Warning: Rampant groundless speculation follows. My brother and/or anyone else should feel free to contribute their own ideas or simply ridicule mine.
The first thesis I will never write was about the similarity between Bobby Knight and Bobby Fischer (that’s my third Reassembler post ever).
My second unwritten thesis is about the similarity between language and chess. The un-done research piece of this thesis is a search for a correlation between chess ability and facility with multiple languages.
Chess seems like an artificial, ultra-simplified version of a language, in some respects. It’s got components (the pieces = morphemes/phonemes/semantics) which must obey certain possibly arbitrary rules (grammar) to construct output (play, or a game, like speech) which can be correct or incorrect (illegal moves = ungrammatical speech) but furthermore may be adjudged a legal-but-poor. Good, better, best. Beautiful. So there’s correctness according to the rules, and according to the internal logic of chess which makes some moves bad, but also according an aesthetic, subjective dimension.
It resembles language, yes, but also math in certain aspects. Math’s rules seem non-arbitrary to me; that’s a critical difference from chess but perhaps not from language. Linguistics features, or used to feature, observations about universal rules of grammar shared by all languages and debate about whether those rules arise from some hardwired aspect of the human brain. I.e. a biological basis for certain restrictions on how any language must be structured.
Music – now is that closer to math or to language? The basis of chords and keys is mathematical, or maybe it would be more correct to say they can be described mathematically. (Howard? George? Harvey? Matt? Anyone else wanna dive in here?) This stuff has percolated in my mind for years. It resurfaced yesterday in part because of a conversation with my co-worker Kate Walsh.
For an American I am pretty good at chess, percentile-wise, though my play is more volatile and ‘appealing’ in the barbaric sense than it is in the sense of correctness.
Like most of my colleagues, I am “good at language” (that’s why we’re writers and editors) but not so “good at math”.
I learned German pretty well (although my Langue was ahead of my Parole) but I never understood musical keys particularly though I played tenor saxophone for about six years; I could learn to play by rote, but never quite grasped the whys behind music or calculus or trig or the treble clef.
Ah, the mysteries of the mind. I suppose this has all been hashed out by Pinker and others – I’ll get around to reading someday…