Monday, April 29, 2013

...and the start of a discussion

The previous post War against entropy, initiated a conversation in fb and g+ (facebook and google+) about chess composition. I post here the first comments because I believe they are useful to composers.

Steven Dowd (fb, 22-Apr-2013 19:04) : Thank you for this. We need more of these sorts of essays in problem chess, although I am unsure how well the modeling of a physical law fits problem chess. Like Reinhard Zaiser, I tend to believe that chess problems are an attempt of the human mind to provide meaning in what appears to be a meaningless world. (sorry if I misquote you Reinhard!)

Emmanuel Manolas (fb, 22-Apr-2013 20:42) : This physical law is about dispersion.
Imagine the pieces thrown randomly on a surface. Max entropy.
Then imagine that we define a chessboard and we specify the allowed movements of the pieces. And then we compose a problem, giving specific function to each chessman. Local entropy diminishes greatly.

You are right, only if you keep the composition as an idea. If you proceed in physical presentation, publication etc, then the physical law enters the stage.

Steven Dowd (fb, 25-Apr-2013 21:36) : Any more commentary on your interesting idea, Emmanuel?

Emmanuel Manolas (fb, 25-Apr-2013 21:50) : From the other composers, you mean? None. I am not trying to convince anyone. It was just an idea of mine.

Here is another topic, the difference between OTB chess and composition:
The young player starts his games with very "original" moves, usually funny ones, and he must learn how to play by the book. So, gradually, his game seems very similar with other known games. The innovations are seldom.
On the other side stands the problemist. Initially, he creates common, known positions, surely anticipated. He must learn how to avoid the known compositions and create new, original, radically different problems, if he wants to earn prizes.

Juraj Lörinc (g+, 25-Apr-2013 11:16) : Maybe the analogy can be even prolonged. OTB players on the highest level suddenly start to make deep and surprising moves. And problemists on the highest level turn back to common well known themes, however thanks to their deep knowledge of the field they are suddenly able to show unanticipated renderings.

Steven Dowd (fb, 25-Apr-2013 21:59) : This is a great idea, and I have noted the same thing. In fact, when I started composing I did not understand the concept of originality very well, since I was successful in OTB chess mainly by copying the recommendations of experts. So many of my early compositions, if not plagiarized, were too repetitive of the ideas of others. I think Chris Feather once told me the key in chess composition was learning when to break the rules, but of course you must learn them first!

Steven Dowd (fb, 28-Apr-2013 02:25) : I think the developmental stages of a composer are interesting. I first realized I was really composing when I could compose schematically (about three years in), and ten years after I began, I finally developed a sufficient appreciation of some basic themes to at least attempt thematic composition. But I still tend to view composition in terms of material on the board rather than the theme. Dan Meinking once noted that Edgar Holladay "regressed" to this form of composition once he couldn't really compose thematically anymore - he set up pieces on the board, and knowing in general what might happen, followed the computer's analysis until he came up with a decent problem. We just don't spend enough time talking about these sorts of things in my opinion.

Emmanuel Manolas (fb, 28-Apr-2013 10:30) : In some problems it is crystal clear that the composer had something in mind when creating the problem (as in Janos Czak's problem you posted recently).
There are many published problems where the theme is not obvious and it seems that the computer found a solution. When this is the case, we should have the courage to admit it (See the imitator problem here :

Steven Dowd (fb, 28-Apr-2013 11:52) : This is one I have thought about a long time and although I would love to see a lengthy discussion of it, my own attitude is that it is rather like correspondence chess - the computer is a tool, and to give "him" more credit than that isn't really necessary.

Emmanuel Manolas (fb, 28-Apr-2013 12:40) : The computer is a useful tool, fast (not fast enough for our lengthy problems), reliable (not reliable enough for mixed fairy conditions) and cheap (freeware is not always useful).
It is like a car, fast (only where it is allowed), reliable (except when the battery is suddenly dead, or something else decides to fail) and cheap (well, it is cheaper than a boat or a plane, but not really cheap).

Reinhart Zaiser (fb, 28 Apr 2013 20:30) : Now, that Steven mentioned my name in the context of chess, chess composition and the realization of meaning: as a logotherapist and existential analyst I know that there are 3 ways to meaning - and we find all 3 in chess and chess composition. It sounds very philosophical. But it's actually very understandable. We can realize meaning by: (1) realizing so called experiential values (for example, experiencing the beauty of an award winning chess composition), (2) realizing so called creative values (in our context by composing chess problems), and (3) by realizing so called attitudinal values (well, in OTB chess we have to deal with losing by changing our attitude, at best maybe by telling ourselves that we learn most by losing; and in chess composition to learn how to deal with all kind of frustrations in a similar way). Interestingly, in logotherapy we consider man as existential (Heidegger) and transcendental (Kant) "Will to Meaning", i.e., humans are created toward the realization of meaning. In other words, we humans need meaningful projects, meaningful relationships, etc - or we suffer from a feeling of meaninglessness, an existential frustration, an inner vacuum that can even lead to suicide. We just want to bring meaning into the chaos, it might be the night sky where the ancient Greeks definded constellations (Libra, Aquarius, etc.) or in chess where composers try to find beautiful chess problems. As logotherapist I even tell artists (and problemists) to connect with their spiritual and aesthetical unconscious to find their own style.

Monday, April 22, 2013

War against entropy!

The second thermodynamic principle, as Lord Kelvin formulated it in 1859, states that in an isolated system the entropy never decreases.
Since entropy is a measure of disorder and dispersing, this principle states that a system cannot by itself reach order and organisation.

The partial order, with local decrease of entropy, has the result of entropy inrease elsewhere.
For example, the preservation of the contents of a refrigerator, needs dissipation of electric energy, which can be created by burning coal or by fission of atomic nuclei, etc.

In every transformation of energy, there are losses in form of thermal energy. That means that, after much time, the whole universe will have the same temperature and no transformation of energy will be possible, everywhere will be absolute stillness, and we will reach the heat death of the cosmos. Do not worry, it will be after your time.

If we want to organize a part of a system, we need concentration of information.
When the information about the functioning of an organism is lost, then the organism is dispersed.
We can observe this phenomenon in living creatures and in companies and in cities.

While we are still alive, we try to fight against the increase of entropy.
We organize our family, our company, our city, our country.
We costruct buildings, we write books, we compose music, we paint pictures.
Some works of art are created by one person, as the statues, some need teamwork to be concluded, as the movie films.

In the war against entropy, the composers of chess problems have a small but characteristic role.
They gather information, beauty, difficulty and originality into a composition which stays consolidated in time and it can not be deconstructed into its basic components.
They create organisation areas, the chess compositions, which offer enjoyment to persons studying their solutions.

My personal perception of the endeavor of the composers is that it is similar with the drawing at left. They try to bring to equilibrium a sphere on a convex surface. Most of the time the sphere rolls and falls - the composition is not succesful - for various reasons. Laborious effort is needed, self-concentration and knowledge.

The knowledge is revealed in the selection of the materials, of the radii of the spheres, and of the texture of the surfaces.
In chess terms, the knowledge is revealed in the selection of the chess pieces, of the contained theme, and of the genre of composition (helpmate, fairy etc).

And if the chess composition seems, in the eye of the solver, as a  labyrinth with many entrances, the composer has taken care to provide it with a unique road to the center, the solution.
The uniqueness of the solution, as well as the originality of the composition, is proof that the composers create works opposing disorder, that they fight against increase of entropy.