Category Archives: Blog

Under this category, I collect different articles that are supposed to be better developed ideas

What makes Covid-19 relative? Social Relativity (Thesis 1)

As we can observe in China, New Zealand, Vietnam or Australia, Covid-19 is a disease that could be quickly contained with the correct individual actions and disease prevention measures. The outbreak of Covid-19 must therefore more so related to our current form of social living and communication of Covid-19 as I discussed in my last article. Covid-19 is therefore a phenomenon relative to our form of communication and society. In this article, I discuss the relativity of Corona that is related to our binary constitution of society and media communication:

  • 1. Thesis: Corona is relative.

    Explanation: Corona locates right between being a very dangerous disease and a harmless cough (also relative to specific individuals). Both positions, independent from which one is true, are defended with selective evidence and relate to the new complexity that social media mass communication has initiated.
    • In the New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci writes on the risk of Covid-19: “This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.” In other words, the risk should not be exaggerated.
    • The ambiguity of Covid-19, however, does not substantiate the claim that it is part of our normal life-risk (the chance of death is 1 to 1000). The chance of dying in a car crash, for example, is much lower (in most states lower than 1 to 10000 (Source: Thrillist.com)
    • Ambiguity-intolerance reveals itself as neglecting the relativist nature of knowledge. Capitalists and anti-capitalists, cultural optimists and pessimists, progress-deniers and progress-proponents utilize their science to emphasize what they perceive as clear answers. In addition, it seems that viral media only allow for binary communication.
    • As a result, the discussions center around rather useless binary questions of whether we should wear masks or whether Bill Gates is the head of a vaccination conspiracy. Of course, any possibility of limiting  the outbreak should be seriously considered. However, the mask question was politicized as a marker of political difference. In Republican terms, it stands for the freedom to die and for the absence of evidence. In other words, it stands for Democratic silliness. In Democratic terms, it stands for the cruelty and absence of empathy, as well as it stands for the denial of scientific evidence. In the words of a Democrat, Republican are cold-hearted and silly. In this climate, Democrats tend to perceive themselves to be the returning Jedi to slay the Emperor and his Sith-lords.
      • The thesis of the excellent podcast “You are not so smart” is that anything can be politicized. The podcast therefore depicts the current discussion as a result of tribal psychology. According to the podcast, the discussion became a question of “us versus them” which is particularly part of the American psychology. The podcast also argues that the question of masks became a marker for distinguishing Democrats from Republicans. It is not a matter of science, but a matter of political sympathies (Note on Masks and Evidence).

In comparison and far from the dilemma of political debate, China has established suitable living conditions already at the beginning of June. In September, it began opening its universities without any significant events. Given the freedom, I currently enjoy in China, it is not a political question but simple pragmatism.

Why is Covid-19 the Symptom of a Diseased Democracy?

2020 was, as meme-culture ironically metaphorized, an apocalyptic seizure. Of course, compared with the centuries of slaughter and plagues preceding it, this is obviously a dramatization. Yet, it hints at a substantial problem: emerging from a great tectonic shift in the geography of our media, 2020 revealed how Social Media Warriors have seized the means of crises production, finally mastered the “art of exaggeration” (Sloterdijk) and began producing minor earthquakes shaking its social media landscape (including a social media hype in Gamestop and Dogecoin).

