Re: Chess and Go study

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sat Dec 14 2002 - 16:16:32 MST

Ben Goertzel wrote:
>>>> "The board games chess and GO take practice, not intellect, brain
>>>> scans of players suggest. Intelligence areas appear inactive
>>>> when people puzzle over game strategy."
> This has just *got* to be rubbish!

No, it's bad pop-science reporting of something which may or may not be
rubbish. The point at which I started laughing was:

"Chess is considered one of the most mentally taxing of pursuits. And the
Chinese game GO, in which players use stones to ring-fence territory on a
grid, is thought to be on a cerebral par."

Go *on a par* with chess? Yeah, right.

> Two things immediately occur to me:
> 1) Gee, I guess we don't have that fine-grained an understanding of
> where the "intelligence areas" are yet.

But the reporter doesn't know that. I think it's possible to tell, from
the reporter's article, that someone did an investigation involving the
g-factor, chess and Go, and (possibly) some kind of neuroimaging, and that
the result of this investigation was that the researchers didn't find a
correlation they expected to find. I've never heard of a link between
g-factor and the activation of specific brain areas under functional
neuroimaging, and it's hard to see what kind of link could possibly be
established. So my guess is that the original research involved
tests of the correlation between g-factor and Chess/go ability, possibly
*within* ranked players rather than between players and non-players.
(After all, testing ranked players relative to the rest of the population
might merely uncover the fact that, e.g., only intellectually oriented
people tend to gravitate to chess or Go.) I'm not clear where the
neuroimaging would come in, or even whether there was any neuroimaging at
all or just the reporter imagining things, but my guess is that if
neuroimaging was done, it failed to light some areas that light during
g-factor tests, or else it simply showed lateralization and had nothing to
do with the g-factor part of the study.

Alternatively the original study may have only involved neuroimaging,
which failed to show as much lighting of the prefrontal cortex as the
researchers expected, and everything else is the reporter's invention.
It's hard to see why anyone would do a simultaneous study of Chess and Go
involving independent tests of g-factor AND functional neuroimaging -
offhand I'd expect it to be one or the other.

> 2) There are a lot of different aspects of intelligence. When playing
> speed chess, for instance, it might be true that not that much "deep
> thinking" activity is going on during the game. But the thinking
> activity has gone on beforehand, creating the knowledge that's being
> accessed during play. The thinking has gone on during prior games,
> during reading about chess and studying games, and unconsciously at
> various times during waking and sleep...

Incidentally, I don't find it too hard to believe that variance between
ranked Go players is not much correlated with g-factor, and that while Go
aesthetic perceptions are trained by "deep thinking", the application of
those learned aesthetics is a more specialized function.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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