Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jonah Lehrer on Chess and Expertise

Jonah Lehrer, who often writes on choice and decision making (from How We Decide to "Don't," mentioned here previously), has a great recent blog post on Carlsen and "Chess Intuition," in which he has some interesting things to say about what we mean by expertise:

Although we tend to think of experts as being weighted down by information, their intelligence dependent on a vast set of facts, experts are actually profoundly intuitive. When experts evaluate a situation, they don't systematically compare all the available options or consciously analyze the relevant information. Carlsen, for instance, doesn't compute the probabilities of winning if he moves his rook to the left rather than the right. Instead, experts naturally depend on the emotions generated by their experience. Their prediction errors - all those mistakes they made in the past - have been translated into useful knowledge, which allows them to tap into a set of accurate feelings they can't begin to explain. Neils Bohr said it best: an expert is "a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field." From the perspective of the brain, Bohr was absolutely right.

And this is why we shouldn't be surprised that a chess prodigy raised on chess computer programs would be even more intuitive than traditional grandmasters. The software allows him to play more chess, which allows him to make more mistakes, which allows him to accumulate experience at a prodigious pace.

Who was it who said that you have to lose thousands of chess games before you become an expert? Hat tip: Chess Vibes

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