The Attitude of this Site Towards Chess Variants

I have received a huge amount of correspondence at this site asking me to clarify the attitude of this site ericlinuskaplan.wordpress.com towards chess variants.

I think if I had to express it in a word it would be “balls-out”.  If I had to express it in a phrase it would be “deeply, totally excited to an exploration of all kinds of chess variants all the time”.  Putting the two together I would say the site is deeply excited to do a balls-out exploration of all kinds of chess variants.  All the time.

We’re talking extra pieces like the minotaur and the sorceror.

We’re talking variants like pocket knight where each player has an extra knight that as a move they can place on the board.

We’re talking alternate boards, smaller, larger, and three-dimensinoal.

Multiple players.

Different outcomes of capture including randomized and outcomes resolved by poetic contest.

We’re doing amalgams of chess and role playing games.

Live chess.

Chess in name only.

Chess by means of dares.

Chess of the journey and chess of stasis.



Virtues and Knowledge

Virtues have a weird relationship to knowledge.

The courageous person does not know that he will win.  He knows the reasons he might die but fights anyway.  If he secretly had a piece of knowledge — say that the opponents bullets looked like lead but were actually made of marshmallows — he might fight fiercely but would not be courageous.

The hopeful person, similarly, does not know it will turn out well.  He knows the reasons it might turn out poorly but starts new projects, works hard at existing projects anyway.  If he had secret knowledge that things would turn out well — say a lawyer going into trial who gets inside knowledge that the judge is in his pocket — he would not need to hope.  The humble person does not know that he is bad, and if he knows for example that he is ugly he has no opportunity to be humble about his appearance.

The loving person does not know that the person he loves is good.  He knows the beloved is a human being and thus a mixture of good and bad, but loves anyway.

The person of faith does not know that what he has faith is true.  He knows there is evidence that it is not true but affirms his belief anyway.

In each of these cases the person of virtue needs the knowledge in order to go against it or move forward in spite of it.

The person with the absence of knowledge of danger cannot be courageous.

The person with the absence of knowledge of possibie bad outcomes cannot be hopeful.

The person with the absence of knowledge of the beloved’s imperfections cannot love.

The person with the absence of knowledge of the lack of evidence cannot have faith.

Kierkegaard writes that faith is the “absolute crucifixion” of the understanding.  He does not say it is the absolute vaporization of the understanding, or the replacement of the understanding with an un-crucifiable, bullet-proof Superman.  He is not a Docetist.


Religious Authority

The Enlightenment ideal for humanity is autonomy — literally obeying no law that we do not lay down for ourselves.  An alternative model of human flourishing is that it consists in responding to authority.

Joseph Raz makes the point that A has authority for B if and only if when A asserts “You should do p” that gives B a defeasible reason to do p.  So for example if I’m a father and I’m responsible to my child and the child say “You should feed me” that gives me a reason to feed the child.  It’s a defeasible reason — I may know that the child doesn’t need the food, or I may have conflicting responsibilities, but it must enter into my decision-making.  I owe the child a response.

Religious authority is authority that gives us a reason for global decisions about what is important in our lives, matters which transcend prudential calculation.

The ultimate source of religious authority is revelation.

Revelation traditionally is believed to take two forms: natural and historical.

The primary source of natural revelation is our body.  Our body gives us reasons to breathe, to reproduce, to eat, and to avoid dangers.  So for example if we have a baby and we lactate our body provides us with a reason to feed the baby with our milk.  The baby is a natural revelation — it’s mere natural existence gives us a (defeasible) reason to feed it and care for it.  Sickness is another example — a broken leg provides us with a reason to put less weight on the leg.  In both cases the authority of the baby or the leg demands not obedience but response.  Put another way, faced with the baby or with the leg we have two choices: obedience or rebellion.  We cannot act as if there has been no revelation.

Revealed religions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — claim that historical events can have the same logic.  So if we exist in a history which says that God commanded our ancestors not to steal we have a defeasible reason not to steal.  We can obey this authority or rebel against it, but we cannot exist in the same conceptual space as we did pre-revelation.

There may be other sources of revelation that don’t fit easily in either category.  Perhaps belonging to an extended family is a form of revelation.   I might think that being a descendant of a particularly brave man or woman has revealed a certain sort of life as a possibility for me, and I can either aspire to it or shrink from it.

Perhaps art can play a similar role.


Why Does Religious Orthodoxy Attract Predators?

Because the stated ideology is anti-questioning and pro-trust.  If you were a creature who preyed on the innocent you would rationally seek out such a group.

Another way of putting the same point: if such groups take as the cost of entry the sacrifice of reason, by requiring prospective members to subscribe to a patently untrue doctrine (e.g. the word-for-word accuracy of the Torah, the unique divinity of Jesus, our descent from reincarnated Thetans) they filter out any members disposed to use their minds to question authority, leaving only those predisposed to accept what powerful authority figures say blindly.  This population is ripe for abuse as it has been stripped of its social immune system, so to speak.

Religious groups that were not authoritarian will tend to become authoritarian as they encounter modern science and all the members who are disposed to question leave.

[This is a response to the recent scandal about the prominent Washington D.C. Rabbi Freundel who video-taped women bathing in a ritual bath without their knowledge.]


The Paradoxes of Professor Plotz

I went to study with Professor Plotz at the Academy because of his great genius and many smart books.  On the exam he asked the question.  I studied with due degree of self-discipline and mortification of my desire for fun and sleep.  On the day of the exam I looked at the exam paper.  It bore a single quiniverb, or five-word sentence.


And I answered it covering fifteen blue-books and taking all of the allotted eighty-five hours.  The burden of my exam answer was the thesis”The child is worthwhile because it makes a positive impact.”

Professor Plotz failed me.  I went to his office hours.

“Why did you fail me?”

“Your answer was incorrect. ”

“How so, Professor?”

“It does not apply to the child who does not make a positive impact.”

“But is that child worthwhile?”

“Yes, Eric.” said the Professor.  “That child is very worthwhile.”

“But what if it is the crappy child?” I asked.  “What about the bad child or the child, discussed by Fischer and Shaffer in their Book “Fundamentals of The Child” who craps its pants?”

“It is worthwhile.”

It was a paradox I was eager to unravel.  I devoted myself to reading all the paradoxical writing of Professor John Plotz, from his early essay “The Worth of Every Child” to his monumental tome “Why One Should Love the Child”.  I wrote a lengthy dissertation citing him and his critics and his critics’ critics’ and the critics of his critic’s critic’s.  I handed it in.  It was called “The Child is Worthwhile Because the Child is Good”.

“No, no, no.” said the Professor in office hours poring over a draft.  “You have gone off the rails!  What if the child is not good?”

“Or not good yet?” I asked tentatively.

“Or not good yet.”

I suddenly got his message.  I dropped out of the academy and went to a faraway city where I got a job typing documents for the legal firm of Adenauer, Crevasse, Embowel and Dour and spent the next ten years in penance.

The Professor now very old came to town to give a talk.  Ashamed I crept to the back of the room.  Afterwards he remembered me.

“What happened to you?”

“I realized your message.” I said.  “I am not worthwhile.  I am the child who is not worthwhile, because I am unable to see the profundity of your teaching.”

“That is totally wrong.” said the Professor with  a sigh.  “You are worthwhile.”

“How is that possible?”

“Everyone is.”

“How do I know, Professor?”

He looked at me and who knows what thoughts were burbling up from his carunculated cerebrum?  One might as lief speculate what manner of sea-kraken or ocean-going manta-squid of the depths ripples the surface of the deep.

The man spoke.

“Trust me.”

Responded I: “Okay.”

And I returned to the world of men.  Although he was very old and I had become extremely fat, the Professor carried me on his back on our return journey to the institute. Perhaps it was some form of penance, I’m not sure. As he carried me I heard him mutter to himself “They don’t pay me enough for this.”


Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron

Scene 1

A bunch of the avengers are sitting around having drinks.


Hey, have you noticed how down Scarlet Widow looks Iron Man?


Yeah, what’s up with that?


Her boyfriend broke up with her.


We should fix her up with somebody.



I know!  Let’s fix her up with Ultron.


Are you nuts?  That guy’s old enough to be her grandfather.


What cause he’s bald?  He’s a robot, you dingus.  He didn’t have hair ever — his head is made of metal.


No not cause he’s a robot.  He’s just old.




Yes!  I’m telling you.    Ultron’s old.  Hulk, how old do you think Ultron is?


I dunno.  Fifty?


Wow he would be happy to hear you say that.  The last time that was true of him was like twenty years ago.


You think Ultron’s in his seventies?


No. I think he’s fifteen.


Hey.  You don’t have to be sarcastic.


Look I think what our next mission is is clear.  We need to learn





Ultron sits by himself drinking a coffee or maybe eating something.  Hulk comes up.


Hey Ultron — do you like rap?



Pinecone Peter

When I was a very young man — really a child come to think of it — I lived in Vermont, down the road from Peter Schwartz, who like me was the son of an English teacher who rented a house during June July and August to pick up a little extra money teaching summer school.  A few years ago, after Miranda died and I sold the house in the city I came back to Vermont, and like my father taught summer school.

One day during recess the local children showed me a game they played with a pinecone.  They would spin it like a top but always take one of the (do you call them sepels?) one of the wooden slats that make up a pinecone and turn it down.  What do you call that game? I asked.  That, Mr. Kaplan, is called a Pinecone Peter!

Come quickly!  There is not a moment to lose!

Taking the pinecone as a map expressed in a polar co-ordinate system and the depressed sepel (or do you call it a slat?  If you’ve seen a large pinecone you know what I mean) I rushed to the field where I used to play with Peter, pushed up into the hills and came upon the entrance to a cave, which was blocked by a fallen pine tree.  “Help me move this!” I called to the children.  We pulled it away.

Deep within the cave I saw what I expected and what I hoped.  Peter, now an old man, having subsisted on tree ear fungus and rain water had survived.  “I’ve rescued you!.”

You see as a child he had been trapped and had no recourse but to teach the children’s game of pinecone Peter to another child, who had passed it on to his children, and their children, always with the same name, always with the sepel (or slat?) depressed in the same place, so that some day someone — and it had been me — would decode his message and rescue him.

What else in my life is like Pinecone Peter?  I hope to someday find out.


Children Abandoned by their Mothers to Die are a Distinct Culture

Children whose mothers abandon them to die, or who knew existentially as infants that this was a real possibility, form a distinct culture within human spiritual and intellectual history — you might almost say a distinct species, except, obviously, they are able to inter-breed with more normal populations.  This is a hidden phenomenon because while other cultures differ in outward appearances — dress, language, customs — the culture of abandoned children must learn all the external symbol systems of the outside culture but uses them in a different way.  Glimpses of the worldview of abandoned children can be seen in Buddhism’s insistence that nothing the world has to offer is worth anything and that the self does not exist.