Originally posted on December 18, 2020 @ 7:43 AM
The Phenomenology of Perception (Merleau-Ponty) is about relearning how to look at things, to understand more than one perspective. This is the art of envisioning.
The popular series The Queens Gambit (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10048342/) is not really about chess but about understanding the Phenomenology of Perception. This is the skill of envisioning (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/). If you want to understand the various perspectives and perceptions on the nature of risk and safety then see here: https://safetyrisk.net/a-great-comparison-of-risk-and-safety-schools-of-thought/
One of the challenges of playing chess is not only thinking about your perspective but also trying to imagine what your opponent is thinking and planning. The key to understanding others is suspending agenda and listening. Listening to others is about much more than using your ears. Sometimes the best way to understand another’s perception is to walk a bit in their shoes, in chess terms to turn the table.
Then there is always the surprise of an action, it’s challenging to think of what others are planning and strategizing. If we look at chess as a binary mathematical process one can learn to play like a computer and maybe even win a game or two but chess is not Maths and when you take the art out of the game it’s just boring.
I first played chess when I was 10 years old and my neighbor taught me how to play. I used to come home from school and play a game or tow before dinner and got hooked. I joined the school chess club and played each day. The fun was in the learning as much as getting good at the game. It was also a good lesson in learning how to lose and congratulate your opponent for their creativity and imagination. There were no computers then and so the game had a mystery about it. Sometimes we used to play for 8 moves or so and then flip the board so we could see how each of us was thinking. Not quite like Beth Harmon who on tranquilizers dreamed moves on the ceiling at night.
Chess serves as neat metaphor for Merleau-Ponty’s notion of perception. We all know that we are born into a particular context, history, culture and setting that whether we like it or not can not do much about. Our view of the world is conditioned, there is no objectivity. We learn, enquire, question and seek growth from this perception. This is why other people don’t think like you. It is from this worldview that we engage in the world and with others. Sometimes there are conversion points and people move and change worldviews but new worldview is simply where we feel more comfortable at the time.
Often when there are colliding worldviews not much is understood between the conflicting views because each worldview speaks a different language and has trouble imagining the way of the other. It’s hard to suspend agenda and flip the table. It can be done but it takes will and practice, usually through envisioning. Merleau-Ponty described this kind of envisioning as being present in the moment. Suspending one’s agenda doesn’t mean disposing of one’s worldview but rather closing off the usual noise of response one thinks about in conversation. This is what real listening is about. It’s a disposition not a Technique. One can always return to one’s comfort later once one has floated for a while in a learning presence.
Chess is a good way to learn this practicing of presence, stop thinking of what you want to do and focus on the other. Stop talking and telling and start listening. This is envisioning and skill worth developing if you want to better understand the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR).