Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chess Intelligence

Amongst the many reasons that I feel chess to be an important illustration of our mental processes is because it combines a whole lot of ideas such as patterns (structural patterns relating to the positions and inter-relations between objects), positions (in two-dimensional space) and sequences (linear progressions of piece movements).

Can we spot 'chess intelligence' in our everyday lives?

Well, you could ask yourself these questions as a starting point in our quest to define that quality of intelligence which chess players exhibit. I am suggesting that chess players will likely answer "yes" to more than one of them. I would be grateful for any comments!

1. Do you enjoy crossword puzzles, and the like?
2. Do you like puzzles eg anagrams?
3. Are you fascinated by sequences such as 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 ... ?
4. Do you compulsively seek patterns eg unconsciously notice pictures and shapes on tile floors?
5. Do you spend a long time organising the folders and files in Windows Explorer?
6. Do you always make sure that when you fit a new toilet roll it place, that it unwinds in the same direction?!

1. I note that crossword puzzles are particularly relevant to this discussion - in that they combine memory and linking words in surprising ways.

2. Incidentally anagrams also seem related to the idea of intelligence which I'm trying to define. I have certainly spent more than a few happy hours doing them! One of the most efficient online anagram finders is here - but before you surf, see if you can find a two word anagram of 'garden in a farm'! Since I have already entered this phrase, the solution will appear as the first of the many possible anagrams when you visit the site.

3. Here is a very (very) nice video about the Fibonacci sequence.

4. I'm heading towards concepts here that are perhaps akin to autism. I have never thought of myself as autistic before but today I realised that it may indeed form part of my personality. I have thought about this subject before but rejected the conclusions because I did not want to think of myself as abnormal. But having found out more about it, I understand that I am merely finding out different facets of my personality. To be autistic or whatever is not a disease or a sign of craziness as some might say.

And I always wondered why the film 'Rainman' struck such a chord with me (see 'All about the real 'Rainman'' below). Also the book "Skallagrigg"by William Horwood which inspired Yvonne Nolan (Observer newspaper) to write that "some of the passages would wring tears from a stone".

5. This one is important to my thesis that something similar to autism is present in the chess player personality.

I have already exhibited this trait a while back in one of my previous posts - all unknowing! There I wax lyrical about the joys of organising chess openings into a logical tree structure.

As well as the satisfaction gained from organising your files/folders in Explorer you can go one better with the free program, 'TreePad'. You can get it here. This software allows you to store notes/images in a heirarchical structure, allowing you to track down information in a logical fashion eg if you are learning Portuguese you might have a path such as:
GRAMMAR / VERBS / SUBJUNCTIVE.

6. 'Nuff said!

It's All About Me!

As a layman, rather than a psychologist, I can only develop my idea that chess is worthy of its place in the pantheon of the different types of intelligence by talking about my own characteristics.

Actually I very much dislike the way that we bandy the word 'intelligence' about. In my view, no-one can define it convincingly because it is simply not a useful label in and of itself. The folk at MENSA (elite club for the so-called intelligent) only allow you in if you pass their own particular IQ test. This is interesting because they do at least subdivide the tests into various categories. It's years since I was a member (how clever I felt when I passed!) so I only have a vague memory of one of these categories - visual or patterns, something like that. I remember because I got a good score in that category which pulled me up after having not done so well in some of the other stuff (comprehension category?). Anyway - 'intelligence' is clearly a multifaceted attribute and probably has the same meaning as is exemplified by "When I use a word, it means what I want it to mean; neither more, nor less" (Humpty Dumpty in 'Alice in Wonderland')

Let's start with memory. I have the opposite of a photographic memory. Random items slip from my grasp - it is only if they have 'sticky' attributes that I remember them. This might be, when programming in HTML, they somehow fit into an existing well known structure. Or it might be their position in a tree structure or their position in an (x, y) mathematical structure. My point here, is that an isolated object (particularly if I have no need for that particular item at that particular time) will not stick in my mind.

How does a true autistic person remember things in such detail? It is usually difficult to gain much insight into their thought processes by interviewing them but one guy, Daniel Tammet (see his story here), tells us that he associates numbers, for example, as images which also contain an emotional element. The number nine is apparently quite overpowering for him! And more- in the video he actually gets to meet the real 'Rainman' mentioned above!

As I say, I don't like labels such as 'intelligence' and 'autism' (which is a whole spectrum of attributes anyway). So I take great relish in telling you that the real 'Rainman' wasn't autistic either! I'm trying to escape these wretched labels (of which we are all so fond) and describe a unique pardigm relating to myself - the individual person, the none-labellable person (as are you and every one else in my belief). Hey  - did I just invent a new word? Great!

Which leads me on to point out that I am (perhaps) a practical chap who, if a problem arises, likes to try to solve it immediately (presumably because I cannot rely on remembering to do it if I postpone it) . Consequently I always used to find myself in the middle of half a dozen projects - all half finished. Until I compensated for this behaviour, that is.

