Art vs Science

Creativity, logic, and why we need both in our Chess.

Chess is an art and a science.

Chess has the beauty, the virtuosic feeling of an art.

But it’s also the realm of pure logic.

It’s like music in that way.

Beautiful, expressive, but rooted in mathematics.

And, like music, there are people who treat Chess more as an art or more as a science.

Take a second and consider where on that spectrum you place the game of Chess?

Art or science?

Wherever we place it, we understand that Chess is a dance between these two ideas.

There’s a story that Jack White, one half of the White Stripes, tells in the heaven-for-guitar-nerds film, “It Might Get Loud“.

It’s about the creation of the iconic song, Seven Nation Army.

He said he came up with the riff one day while on tour, and something about it jumped out at him.

Excitedly, he showed his friend who replied, “It’s all right, I suppose.”

Jack got a little defensive about his new riff.

He thought, “No, there’s something here. You don’t see it yet, but there’s something here.”

And he held protectively to this riff, exploring it until it finally became the song we all know.

That’s the way an artist approaches their art.

An artist doesn’t look for what’s wrong with their idea. They sense the beginning of something that could be great, and they push forward.

Sometimes their idea works and sometimes it doesn’t. But they push forward nonetheless.

They’re driven by that thought: “There’s something here.”

How often does that thought occur to you over the Chessboard?

That thought of “There MUST be something here.”

The drive of the artist leads us to trust this thought. To push onward. To sacrifice that piece.

There MUST be something here.

But, like with art, sometimes there’s something there and sometimes there isn’t.

Sometimes the artist in us rushes forward. They don’t notice until it’s too late that our opponent’s defenses will hold.

Sometimes the artist in us gets excited and disregards the reasons why the idea might not work.

They get tunnel vision and miss obvious things.

An artist isn’t interested in why their idea might not work. They want to try it and see for themselves.

Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not.

The scientist in us operates differently.

When the scientist has an idea, they approach it in the opposite way.

To a scientist, an idea is only good if they cannot prove it wrong.

They will spend months, years, even decades looking for the holes in their theories.

Where are they wrong? What do they need to change?

If they find any holes in their theory that they cannot explain, they throw the whole theory out.

If there’s a hole in the theory, it’s useless to the scientist.

It’s time to find a new theory.

And they’ll take as long as they need to work that out.

We each have both of these forces in us.

The artist in us would sacrifice all our pieces for a checkmate that MIGHT happen.

The scientist in us would use all our time by move 10, trying to account for every possibility.

We’re stronger players when we recognize these two forces in us.

We’re stronger players when we give the right one power at the right time.

When you’re contemplating some massive sacrifice, take a second and put the scientist in charge.

Try to prove yourself wrong.

When you’re stuck overanalyzing your options, check in with your artist. See what they want to do.

Trust that feeling.

Both forces are important.

And to be the best players we can be, we need to help them work together.

Something to think about.

About the author

Aiden Rayner writes about how to make the adult brain better at Chess. Using science-backed insights, he works to change the narratives around adult improvement, and help adults discover the power of their Chess brains.

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