Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Fighting Words

Will at Will's Wanderings paraphrases his research professor in Scotland. Dr. Macleod said:
I don't understand people who spend their time and energy playing a chess game as a challenge; I'd much rather be trying to challenge myself by discovering something nobody else has discovered before...
Well, that certainly feels like a stinging slap in the face; so first, an emotional initial reaction: "[expletive], you arrogant academic [expletive]!" Now I feel a whole lot better. Let's try a calmer, more cogent response:

Chess is not solved and therefore there is still much to be discovered. The vast majority of games reach points not seen before, even if not in an absolute sense for a few games following theory, Ivory Toweralmost always for one or both players based their previous experience and current knowledge. OK, a very few games have both players following known theory from beginning to end, but what percentage of the total games played could this possibly be? Therefore, one must conclude that virtually every game offers the opportunity for new discoveries.

I certainly don't intend to suggest that chess discoveries are any more valuable or worthwhile than the types of discoveries that Dr. Macleod might be thinking of. And I suppose if he is thinking about things like the discovery of penicillin then the positive societal impact of enhanced chess knowledge can hardly compare. Nevertheless, from a purely academic perspective, I see no basis for suggesting that his chosen subject for investigation is a priori superior to the pursuit of chess knowledge.

Though I'm sure it's less fun (to a chessplayer, anyway)!

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