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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Emmanuel Lasker, Philosopher

     Emmanuel Lasker studied mathematics and philosophy at the Universities of Berlin, Göttingen and Erlangen and gained the title of “Ph.D.” and for some years while living in England, he was an assistant lecturer at the Manchester Polytechnic.
       Most chess players are familiar with his chess, but few know of his philosophical writings or his work in mathematics. He was a brilliant mathematician; he worked with Emily Noether, often cited as the best female mathematician on number theory.
      In 1907 Lasker published Kampf which also found its way into English and was titled, Struggle.   
      Albert Einstein and Lasker became acquainted in later life. Einstein and Lasker argued about relativity and Lasker used to lecture that it was wrong; his belief was that no matter how fast you travelled, the idea that the observed speed of light was the same was ridiculous.       
      In the forward to The Life of a Chess Master by Dr. J. Hannak, Einstein wrote in the foreword to the English edition ". . . the chess playing of a master ties him to the game, fetters his mind and shapes it to a certain extent so that his internal freedom and ease, no matter how strong he is, must inevitably be affected. In our conversations and in the reading of his philosophical books, I always had that feeling. Of these books, The Philosophy of the Unattainable interested me the most; the book is not only very original, but it also affords a deep insight into Lasker's entire personality…To my mind, there was a tragic note in his personality, despite his fundamentally affirmative attitude towards life. The enormous psychological tension, without which nobody can be a chess master, was so deeply interwoven with chess that he could never entirely rid himself of the spirit of the game, even when he was occupied with philosophic and human problems…(I) came to know him well in the course of many walks in which we exchanged opinions about the most varied questions. It was a somewhat one-sided exchange, in which I received more that I gave. For it was usually more natural for this eminently productive man to shape his own thoughts than to busy himself with those of another."
      In Kampf, Lasker wrote: "Hope and Faith, such as we have stated it to be, perform a necessary and valuable function. When our life presents hardships, when we cannot master the difficulties, and doubts of our ability discourage us, hope tell us to do our best and to wait. When we are in the presence of immense forces and a sense of our insignificance assails us, faith whispers into our ear not to fear injustice. Hope and faith still beat when will and reason cannot overcome obstacles, and therefore doubt and anxiety make the heart tremble."
      Lasker believed that all men are born with hope, but true faith, which he believed is based on justice and not an end to itself, has to be developed. He also believed that when men have done their best, then they should exercise their faith and not fear.


  1. I wonder if you would consider doing a bio of Robert F. Coomb, sometime British Chess Champion (1948-ish) who is mentioned in Guide to Good Chess by Cecil Purdy as having spent the war years going over the games of Lasker, Capablance, and Alekhine, for lack of live human opponents? It seems to me that he was among the first to recommend this method of training.

  2. I believe you are correct and also Purdy himself recommended this method in his writings. Combe sounds like an intriguing person so I will see what I find out about him