Meme-Culture and Covid-19

Funny-Jokes-2020
The meme displays how social media manipulates our perception of catastrophes.
Funny-Jokes-2020
The meme demonstrates that trauma depend less on the real event but are rather an existential condition. Our mental constitution might searches for something to hurt itself
  • The democratic occupation of society’s communication hubs has overloaded the power-circuits of our knowledge distributers. Yet, with the new free market overrun by opinionators, the major question became how to define knowledge. Twittrepeneurs and podcasters have destroyed the classic transmitters that once infused knowledge into the social body. Moreover, they have partly replaced knowledge of experience with self-referential knowledge–knowledge that grounds itself by being cited often enough.
  • The new power energized the power-play of politics. The fourth pillar of the state is now distorted by an anonymous lump of quasi-professional, well connected opinionators interested in disruption for social media attention. Pseudo-knowledge-production is power. It’s internal motivator is mere growth.
  • Though Obama’s presidency changed little, it stood at the forefront of this fundamental change (in 2008, before he was elected president, Obama was honored as the advertiser of the year, beating apple, and following the Nintendo Video Game System; see Note on Obama). It began with Obama’s social media voters’ acquisition, until Trump allegedly built the social media “bomb”.
  • Of course, this factoid of Trump benefiting from Cambridge Analytica was designed by similar rules of exaggeration. Yet, while most twittrepeneurs hope to be an epi-center of social media earthquakes to promote their version of identity, Trumps’ unshakable ego has become the earthquake weapon in a land of free and cheaply transmittable speech. Thus, after 4 years, 2020 was the season’s finale in a new yet powerful series called A Social Media Democracy. Yet, this finale was not, as many assume, a live-lesson about immune-systems in the bodies of the living individuals. More so it was a seminar on dysfunctional immune systems. It was about a democratic body infected through social media outlets by memes.
  • It was not Obama who changed the world, but it was the invention of the smartphone in 2008. On the one hand, it flattened the competitive ground for countries without a strong industrial sector by reducing investment-costs. New population could suddenly participate in the new forms of virtual goods production for comparatively cheap costs. The high technological density of smartphones (containing alarm-clocks, calculators, video-recorders, TVs etc) enabled anyone to participate in the modern economy with a single device. China’s wealth is grounded by the of 1.3 billion people suddenly being connected to the world through such a device.
  • On the other hand, an idea could now spread like a virus from any corner of the world. Coinciding with the production of attention-drugs (the infinite news-scroll-screen), memes became a lucrative market for viral opinionators and their shit-storm-marketeering. As excrements were often a source of disease and infections in previous centuries, and since the infrastructure of social media was not built for all the outcomes that humans naturally produce, memes were the new viruses spreading. A climate change towards viral shit-storms is the newest political ingredient. Trump has mastered that game.
  • Maybe, the formation of the flat-earth movement was a subtle warning sign, like a cough or a runny nose. Maybe, it was a hint we needed some immunity boosters; that we were in need of establishing some functional immunity infra-structure. While before theories of BigFoot and Ufos only gained distribution by inefficient channels, the addictiveness of social media in everyone’s hands increased their R-value dramatically. The smartphone is a mass-tool for mass-mezmorizing and recruiting soft-brained soldiers. Most of their spreaded viruses are tolerable (one just has to think of the BTS-Army, Justin Bieber, Gangnam-Style), yet, it was only a matter of time until a virus would occur that would test our democratic body and turn into a significant disease. Who would have thought that the result of this climate change could be a real virus?
  • A virus is an empty form that only utilizes the mechanisms of another body. The virus itself has no purpose. In this sense, successful opinionators like viruses produce memes that utilize the means of another system. They have no clear intention. Their production becomes self-referential, only producing what is given within their systems. An opinionator like a virus spreads a form and not content or better said the form is its content.
  • In the past, the Chinese system unified its concert of social media voices, while the Western democracies failed to respond with a functional immune system. Here, the freedom of bullshit-production is the ideal ground for viruses to flourish.
  • Blind reproduction precedes, ideology follows (Note on GPT-3 and blockchain-technology to control fake-news). 2020 was therefore not the year of the Corona-virus, rather it was the year in which a democracy paralyzed itself. The significance of Corona lies in its visualization of underlying democratic problems. With regard to the effective management of a life-threatening disease, it makes Eastern and Western democracies comparable and initiates a new competition with regard to knowledge and pseudo-knowledge.

I have compiled 10 Thesis on the Corona-Virus:

1.Thesis: Corona is relative

Three-Bullets – Newsletter from Norman Schultz

In this newsletter-series I report three thoughts, ideas, stories or events that have happened in the recent 2 weeks. I will talk about my philosophy, my writing, my teaching and my photography. I want to keep my friends updated on what is going on in my life and hope that some people will help me and give me more insights and expand my thoughts.

1. Pictures

For weeks now, we wanted to start a Weibo-Account (chinesisches Twitter). Since I am, however, a sloth, we only got more and more models but nothing else going.

