What is the higher truth of chess?

Attack and defense in chess, or sports, or conflict of any sorts, are they two opposing things? or maybe just a manifestation of the same underlying reality? Of a phenomenon that concepts of both attack and defense fail to capture in its entirety? A higher property of a complex system that both attack and defense are trying to describe from two different perspectives?

Are attack and defense perhaps just two faces of the same coin?

If so, what that enigmatic emerging truth of chess, or war, or struggle is?

By grasping this truth we will widen our understanding of a complex system like chess and be able to manage it more successfully. Very importantly, to get a fuller meaning of strategy; to become a better player. But also to improve our methods of teaching and learning.

Uncovering the dual state of things in chess, or any other field of life, may enrich our cognitive toolkit and make us more productive and efficient.


Duality (from the Pinacoteca Central)

In fact, in chess, as in warfare, every problem is a duality. This is inevitable consequence of war being a two-party affair. For example, while hitting, one must guard.

What is a duality anyway? The term comes from physics. Basically, duality gives two different points of view of looking at the same object. It is not what it means in everyday language, typically two-valued black and white, true and false, east and west, etc. The physicist’s view on duality is that two very different things may be equally true. The truth seems to be like a “third way”, far more complex route to perceive and unravel the hidden higher reality.

Duality shows in many guises and it is up to us to recognize it in all its varying forms. [1][2]

Duality of Western science and Eastern philosophy

In western terms, duality can mean either existing in one of two forms (e.g. wave or particle, in quantum mechanics) or being interchangeable (e.g. points and planes, in geometry). By rigor of the Western science we may actually state four distinct aspects of duality:

1. Reciprocity (mutuality), like action and reaction as per Newton’s third law of motion.

2. Parallelism (analogy), exists between laws of different branches of physics, e.g. Fermat’s principle for optics, vs. Maupertius principle for mechanics, which is suggestive of the underlying unity of physical laws.

3. Alternative formulations, apparently unrelated to each other, yet having the same physical content, e.g. particle-wave duality of quantum mechanics.

4. Synthesis (unification), combines certain pairs of physical concepts, e.g. the Einstein’s relativity theory provides an integrated view of the space-time continuum, as opposed to the Newtonian partition of their respective foundations.

Duality of Western science and Eastern philosophy shown here as yin and yang

A conflict? Not really, Western modern science and Eastern philosophy is another example of duality aiming to explain the eternal truth of things

Eastern philosophy also recognizes the dual nature of material reality where yin and yang is an expression of this duality. But enlightenment (English term used to translate several Buddhist concepts, like bodhi, kensho and satori) is a non-dual state.

“Be in truth eternal, beyond earthly opposites”, –Bhagwat Gita

The enlightenment represents a concept of wholeness, or balance, exemplified in the Buddha’s middle way, or moderation in all things. The oscillation in the duality is balanced, not biased on one side or the other. Things are operating at the midpoint in the swing between yin and yang, from positive to negative pole (note that ‘negative’ is not bad, it is just the mirror-image of ‘positive’).

The world around us is riddled with dualities. Here are some in different domains: [3]

Domain Dual partners Note
Physics Action Reaction Newton’s third law of motion
Physics Electricity Magnetism Electromagnetism has two separate facets: electric fields and magnetic fields; expressions in one of these will have a directly analogous, or dual, expression in the other. Faraday-Maxwell law.
Physics Wave Particle The famous particle-wave duality is a central concept of quantum mechanics; it addresses inability of classical concepts like particle and wave to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.
Math Points Lines The duality between points and lines in the Cartesian plane has long been known in geometry.
Linguistics Subject Object The subject is performing the action, while the object is receiving the action
Life Psyche Physique Soul and body duality: the whole organism and each one of its parts are working together for the same purpose, to sustain life
Chinese philosophy Yin Yang Yin and yang are not opposing, but complementary forces; everything has both yin and yang aspects, as shadow cannot exist without light; either of these aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object depending on the criterion of the observation.
Chess ??? ???
Chess ??? ???

Now, let me ask you this, can you think of and name any duality in the chess domain?

This might give us an idea of the underlying unity of chess laws and perhaps that higher truth of chess we are pursuing here.

The comment section awaits your thoughts.

© 2012 iPlayoo


1. Amanda Gefter, Dualty, an article in John Brockman’s This will make you smarter, Harper Perennial, 2012.

2. Stephon H. Alexander, Duality and World Piece, ibid.

What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?  is the question John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, posed to the world’s most influential thinkers.

3. A. N. Mitra, Duality, a bridge between Physics and Philosophy? 2008


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