Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023677, Fri, 15 Feb 2013 19:24:49 -0200

Re: Chess and the asymetric universe (correction)
Re: [NABOKV-L] Chess and the asymetric universeDave Haan to CK: "Symmetries aside, there are some interesting connections: Alice executes a variation of the "Excelsior" theme, so named by Sam Loyd in his most famous chess problem (constructed so as to have the least likely white piece deliver checkmate), after Longfellow of course (and one might contend Poe's Raven and subsequent Philosophy of Composition partakes thereof)."

JM: Dave, I liked the uncomplicated way you started your comment about the least likely piece to deliver a checkmate: " symmetries aside..." After all, even the simplest persons react to a sense of mystery and try to puzzle it out in their own way. I think it was the often readable Henri Poincare who noted that (symmetries aside) a perfect universe would be a lifeless, static one. This is why I'll return to a VN quote related to chess: "two chess games with identical openings and identical end moves might ramify in an infinite number of variations, on one board and in two brains, at any middle stage of their irrevocably converging development." (and I wish experts would help me to interpret VN's intended meaning). Myself, I can merely associate this observation about the "irrevocably converging develpment" of VN's two chess games, to another sentence of his, taken out of its context: “common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness" because, when I place them together, I understand this "final convergence" as representing dark perfection, but also offering one more indication of the kind of infinity human beings may inhabit while still breathing in the luminous crack of existence.* In other, less metaphysical issues, chess-problematist and master of style Nabokov valued the roundabout, convoluted way, as we may read in Speak Memory:
"I remember one particular problem I had been trying to compose for months. There came a night when I managed at last to express that particular theme. It was meant for the delectation of the expert solver. The unsophisticated might miss the point of the problem entirely, and discover its fairly simple, “thetic” solution without having passed through the pleasurable torments prepared for the sophisticated one. The latter would start by falling for an illusory pattern of play based on a fashionable avant-garde theme (exposing White’s King to checks), which the composed had taken the greatest pains to “plant” (with only one obscure little move by an inconspicuous pawn to upset it). Having passed through this “antithetic” inferno the by now ultra-sophisticated solver would reach the simple key move (bishop to c2) as somebody on a wild goose chase might go from Albany to New York by way of Vancouver, Eurasia and the Azores. The pleasant experience of the roundabout route (strange landscapes, gongs, tigers, exotic customs, the thrice-repeated circuit of a newly married couple around the sacred fire of an earthen brazier) would amply reward him for the misery of the deceit, and after that, his arrival at the simple key move would provide him with a synthesis of poignant artistic delight."

Jansy Mello

The original exchanges related to chess and symmetry are available at the VN-L archives. Below, the areas that touched me in particular from SKB's last posting to CK.

Carolyn Kunin >But I do think the asymmetry of the board/pieces is of greater importance than Stan admits.
Stan Kelly Bootle: The following two statements are BOTH true ... But INCOMPLETE: The standard 8 x8 chessboard is SYMMETRICAL; The same chessboard is ASYMMETRICAL... Further progress is a problem unless you understand that symmetry and asymmetry are properties that depend on WHICH TRANSFORMATIONs you are APPLYING... BW and Reflection identically switch first/second player! This, I repeat, is the ONLY TRUE game-changing Chess asymmetry: white has a marginal STATISTICAL advantage. None of the board/piece/setup conventions OFFER this ADVANTAGE, regardless of mathematical symmetries/asymmetries...
Carolyn Kunin: Martin Gardener...does mention that if the universe were not asymmetrical it wouldn't exist. In other words, matter and anti-matter would cancel each other out.
Stan K-B: [snip} ...This is major VN-DIGRESSION. Let me refer you to Wiki At this time, the apparent asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the VISIBLE universe is one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter [ ]
Ending on a VN cum non-Tech Literary-Science note: Following two quotes are cited in the browsable anthology:
http://www.findingpatterns.info/scrapbook/tag/text "Vladimir Nabokov said of the gap between science and art:
'a mere dimple of a ditch that a small frog could straddle' "
Freeman Dyson, end. Chap 1, 'Infinite in all Directions' "This quick tour of the universe will begin with superstrings and end with butterflies. There will be a couple of intermediate stops on the way. Like Dante on his tour of the Inferno, I find at each level some colorful characters to add human interest to an otherwise intimidating scene. I will not explain what butterflies and superstrings are. To explain butterflies is unnecessary because everyone has seen them. To explain superstrings is impossible because nobody has seen them. But please do not think I am trying to mystify you. Superstrings and butterflies are examples illustrating two different aspects of the universe and two different notions of beauty. Super-strings come at the beginning and butterflies at the end because they are extreme examples. Butterflies are at the extreme of concreteness, superstrings at the extreme of abstraction. They mark the extreme limits of the territory over which science claims jurisdiction. Both are, in their different ways, beautiful. Both are, from a scientific point of view, poorly understood. Scientifically speaking, a butterfly is at least as mysterious as a superstring. When something ceases to be mysterious it ceases to be of absorbing concern to scientists. Almost all the things scientists think and dream about are mysterious

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