Thus I believe that we all have the power to correct a lot of the behaviour traits that we would rather be without. We should never believe that our behaviour traits are cast in stone - contrary to what you may hear others tell you. "You are putty in your hands" (I just invented this aphorism but now I rather wish I hadn't ). In the text about 'Rainman' (below) you will see that he too was able to correct his behaviour - helped in part by his fame as the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman's film! Doesn't matter how we effect growth - as long as we grow, I say.

Conclusion

As you may have gathered, today I had something of a revelation. My guilt at forgetting my wife's birthday date, my ability to become completely absorbed in HTML code, my limited chess-playing ability, my desire to organise and categorise everything in sight - all form a composite whole.

No longer will I worry that my obsessive behaviour at the dinner table (where my knife MUST be the correct way round, thus and so). I have some characteristics of autism but, importantly, this does not define who I am or how I behave. We are more complex than that. None of us can be labelled, we are all individuals - as this wonderful video of an autistic (and artistic!) guy shows

Advice to the Reader (probably condescending!)

Know thyself, study yourself - and never be afraid of what you might find from your musings. It's one of the most valuable exercise you can attempt.

"The truth ye shall find" - and you will be much more comfortable with yourself as a result.

All of us can change our behaviours in dramatic fashion (even if the underlying emotions and drives are still there). And even if you are not completely successful, it does no harm whatsoever to try.

All about the real 'Rainman'

Laurence Kim Peek (November 11, 1951 – December 19, 2009) was an American savant. Known as a "megasavant", he had a photographic or eidetic memory, but also social difficulties, possibly resulting from a developmental disability related to congenital brain abnormalities. He was the inspiration for the character of Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, in the movie Rain Man. Unlike Babbitt, Peek was not autistic,  and likely had FG syndrome.

Peek was born in Salt Lake City, Utah with macrocephaly, damage to the cerebellum, and agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition in which the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is missing; in Peek's case, secondary connectors such as the anterior commissure were also missing. There is speculation that his neurons made unusual connections due to the absence of a corpus callosum, which resulted in an increased memory capacity. According to Peek's father, Fran, Peek was able to memorize things from the age of 16–20 months. He read books, memorized them, and then placed them upside down on the shelf to show that he had finished reading them, a practice he maintained. He read a book in about an hour, and remembered almost everything he had read, memorizing vast amounts of information in subjects ranging from history and literature, geography, and numbers to sports, music, and dates. His reading technique consisted of reading two pages at a time—the left with his left eye and the right with his right—at a rate of about 8–10 seconds per page. It is believed he could recall the content of at least 12,000 books from memory.

In 1984, screenwriter Barry Morrow met Peek in Arlington, Texas; the result of the meeting was the 1988 movie Rain Man. The character of Raymond Babbitt, although inspired by Peek, was portrayed as having autism. Dustin Hoffman, who played Babbitt, met Peek and other savants to get an understanding of their nature and to play the role accurately and methodically. The movie caused a number of requests for appearances, which increased Peek's self-confidence. Barry Morrow gave Kim his Oscar statuette to carry with him and show at these appearances; it has since been referred to as the "Most Loved Oscar Statue" as it has been held by more people than any other. Kim also enjoyed approaching strangers and showing them his talent for calendar calculations by telling them on which day of the week they were born and what news items were on the front page of major newspapers. Peek also appeared on television. He travelled with his father, who took care of him and performed many motor tasks that Peek found difficult.

Unlike many savants, Peek had shown increasing social skills, perhaps due to the attention that had come with being perceived as the "real Rain Man". His father says that his sense of humor had been emerging since 2004 or so. Also, he had developed well beyond the stage of being a mere repository of vast amounts of information; his skills at associating information he remembered were at least one of the signs of creativity. He displayed difficulty with abstractions such as interpreting the meanings of proverbs or metaphorical terms of speech.

Although never a musical prodigy, Peek's musical abilities as an adult received more notice when he started to study the piano. He apparently remembered music he had heard decades before, and could play it on the piano to the extent permitted by his limited physical dexterity. He was able to give a running commentary as he played, for example, comparing a piece to other music he had heard. Listening to recordings, he could distinguish which instruments played which part and was adept at guessing the composers of new music by comparing the work to the many thousands of samples in his memory.

In 2004, Peek met Daniel Tammet (see other video, referenced in this post), another savant for the Brainman documentary. He hugged Tammet and said "Some day you'll be as great as I am".

A 2008 study concluded that Peek probably had FG syndrome, a rare genetic syndrome linked to the X chromosome which causes physical anomalies such as hypotonia (low muscle tone) and macrocephaly (abnormally large head). It was then that it was discovered that Peek had no corpus callosum.

Peek died of a heart attack on December 19, 2009.

(Source - Wikipedia

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