At least, I posted some of these pictures on one of my Instagram channels. I learned that I have to focus on objects and storytelling.

https://www.instagram.com/norman_schultz/

2. Learning

Three elements that I taught in my linguistics classes:

2.1 Storytelling

Story-telling is a central part of the English language and a human expression. One of the most impressive examples of an effective story comes from Hemingway:

“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never worn”

Six-word-stories became on own art (http://www.sixwordstories.net) and so I asked my students to produce stories themselves. One student found this very simple one:


Strangers, Friends, Best Friends, Lovers, Strangers.

Simple, but a good story. Yet, is it plagarized? The story can be found multiple times on the internet. Nevertheless, the question will be what we will consider as plagiarism in the future when AI will mass-produce all kinds of high quality texts.

2.2 GPT-3 – A New AI that Revolutionizes Text Production

In our class, we discussed GPT-3, a new astonishing program that can produce human-like articles. For linguistic majors, it is important to deal with such future technologies, especially since the quality of GPT-3 will question our core-abilities regarding language-use. Unfortunately for most average students, the AI writes better essays than them.

For our class, students had therefore to evaluate the quality of an AI-generated text without knowing that it was written by GPT-3. Here you can find the text examples:

Students evaluated the quality of the stories and essays as excellent. Given the current quality of AI-generated texts and considering the fact that AI will not develop backwards, it is clear that the internet will soon be flooded with marketing texts that will have a very high and entertaining level. Students will have to define their linguistic qualifications with regard to these inventions.

2.3. Sales Language

AI will support sales tasks in the future. In order to prepare students for such tasks, I used clips from Jordan Belfort. We watched the famous “sell-me-this-pen” scene from Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wallstreet”:

We also used an interview, in which Belfort explains how you actually sell a pen:

I then copied ridiculous products from the internet that students had to sell to me. Here are some examples.

As their “customer” I noticed how much customer-focused approaches impacted me. Many students attempted to sell their product by emphasizing further and further qualities, which I was quite uninterested in. Students who, however, attempted to sell their product to me while inquiring me were particular successful. I learned that customer orientation might be most important.

3. Three Ideas

In this section, I would like to present three ideas that crossed my mind and which are worth to be thought out on a deeper level at some point. Maybe someone wants to pick them up and develop them further.

3.1 Copyright Issues and Knowledge

Medlife-Crisis introduces the platform Sci-Hub, which is a great way to break through the paywall for non-academics and to gain free knowledge that would be reserved otherwise to members of top-universities. Of course, this platform is illegal. Thus, it is impressive that the founder of this platform sustains all attempts of suing her out of the market and is even willing to give interviews. She is, indeed, an impressive woman to whom knowledge is more important than money.

In general, the channel Medlife Crisis gives interesting ironic insights into the daily life of a sarcastic, dry-humored cardiologist.

3.2 Learning as Meditation

  • In current societies, learning has become a measure of success and we are exposed to a constant pressure of extensive self-transformation. The new economy focuses on our creative resources and thus it increased in exploiting our humanity. But not only as a “creative”, but also as a costumer, the self is mined for its attention and its transformability. Foucault called us therefore docile bodies, while the produced soul becomes the prison of the body.
  • As a consequence, learning serves these external purposes of transforming us into costumers and creatives. Learning does not help to develop into who we are, but into who we have to be in terms of an attention economy.
  • We got trapped in a self-improvement mill.
  • Yet, If everybody stands on his toes nobody sees more. We do not cooperate, we compete. Learning and intelligence have become means in order to oppress less gifted and less diligent individuals.

3.3 Focusing on Intrinsic Motivation

  • The current society pushes us to learn for for societal success, an external factor. We should not learn for external purposes since learning is our nature. There are some studies from Westpoint on internal and external motivation (One type of motivation may be key to success) that prove this point. 1300 young men and women enter the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, while only about 1000 of them graduate. Candidates who had an internal focus, succeeded 20% more likely. Nevertheless, also mixed motivations had a lesser chance for success.

