Sunday, March 3, 2013

Playing chess at coffeeshops, not blogging, giving advice, and sounding like Aristotle

These are lean times for Yoga in the Dragon's Den, in a manner of speaking. I simply haven't felt much motivation to blog lately. I have also been rather remiss in responding to comments. The main reason is that I have been living more in the "real" world. I am teaching a full load of classes here at the university, and my non-teaching time is taken up with socializing and hanging out at this local coffeeshop where many young people gather to play chess regularly. Young people playing chess (and not, say, videogames)?! You may be thinking to yourself. Yes, it's true, and it's such a pleasant surprise. The coffeeshop has a chess set permanently set up on one of its tables; the story is that the owner--who, incidentally, is not an avid chess player--set up this table a couple years ago. Young people would wander into the coffeeshop, find the chess set there, and just... play. As a result, a lively chess culture has sprung up.

Which, as I said, is a pleasant surprise for me. I've always loved the game. But in most parts of this country (at least, this is my perception), chess is seen as this dorky, brainy, anti-social game that is only for dorky brainiacs (full disclosure: I am pretty dorky, but I am not a brainiac. But that has not stopped me from loving chess.). As a result, I've always had a lot of trouble finding "real" people to play chess with (I don't like playing chess online, as I tend to stare too hard at the screen, and my eyes get really tired after a while). Until now. So for the past few weeks, I have been spending whatever non-working time I can find picking up chess games here at this coffeeshop. And not to brag or anything, but I'm actually gaining a modest reputation here as a great chess player (probably not as great as James Altucher, but I'll take what I can get :-)). Truth is, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that I'm quite a bit older than most of the other players. As one advances in age, one loses a bit (or more than a bit) of testosterone. Which makes one more able to stand back and consider things more coolly, and be able to take shit better. Which is a useful trait to have in chess-playing. 


Anyway, all of that was by way of explaining why I haven't been blogging much (blogging about why I'm not blogging... imagine that.)

Fortunately, I do actually have something modest to blog about today. I just read Claudia's latest post about giving the best "deathbed" advice that you have. Claudia writes:

"If someone asked you to give the "best advice you have on you", a one sentence that you would tell somebody else if you had all the wisdom you have now, and you were about to leave the earth; What is THAT advice?  What is your legacy sentence?  

For example, if I say I want more money, I can then ask: why would that be? I could answer: so I would not have to work so much, why? So I would have more free time, and why would that be? so I could focus only on things I love doing, why? because then I would be....HAPPY!
Seen in this light, why not go for happiness first?" 

Interesting. I'm not sure if Claudia knows this, but she actually kind of sounds like Aristotle here. Here's what Aristotle has to say about this subject: 

"If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good." (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 2, translated by W.D. Ross.)    

"Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself." (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 7, translated by W.D. Ross.)

Thus we can see that like Claudia, Aristotle also believes that happiness is the final and therefore, in this sense, the most important human good. It thus appears that Claudia is in good company :-)


Very interestingly, someone at this coffeeshop that I hang out at also recently asked me for the best "deathbed" advice that I can offer: You get that a lot when you tell people that you teach philosophy for a living; they immediately assume that you are very wise, whether or not that is actually true... Anyway, this is my, ahem, advice: Find something to do that you can pour your entire heart or being or whatever into, so that if you were to die right now, you would be okay with that. 

Well, this doesn't sound quite as wise as Aristotle (or Claudia, for that matter). But hey, you got to take what you can get, right? ;-)   


  1. Chess ha! And a reputation already. Great! Im ruined for life when it comes to the game James intimidates me way too much to even think about it.

    I had no idea I sounded like Aristitle. Got a kick out of that, so glad you mentioned it.

    1. I'm so sorry that James intimidates you :-) Anyway, from my experience, the only way to get better at chess is to keep playing and losing, until you gradually stop losing (or at least lose less...).

      There are definitely worse people you can sound like in this world, living or dead ;-)

  2. Meant to say Aristotle. Autocorrect always plays me.

  3. I've known people that poured their heart into chess. Just don't give up Ashtanga for chess!

    1. I've often believed that Ashtanga is chess for the mind-body-spirit. Hmm... now I wonder if Sharath might not be the Bobby Fisher of Ashtanga :-)

    2. Bobby Fisher was the biggest asshole egomaniac the chess world has ever seen, and probably in opposition to every yama and niyama for every moment of his life. But his chess game was unsurpassed.

    3. Well, I can't say anything about this here; all I know about Fisher is his chess game...