Magnus Carlsen and Death of Chess Ideas
Where have ideas gone?
With giant technological advances, human abilities are being pushed to new heights.
Magnus Carlsen, the “hero of the computer era,” has found smart ways of how to use computers to become the world’s #1. On the other hand, the top players are now those who most often play moves that chess engines would choose.
Not everything is that rosy, however. Last time we saw how, amid the rise of technologism and scientism, all criteria for giving value to things have been replaced by quantification.
Today, let us discuss another hazardous by-product of computerization – a general scarcity of ideas.
Magnus Carlsen is just few steps away from reaching 2900 rating. But how about his style of play? Even GMs term his style as dry, a little flat, no freshness in it. His play is also embarrassingly short of original ideas. In this regard, he himself is candid enough, “Flashes of true inspiration are very hard to come by… it doesn’t happen very often, at least not with me.”
It is absolutely impossible for computers to produce ideas. People who think like machines, can’t do it either.
Some say, we may be the first generation in human history going backward intellectually from advanced mode of thinking (creativity, imagination, intuition, etc.) into computer “thinking.”
Computer thinking literally means – death of ideas.
That is why we see wells of inspiration running dry as people are losing the capacity to create and follow ideas that suddenly stopped coming. There is a general decline in originality and independent thinking; there is degradation of artistic creations in all domains, while imagination is disappearing.
We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now. –Ray Bradbury, American writer
Human history is history of ideas
Not only that, ideas are critical for the survival of our civilization.
Ideas have always been the driver of things. “Ideas are weapons. And this is certainly as true in chess as in any field. The ideas form the background and foundation, while moves themselves represent actual construction” (GM Reuben Fine).
It is distinction between deep strategic thought and staying on the surface at the tactical level.
The focus nowadays is mostly on objects, particulars, not the big ideas. Ezra Pound would call it, “direct treatment of the ‘thing.'”
Here is an example to illustrate importance of ideas. Aron Nimzowitsch was a truly original thinker. His ideas, let us name just big ones ones like restraint, blockade and overprotection, have changed the way how we think and play chess. The good thing about ideas is that they may be used by many people many times. Nimzowitsch’s ideas are now used by many chess players, which raised the overall level of play. Chess history, as well as all human civilization is just a succession of paradigm shifting, big ideas that change the way we think and act in the world.
God or idol?
Back to the modern chess god, Magnus Carlsen. His rating is just a little shy of 2900. Good for him. But what do you and I get out of it? A true God is a gift giver. He should provide understanding of His Word (well, moves) and enlighten our “chess darkness,” so we all could become better chess selves. The glory of God is also beauty of His deeds.
Speaking of Carlsen as a god, do you really think that his rating only, combined with a painful shortage of ideas and little beauty in his games will bless you and me to become better players and understand and enjoy chess more? Or perhaps raise the entire game to the next level?
Whatever the case, you’d better go hunting ideas!
1. The best coach now is the computer, if you use it correctly. I doubt Carlsen has read Nimzowitsch’s books. He learns from the games he replays (GM Sosonko).
2. A study by ChessBase.com has shown that Magnus Carlsen plays more like a computer than any of his opponents.
3. Quantitatively we know more than any previous generation, yet qualitatively we know much less. Everyone knows everything, but no one is thinking about anything (Neal Gabler).
4. While average IQ has been rising with each generation, CQ, or the Creative Quotient, has actually fallen since 1990.
5. In commentaries of his games Carlsen mostly uses words like “logical,” “natural,” “computer-like,” move that “makes sense” and the like, rarely a deeper idea of what is going on on the board.