Adam Grant concludes

The study “reveals that intrinsic motivation is powerful, but it is also fragile,” says Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Even when West Point cadets found their work interesting and meaningful, if they were also strongly motivated by extrinsic rewards,” such as a good salary or the respect of their peers, “they were less likely to complete their studies, continue their service, and get promoted early.” This creates a paradox for ambitious people. If achieving a goal strikes you as having many benefits beyond the goal itself, but you care too much about those added benefits, you are more likely to fail.

The studies above indicate learning should not be outcome-oriented but seen as a positive way of living. Maybe, in this way learning is about experiences and the skill to become somebody in relation to others. It is about experience something as an external truth to blind other outer influences and to solely concentrate on one aspect. It might reduce might-wandering and make us thus happier. Learning should be like a meditation:

An interesting recommendation on this aspect is Waitzkin: The Art of Learning. In the following, you can find a good summary of his book.

Three Questions for Summary

  1. What can learning be in a time it has been utilized economically, and has become the constant pressure for individuals to change themselves?
  2. How to adress the future of writing with GPT-3 at the horizon?
  3. How to effectively develop my photography and social media accounts?

I am Tetris-Ready – 10 Thesis about Tetris

  • 1991, a kid named Thor had become Nintendo-World-Champion. Instantly famous among young gaming-nerds, at the height of his success, he just vanished.
  • 2011, the first Tetris-World-Champion will be crowned in Portland. 20 years later, Thor has become a myth–a kid who allegedly made it once beyond the so-called kill-screen of Tetris.
  • The kill-screen is level 29, in which the stones just fall too fast for human players. Only Thor who employed a back-then secret technique called “hyper-tapping” could, according to the legend, master the level.
  • For the Tetris-World-Championship, Thor reappeared. The result is a great documentary:

10 Thesis about Tetris

1. Thesis: Tetris is a Zen-Meditation on life

Argument: The gaming principle of Tetris rests on the recombination of square blocks that build different shapes called Tetrominos. These essential shapes have to be stacked efficiently.
Tetris thus represents how from simple structures very complex structures can arise and build the foundation for a particular universe (see also Stephen Wolfram and his famous Wolfram-Principle). In other words, Tetris is a simple meditation on atomized form in its relation to complexity. It resembles zen-meditations on simplicity, while we focus only on forms without content. It stands for a simplified and minimalist mind.

2. Thesis: Tetris is an addictive drug

In its simplicity, Tetris is a game without a plot and without awesome graphics. It was successful because Tetris “supercharges your cerebral glucose metabolic rate.” Your brain will “burn energy on an hyperactive speed”. Throwing a line-piece into a self-constructed tetris-ready structure (Boom!!!) results in the Zeigarnic-effect. It means that completing simple tasks will give you the constant sense of achievement, while the solution is represented as the unfinished tasks. Of course, when the first rush is over, your brain will crave the original moment.

Tetris is therefore the fulfillment of a capitalist dream. It hacks the brain and thus became one of the most successful games in history.

3. Thesis: Tetris can replace other drugs

Playing Tetris for three minutes can reduce your craving for drugs, food and sex.

“The research was published in the Addictive Behaviors journal, where 31 participants were asked to text message seven times each day to prepare a report of any cravings they were feeling. Half of the participants were asked to then play Tetris for three minutes before reporting their craving strength again. In the end of the research, it was found that Playing Tetris can help one avoid gluttonous desires and reducing cravings by one-fifth.” (Source)

According to the study it is “the first demonstration that visual cognitive interference can be used in the field to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating” (Study)

4. Thesis: Tetris is medication

Because of its mind-clearing effects , Tetris is more and more recognized as a “pharmatronic”, “a kind of electronic drug” (Washington Post). Some envision Tetris as a therapy utilized in ERs: “A hospital ER could be equipped with computer terminals (or Nintendo DSs) with Tetris on them, with one possible treatment for psychological trauma victims being an emergency “course” of Tetris.” (psychcentral) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5008913/

“We showed that intrusive memories were virtually abolished by playing the computer game Tetris following memory reactivation,” wrote the research team from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Oxford and Cambridge universities, and the Karolinska Institute of Sweden. https://www.ptsdjournal.com/posts/tetris/

5. Thesis: Tetris is a Learning Instrument

Tetris has positive effects on learning since it “thickens the brain’s cortex and can contribute to greater cognitive efficiency” (MC Research Notes, link to study here). According to the study, 26 teenage girls played Tetris for 30 minutes a day over three months. It showed thickening of three brain regions, while there were no changes in the brains of girls who did not play Tetris. So what does that mean? Is Tetris a tool where we get better in playing Tetris or a tool by which we improve overall?

