Friday, July 19, 2013

Yoga asana practice, chess, freewill, and life

I just watched the very beautiful video above by the latest humanoid Cylon model Kino. In the video, Kino talks about how her practice has evolved from simply throwing herself around on the mat to being a practice of listening to the body and tuning in more to the subtle body. Definitely worth a watch. Hmm... I also can't help wondering where (or whether) pain comes into the picture here? :-)


What's the next best thing to watching beautiful asana videos? Watching beautiful chess videos, of course! Below is a video of James Altucher playing a game of speed chess with the under-17 Argentinean chess champion at the Argentinean chess club. Damn... I'll probably have a heart attack if I had to play at this speed! Definitely breath-taking to watch; or jaw-dropping, as Claudia would put it. Or maybe both jaw-dropping and breath-taking; first, your jaw drops, and then you stop breathing... In any case, check this video out (I can't seem to embed the video (I've spent the last hour trying), and it wouldn't show up on blogger's youtube search box; arggh, technology...).

In her recent post, Claudia ponders the  relationship between chess and yoga. Have you ever wondered if there is a relationship between chess and life and freewill? Isaiah Berlin has this to say: 

"The world is a system and a network: to conceive of men as 'free' is to think of them as capable of having, at some past juncture, acted in some fashion other than that in which they did act; it is to think of what consequences would have come of such unfulfilled possibilities and in what respects the world would have been different, as a result, from the world as it now is. It is difficult enough to do this in the case of artificial, purely deductive systems, as for example in chess, where the permutations are finite in number, and clear in type--having been arranged so by us, artificially--so that the combinations are calculable. But if you apply this method to the vague, rich texture of the real world, and try to work out the implications of this or that unrealised plan or unperformed action--the effect of it on the totality of later events--basing yourself on such knowledge of causal laws and probabilities as you have, you will find that the greater the number of 'minute' causes you discriminate, the more appalling becomes the task of 'deducing' any consequence of the 'unhinging' of each of these, one by one; for each of the consequences affects the whole of the rest of the uncountable totality of events and things, which unlike chess is not defined in terms of a finite, arbitrarily chosen set of concepts and rules. And if, whether in real life or even in chess, you begin to tamper with basic notions--continuity of space, divisibility of time and the like--you will soon reach a stage in which the symbols fail to function, your thoughts become confused and paralysed." 

Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox"

The moral of the story seems to be this: Even if we have freewill, the sheer multitude and complexity of the minute causes that make our lives what they are today would make it impossible for us to know how things would have turned out if we had taken this action rather than another, or made this choice rather than another. Unlike chess, there is no way to go back and play out the alternative scenarios that would have unfolded from these alternate actions and choices. But... what if, unbeknownst to us, there really is a great but ultimately finite number of causes of our actions and choices, so that life is really like a big chess game? And what if there were a way to "go back" and "play out" these alternate life scenarios? Hmm... sounds like there is a movie to be made here...


  1. The movie has been made, it's called Groundhog Day.

    That and playing out variations on a chess game are good metaphors for the subtle refinements we cultivate in our daily practice.

  2. I'd like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this site.