking irrationalist.

Kasparov could be. I don't know if he is familiar with Objectivism and Ayn Rand - I guess not.

He does have a good grasp of economics and politics and is trying to get a group of people together to fight against Vladimir Putin's increasing statism at the next Russian elections.

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He does have a good grasp of economics and politics and is trying to get a group of people together to fight against Vladimir Putin's increasing statism at the next Russian elections.

If there is a next Russian election. :lol:

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In Rand's "Open Letter to Boris Spassky", I don't think she was insinuating that chess is an escape -- not any more so than other recreational activities, at least -- but rather that it is an escape for Boris Spassky, a Soviet citizen, for whom the absolutism and rationality of chess rules is an escape, compared to the malevolent irrationality of life in Soviet Russia.

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Let me state my opinion, for I am a serious chess player. First of all, look at the context of Rand's open letter to Spasky. I believed she used chess as an analogy to show how the ideals that Spasky endorses are wrong. I am not quoting directly but Rand said something to the effect of: You cannot change a peice's proper moves to that of something else, or else the strategy of the game is gone. Yet, this is what the men in your country, Russia, are expected to do. You cannot have someone hold a gun to your head and have them say 'lose or die' and play the game properly. Yet, this is what men in your country are expected to do.

As for Rand's quote, it is possible that some people play chess in order to escape from reality and use their mind at the same time. But, however, isn't it possible for this not to be a condition of some/other chess players? I take enjoyment in learning complex strategy to beat my opponent. The thing about chess is: is that you must have confidence in your decisions. You can't say "Oh, should I do this, or that"...or "I don't know..." One must be sure of one's self. If you are not sure of yourself, you will lose to error very quickly. I have learned to have selfconfidence by playing chess - and also from war strategy games. If you do not think yourself out of a situation properly you will falter. In certain games, you must think of every possible situation (in chess there can double digit decisions with subsequent results that eventually lead into at least 100 different possiblities depending on the situation of the game). Because I have used my thinking processes in order to beat my opponent, I have learned to apply this in real life. It is much easier to think of alternatives to decisions I have to make, etc. Also, what must one do in a game? Concentrate. You do not learn concentration unless you practice it. I found it much easier, once getting used to chess, to concentrate on anything I needed to - and I have a mild form of ADD - so you judge what value you can get out of a complex strategy game.

One more thing, they have proven that chess improves people's thinking abilities (or intelligence). Again - confidence, intellectual thinking, concentration, etc. They say that the mind is a muscle - the more you use it the better it gets, yes?

Do not say people play chess in order to escape reality unless you know for sure what you are talking about. You must know the game and the person in order to judge for yourself.

--Brian

Edit: Serious question here: Is chess any different than Francisco d'Anconia in Atlas Shrugged playing marbles on his hotel room floor? Is he escaping reality, too? He has to make complex decisions as to how a marble will hit another and then another and all of their direct reactions. That is a game, and it involves thinking. In the book it said his reason of playing was because he couldn't relax for long, that he was restless, and had to have something to do. A purpose.

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One more thing, they have proven that chess improves people's thinking abilities (or intelligence).  Again - confidence, intellectual thinking, concentration, etc.  They say that the mind is a muscle - the more you use it the better it gets, yes?

While I think that chess can be a fun game, and I know one person who goes to professional tournaments, where is this "proof" that it improves thinking abilities? I would imagine it would to some extent, in light of the fact that you do have to think, but I'd be curious the extent it does this, for example compared with playing the violin.

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Travis, when I belonged to a certain chess club they handed out a several page pamphlet to its members and they provided the "proof" that it improves one's thinking abilities. I do not recall if they mentioned a certain extent (since every person is different). I would provide you with what they said but I do not have the pamphlet anymore. I do recall that they used the words: 'scientific studies'

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On 7/28/2004 at 2:27 PM, BreathofLife said:

That is why I said "completely on it's own". Chess, all alone, just a two men in a room playing chess could only be considered productive work in that if others desire to pay to watch them they are then producing entertainment.

It's the same with sex!

Moral of the story: Chess is neither work nor war. It's just sex.

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