At least Tetris teaches delayed gratification. You do not just burn lines, you carefully build structures that shall be destroyed with a line piece.

6. Thesis: Tetris was an economical Weapon

“The Soviets almost won the Cold War with Tetris: “In the late ’80s, when home computers weren’t as common as now, many people played the game at work, and early versions included a “boss button” that replaced the screen with a fake spreadsheet. Some said it sapped so much capitalist productivity, it amounted to an early Soviet cyberattack on America” (Washington Post). Now, it transcends the Western-Eastern barrier with players from all continents.

7. Thesis: Tetris is Russian art and a little bit of Russia in all of us

8. Thesis: Tetris expresses our desire for perfection.

The desire to play Tetris lies in the idea of its perfection and control. A Tetris master would play forever and control its nature. But the master herself is nature and if he controls her own nature, she is not fully in control since she is controlled. Tetris is the illusion that a pure mastery is ideally possible.

If you play Tetris intensively and over longer periods of time, you will dream of it and see these shapes in your everyday-life everywhere. This mind-altering effect is known as the Tetris-effect. But maybe it is an attempt of the brain to reveal another ideal truth of our environment?

The essence of Tetris lies in its illusion of freedom.

9. Thesis: Tetris teaches us that mistakes will remain while achievements disappear

In other words, Tetris is for losers. Given that the stones fall down randomly, you eventually will lose since some stone combinations will force inevitable holes in your structure. In this sense, Tetris is no game for eternity or afterlife. It is also not about perfection but expresses the ending capacity of life.

Instead of perfection, Tetris resembles life. It is based on a random combination of molecules.

What is breaking Tetris? It is the so-called snake-sequence, an s- and a z-piece back to back. The chance of being snake-bitten is 1 in 347. So “how to lose on Tetris”? On average it takes 70.000 turns when playing only with alternating s and z pieces.

10. Thesis: Tetris resembles the cruelty of life. Though life is generally okay, it all depends on the Tetris-God

The following videos lead deeper into the Tetris universe.

Tetris Explained introduces into the problems and difficulties in relation to the 2018 world-championship. It is the best video for understanding the current Tetris-hype.

Tetris exists for more than three decades. Since the first Championship Jonas Neubauer has become 7 times Tetris-World-Champion. One might assume that there cannot be much that will happen. However, in 2018 a shift in playing styles occurred that altered the game and made it even more competitive.

Even though multiple players have beaten the kill screen by now, the myth of Thor is demystified by him finally delivering a video of hitting level 30.

This video is another good explanation and it is also interesting because also works on one of my favorite channels “Film Theory”.

If you want to understand the art of Tetris, it will certainly be helpful to watch Jonas Neubauer the 7 out of 10 Tetris World-champion (The Michael Jordan of Tetris) teaching Tetris to a rookie.

In general, it is also interesting to watch crazy playing skills.

Brain Craft is a great channel that dives into different aspect of game design and the gaming industry.

Another video from Brain Craft explains why Tetris is so addictive.

In this video Neubauer learns how to drum in 40 minutes. It is only slightly related to Tetris but interesting.

All Text’s that I read on this topic

Brain Drain through Smartphones – Smartphones as attention grabers

TASKS

PICTURE

Questions:

  1. What is the impact of smartphone on our cognitive ability?
  2. How much is smartphone use a question of self-control?
  3. What is the effect of self-control on our cognitive ability?

“We all understand the joys of our always-wired world—the connections, the validations, the laughs … the info. … But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs.”

