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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Information Overload - Food for Thought

The March 7, 2011 issue of Newsweek magazine had a rather lengthy article entitled “I Can’t Think” that discussed the difficulty we have in making decisions these days owing to the tremendous amount of information we are constantly being bombarded with from television, newspapers, the Internet, e-mails, tweets, etc.

      One thing researches discovered is that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices. They discovered that, among other things, we are conditioned to give greater weight in decision making to what is latest, not what is more important or interesting. The article says, “We are fooled by immediacy and quantity and think it’s quality.”
      “Creative decisions are more likely to bubble up from a brain that applies unconscious thought to a problem rather than going at it in a full frontal assault. So while we are likely to think creative thoughts in the shower, it is much harder if we’re under a virtual deluge of data.”
      I’ve noticed that when working on correspondence games, I’ve often come up with an idea for a move at odd times when I wasn’t even thinking about chess. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I’ve written considerably about GM’s and pattern recognition. GM’s, because of their great storehouse of patterns, usually don’t have to comb the position for a long time to come up with a good move. A few good candidate moves instantly pop into their head. They spend all their time checking and rechecking these moves for flaws and nuances, but the general idea was probably there from almost the beginning.
      Average players, as I have noted, often spend their time looking at many more moves and going far too many moves deep in their calculations. This results in an information overload where many long variations are whirling around in their heads. The result is often confusion and a poor choice.
     I noticed this phenomenon years ago. Often in the first 3 or 4 moves I looked at was a move a GM at least considered. Maybe they didn’t play it but they looked at it. That was when I came to the conclusion I was looking at too many moves and trying to calculate too far ahead. When I started looking at only the first 3-4 moves that popped into my head and avoided going more than 3-4 moves deep and then trying to make an evaluation of who stands better my rating went up from the mid-1600’s to over 2000. I guess it was because after 3 or 4 moves I could visualize the position good enough to know if it was worse, better or about the same as it had been a few moves previously. The truth is, I couldn’t to that after 6, 7 or 8 moves…probably was not even visualizing the position correctly so any judgment would have been inaccurate.  That lead to even worse choices when deciding on a move.
      The article went on to say, “One of the greatest surprises in decision science is the discovery that some of our best decisions are made through unconscious processes.” I think this has already been discovered with GM’s. On scientist noted, “…it is so much easier to look for more and more information than to sit back and think about how it fits together.” Maybe that explains why sometimes you see GM’s sitting at the board staring at the ceiling or the wall. Maybe they are letting their subconscious work on the problem?

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