Sunday, April 24, 2011

A GeekDad Learns an Important Lesson from his Daughter

Please check out Mark Changizi's blog post of April 19, 2011 at GeekDad/  He taught his 8 year old daughter how to play chess one day, and the next day she came to him with rules for a new and improved version.  Say what!?!

I was understandably touched when she came to me the next day wishing to play chess. "Of course!" I replied. "Great," she said. "Here are the rules."

She handed me a packet of papers, and at the top of the first she had written, "Plastic Animal Chess." Below this was an enumeration of the kinds of pieces to be used (with blanks where we would record which plastic animals would be the stand-ins for each type), along with what each kind of piece does.

"This is complicated, Honey," I wondered aloud, worried it would be far too difficult for her -- and me. There were, by the end of her four hand-written pages, 10 distinct piece types and 18 pieces in all. "Chess only has six types, and it is already immensely difficult!" I said.

But more than my fright at the complexity of her game was another reaction, this one in my gut. Wasn't there something mildly wrong about this new game of hers? Chess is a revered institution. What kind of heretic plays chess once and immediately presumes to do better?

Without intellectual inquiry and curiosity, mankind will stagnate at the least, and could go extinct at the worst. Encouraging people how to think for themselves - to come up with new thoughts, new ideas, new concepts - is vital to the continuation of our species. We need this kind of creativity on both an individual and collective basis to continue to survive, to grow, to thrive, both individually and collectively as socieities, as a world. Is this something that can be taught? Or is it something innate that, somehow, doesn't get stomped out of just a few of us as we grow up?

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