Andrew Sullivan (2016)

Despite the tremendous, global revolution that smartphones have initiated economically, its invisible force controls and shapes our social relations. It constantly connects us to “to faraway friends”and thus creates a universal field of social reliability and distraction that “may undermine [our] performance”. The “phantom vibration syndrome” only indicates the new problems we are facing (QUELLE).

The forces smartphones exert on us are not actively established, but are a silent pressure that we cannot escape. They operate anonymously at any time by virtue of the complete transformation of our social surroundings. While personal computers are localized workstations, smartphones are transportable and therefore with us. The smartphone as a universal tool for almost any activity penetrates almost any moment of our everyday life, our social activities and our privacy. It is therefore nearly impossible to create a free space of relaxation independent of social and work-related stress.

Smartphone-users “interact with their phones an average of 85 times a day, including immediately upon waking up, just before going to sleep, and even in the middle of the night (Perlow 2012; Andrews et al. 2015; dscout 2016).”

Moreover, smartphones initiate a trend of exploiting us as a creative resource. We are mined for our attention and constant participation in semi-commercial and semi-social market. Our creativity, once source of relaxation, is now a manageable source of recognition within the net of social relations. The force driving this exploitation is, of course, the goal of providing services and sell products. Practically, however, it is a competition for attention. The more attention we give our phones, the more likely we will be a customer.

Gaining independence from smartphones is particularly difficult in China where the whole social life is built around smartphones. Metro-tickets have to be validated with smartphones, payments are processed via smartphones, sometimes you even identify yourself with your smartphone. This trend will probably be extended.

There are many additional negative impact factors of smartphone:

Smartphones and Learning

The thesis is that smartphone impacts processes of learning negatively.

“attentional cost of receiving cellphone notifications indicates that awareness of a missed text message or call impairs performance on tasks requiring sustained attention”

Since learning is a deep state of meditation, an innate capability of intense concentration, smartphones impact these capabilities of retreat. Learning is in a sense an asocial function. It means to retreat from the society for a moment just in order to return in an improved state. If extroversion means connectedness to all of one’s surrounding, then introversion is the opposite and probably comparable to its extreme, i.e., sleep and absense. Learning can be reconstructed as an aspect of introversion. For this article, I will therefore look at the smartphone-induced braindrain. We might call it Smartphone-induced ADHS (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrom).

How do smartphones interfere with our processes of knowledge?

In general, we can say that our attentional resources are limited. For example, our working memory “supports complex cognition by actively selecting, maintaining, and processing information relevant to current tasks and/or goals”. The mind in terms of a computer metaphor makes understandable how smartphones can distract. If the smartphone is close our working memory is not empty. Our automatic attention will be constantly redirected to our phones.

“Automatic attention generally helps individuals make the most of their limited cognitive capacity by directing attention to frequently goal-relevant stimuli without requiring these goals to be constantly kept in mind.”

Smartphones capture our automatic attention and thereby diminish our working memory. Fatigue occurs faster.

How is this hypothesis tested in an experimen?

Thesis: Smartphone users fluid intelligence but also their working memory is tied to their devices.

Study-Design:

520 university students with the task of solving tests in mathematics, memory and reasoning, while smartphones were placed on their desks, in their bags or in another room. Alerts had to be turned off.

PICTURE

Results: Smartphones reduce people’s intelligence and attention spans

Remarkable: If the phones were on the desk, students scored 10 percent lower compared to phones being stored in another room. If the phones were further out of sight (for example, in their pockets or their bags), they scored only slightly better than when phones were placed on desks. The effect was measurable even when the phones were switched off.

Possible explanations

Smartphones seem to effect us even if they are “Consistent with this position, research indicates that signals from one’s own phone (but not someone else’s) activate the same involuntary attention system that responds to the sound of one’s own name (Roye, Jacobsen, and Schröger 2007).”

“Even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention – as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones – the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capability.”

Conclusions

Self-control with respect to smartphones demands our attention and thus occupies working memory, which overall makes us perform worse. The best solution is to remove phones from our workplaces and if possible even maintain an internet-free work environment.

Considering that our output will be decreased by 10 percent, we can see how this will impact us in the long-run significantly due to compound effects.

“Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”

We suffer from our devices:

“those who depend most on their devices suffer the most from their salience, and benefit the most from their absence.”

How the Internet has improved Chess

This article addresses, discusses or answers the following questions:

  1. In general, does the internet mean progress or regress for our society?
  2. How is chess an example for improved learning in the internet?
  3. What is a Grandmaster in chess and why did their number inflate?
  4. What are the major internet chess channels?
  5. Where to find the World Champion Carlsen
  6. What are the best educational channels (Agadmator, Smirnov and Finegold)?
  7. What elements are there to be learned in chess?
  8. How to separate fun and learning?

Because of the commonly felt cultural digress, many people have expressed disbelief in the internet. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all framed as tools that dumb down society. In fact, many recent studies show that smartphones and I-pads reduce the intelligence of the younger generations (for scientific resources see my notes on the impact of smartphones). Nevertheless, in my view, the usefulness of the internet depends on the user. In recent years, for example, the number of young grand-masters has increased (see further down below) and also the theory of chess advanced. In this article I will argue that this is because the access to high quality content was made possible by the internet.

Interesting Fact: Contrary to the achievements of recent years, Donald Trump claimed in 2016 that the US has no grand-masters in chess anymore. Motivated by a general fear that the USA is recently not winning, he produced this misleading statement (see also the problem with lies and misleading statements).

The facts are different: “Currently, the United States has 90 grand-masters, counting both men and women.” While “Russia, a longtime chess powerhouse, ranks first with 234 grand-masters,” the US is third in chess. As a German, it is interesting that “Germany ranks second with 91, just one more [grand-master] than the United States”. Overall, there are about 1300 grand-masters around the world (source: wikipedia).

How strong is a Grandmaster (GM)?

In terms of the distribution we can say that a chess master belongs to the top 2 percent of all tournament players, while a GM belongs to the top 0.02 percent.

Why did the Number of Grandmasters inflate?

1972 there were 88 GMs in the world. Is it easier to become a GM now? There are some factors that we have to consider: worldwide and cheaper air travel made “chess more accessible to globe-trotting chess professionals”. Today players of the former Soviet Union enjoy the freedom of movement compared to the 1990s ( see chess.com). Moreover, there are more tournaments. All of this means that there are more opportunities to fulfill so-called GM-norms. Nevertheless, before Grand-masters were considered as serious contenders for the world-championship. For that reason, Nigel Short has suggested that we should introduce the title of Elite Grand-master.

But did Grand-masters become better?

I recently talked with an older acquaintance. He denied any of my statements for why the internet is helping us in research. His major argument was that their generation also produced quality articles and research back then. They only needed a bit more time to find the adequate resources. I consider this view as naive. For their time, they obviously produced well done research, but while technology was progressing, knowledge of chess improved. Especially, the quick access to research data is key for improvement. So my claim is that the inflation of Grand-masters can be explained by our access to more knowledge in chess in a shorter period of time.

When I once wanted to find reliable chess books in the Pittsburgh Public Library, I could only find books that were more than 20 years and older. The beginner’s books they offered were hopelessly superficial and some didn’t even have a modern notation. They were so old-fashioned that not even older friends knew their forgotten form of chess notation.

We could argue that the content of these books is still valuable. Of course, it is true that I can still learn a lot from a Grand-master of that time, but new books have tremendously improved with regard to their didactic qualities and also with regard to the specificity of content. They press more content on a smaller amount of pages and make it more understandable, at the same time. Overall, it just saves me time for approaching modern chess theory today.

Another factor is that search-fatigue induced by library-rides with a particular purpose is tremendous and though it might not weigh highly for one book, 20 searches daily on the internet cannot be accomplished with 20 library rides. We have to take into account that equally to the stock-market a 5 percent interest rate pays off tremendously in the long-run. Speeding up the process of research is key. For my field of publication (philosophy), I can say that articles nowadays have tremendously improved compared with articles from 20 years ago. So while there was a lot of mental energy wasted on older formats, it is now about a couple of clicks.

How can we enhance our chess skills today?

I wish in my youth when I used to play chess, I could have watched a classical-, rapid-, and Blitz-world-champion coming out of the shower and sharing his expert knowledge on bananas with me.

