There is a good reason most Americans stink at chess - our unfailing optimism. No matter how bad things get with the economy or the environment or (insert your pet cause here) Americans will always believe that, because we have Christina Aguilera, we beat the pants off of everyone else. Russians, for example, don't think that way. Half of Moscow is populated by women hotter than Christina Aguilera and they're all on a Russian dating site hoping to meet an American mechanic who will get them a green card and raise their kid.
Scientists, American or otherwise, are not afflicted by that kind of sunny disposition. People have a perception that science is a happy wonderland where you come up with an idea and everyone rallies around you and supports you while you try to prove it. Nothing can be further from the truth. Science is done by falsification.
Falsification is an old idea but most people outside science fail to do it. It is considered a rather negative approach. Most people think in terms of induction - inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances. David Hume (1711–76), one of those key thinkers of the past you never hear about today, tried as he could to create an empirical science of human nature and was obsessed with induction. Karl Popper (1902-1994) threw all that out and didn't even equate testability or scientificity with 'meaningfulness.' He instead believed solely in falsification. Scientific advance as an inductive process of generalization from particular experiences was rejected out of hand by him.
To him, testing a theory did not involve finding evidence to support it, but instead meant systematically attempting to show it to be false – a logic of refutation. Falsification.
That brings us to chess. Chess, like science, is the kiss of death for optimists. Only the most naive rookie feels optimistic in Chess. Instead, Chess players think about their doom. In a study published in Nature, and you can quite elegantly get a download here if you don't have a subscription, Michelle Cowley and Ruth Byrne of Trinity College, University of Dublin, set out to put that to the test with actual chess players and the falsification idea held up.
The best chess players, they found (ironically in non-falsification fashion), used falsification to determine their future moves. Bad chess players thought about the counter-moves of opponents in a very positive light (i.e., the opponent will do exactly what is needed in order to lose) while the best chess players thought about what opponents counter-moves would damage them the most if they enacted a strategy - they falsified their own hypotheses.
So it isn't just scientists who regularly use falsification, but also chess players. Is it something all experts do? Not likely. I assume that car mechanic who is looking for a Russian model to marry does not wonder which repair techniques will cause the car to blow up, he instead hears a noise or feels a strange vibration and tracks down the issue and fixes it.
Enough of falsification, let's go back to induction. Using the subset of highly ranked chess players included here, you would think chess is littered with attractive women. Scientists, and chess players, using falsification would bet that is not the case. Still, as an experiment, which of these chess players induces you to take up the game?
Let me know what you think about my thoughts on chess and falsification. Because that's the reason people read me, I am sure of it.
Pictures marked as such acquired gratefully from The webpage of Alexandra Kosteniuk, who would be a lot of fun to play with also.
More photos of women and chess available at Chess pics also.