[Paleopsych] Nature: Science secret of grand masters revealed

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Science secret of grand masters revealed

     [59]Mark Peplow
     Chess experts gain the edge over opponents by falsifying their own

     For all you budding Kasparovs out there, a team of cognitive
     scientists has worked out how to think like a chess grand master. As
     those attending this week's Cognitive Science Society meeting in
     Chicago, Illinois, were told, the secret is to try to knock down your
     pet theory rather than finding ways to support it - exactly as
     scientists are supposed to do.
     "This is a new result in the psychology of chess, as far as I know,"
     says Mark Orr, a chess enthusiast and Ireland's first international
     master. The research could help developing chess players to hone their
     skills, he adds.
     In deciding which move to make, chess players mentally map out the
     future consequences of each possible move, often looking about eight
     moves ahead. So Michelle Cowley, a cognitive scientist and keen chess
     player from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, decided to study how
     different chess players decide whether their move strategies will be
     winners or losers.
     Along with her colleague Ruth Byrne, she recruited 20 chess players,
     ranging from regular tournament players to a grand master. She
     presented each participant with six different chessboard positions
     from halfway through a game, where black and white had equal chances
     of winning and there was no immediately obvious next move.
     Each player had to speak their thoughts aloud as they decided what
     move to make. Cowley scored the quality of the move sequences by
     comparing them with Fritz 8, one of the most powerful chess computer
     programs available.
     She found that novices were more likely to convince themselves that
     bad moves would work out in their favour, because they focused more on
     the countermoves that would benefit their strategy while ignoring
     those that led to the downfall of their cherished hypotheses.
     Conversely, masters tended to correctly predict when the eventual
     outcome of a move would weaken their position. "Grand masters think
     about what their opponents will do much more," says Byrne. "They tend
     to falsify their own hypotheses."
     "We probably all intuitively know this is true," says Orr. "But it's
     never a bad thing to prove it like this."
     Strategic thinking
     The philosopher Karl Popper called this process of hypothesis testing
     'falsification', and thought that it was the best way to describe how
     science constantly questions and refines itself. It is often held up
     as the principle that separates scientific and non-scientific
     thinking, and the best way to test a hypothesis.
     But cognitive research has shown that, in reality, many people find
     falsification difficult. Until the latest study, scientists were the
     only group of experts that had been shown to use falsification. And
     sociological studies of scientists in action have revealed that even
     they spend a great deal of their time searching for results that would
     bolster their theories^[60]1. Some philosophers of science have
     suggested that since there is so much rivalry within science,
     individuals often rely on their peers to falsify their theories for
     Byrne speculates that the behaviour may actually be widespread, but
     that it could be limited to those who are expert in their field. She
     thinks the ability to falsify is somehow linked to the vast database
     of knowledge that experts such as grand masters - or scientists -
     accumulate. "People who know their area are more likely to look for
     ways that things can go wrong for them," she says.
     Byrne and Cowley now hope to study developing chess players to find
     out how and when they develop falsification strategies. They also want
     to test chess masters in other activities that involve testing
     hypotheses - such as logic problems - to discover if their
     falsification skill is transferable. On this point Orr is more
     sceptical: "I've never felt that chess skills cross over like that,
     it's a very specific skill."

      1. Latour A., et al. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific


    59. http://www.nature.com/news/about/aboutus.html#Peplow
    60. http://www.nature.com/news/2004/040802/full/040802-19.html#B1

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