One could argue that focusing on these banal, human surroundings of chess does not improve our knowledge of chess. Yet, it motivates to dive deeper into the knowledge that chess can offer. Of course, Carlsen also instructs us with more educational videos. In my youth, I was so thirsty for little hints from the current world-champion. Today, I can consume them on a daily basis. More than this, there are many channels that give you valuable lessons that merely focus on education. In the following paragraphs, I would like to give you a list of my favorite resources for education and entertainment that we can approach in chess nowadays.

Watch an American bullet-chess-legend solving Puzzle Rush

The probably more entertaining and insightful videos are streamed by Hikaru Nakamura, former Number 2 of the world and Bullet-Chess-Legend. Here are some of my Top-Five-Videos from Nakamura.

  1. One of the most interesting videos is on Nakamura’s attempts to solve Puzzle-Rush. In Puzzle-Rush you are constantly presented with new puzzles. You have 5 minutes to solve as many puzzles as possible. Nakamura’s vision in solving these puzzles is astonishing and easily demonstrates the difference between a SuperGM and an average player. Sometimes, it is unbelievable that he can recognize a position that quickly.

2. The second amazing video is watching Nakamura playing Bullet Chess. In a so-called speed-run, he starts with a rating of 1200 rating-points and tries to develop as quickly as possible until he reaches a super-GM rating of 3000 (each time you win, you gain points from your opponent based on the probability of how likely it was that you beat her).

3. Beyond standard chess, Nakamura also plays matches with disadvantages and unusual material. In the following video, he has to beat his opponent with 8 knights.

4. No Nakamura is not always nice. In his match with Danya, he shows some nerves and complains about his opponent though he also has proven to to be not always the fairest player. Still it is interesting to watch two GMs hyperbulleting against each other (each player has only 30 seconds).

5. Besides these fun games, it is also interesting to see how Nakamura analyzes a game between the strongest chess engines there are (Stockfish against AlphaZero).

All of these examples are not necessarily teaching us the depths of chess, but channels as Agadmator reveal in-depth-analysis of chess-positions. Agadmators initial “hello everyone” is known by everyone, even though he is not in the Top of the world chess players. In the following video, we can see how Agadmator (as better average player) loses against Carlsen in an alternate game of Chess.

Agadmator’s analysis of the games of AlphaZero are probably some of his best analyses.

Agadmator’s shows are short but always give insight in the history of chess and some interesting points of analysis. Now, you might say, however, this is like watching somebody in the Gym doing a workout. Well, as always, it is a bit up to you. On Chess.com you can make good friends in order to improve. It is also up to you how good you are in maintaining social relationships via the internet. Besides this, however, for more systematic studies you can also watch the humorous Ben Finegold. In his beginner’s lessons, you learn the basics.

Of course, you can also pimp your opening knowledge. The Ginger GM has many lectures on the managable London System

Opening knowledge is not everything. Who wants to systematically study with good didactics might want to search for GM Smirnov

 In in all these senses, the internet helps you but it depends on you how you use your Youtube-Channel. If you use your channel for sharing beauty secrets and studying the art of looking better you might fall behind and identify yourself with people becoming a merely superficial surface of who they want to be. If get into this question, you will get occupied with people who are constantly discussing this question and thus they will establish certain norms. In this context, it is often claimed that we are the average of the 5 people who are closest to us, but in fact it is even worse (see my notes on the influence of social networks): you are the average of all your broader networks of friends. Nowadays, we might expand this theory to the question of the internet and our social contacts. How much does your facebook-network determine your personality?

What is the take-away from this article? If you ask yourself the following questions, it might increase your learning curve:

  1. Does the internet mean progress or regress for our society?
  2. What can you learn in the internet?
  3. What can we learn in the internet with respect to chess?
  4. How did chess progress with the rise of the internet?
  5. Who are Carlsen, Nakamura, Agadmator, Smirnov and Finegold
  6. How Grand-masters are there?
  7. Did the number inflate?
  8. How strong is a Grand-master?
  9. Are we the average of the 5 people who are closest to us?