30 December 2014

Chess and EEG

Going back a few weeks to my post on Chess and Meditation, I ended with 'There is more in the article worth exploring, but I'll leave that for another time.' Once in a while I actually find 'another time' and this is one of those times.

That post was based on the cover story 'Mind of the Meditator' from the November 2014 issue of Scientific American. The SciAm article mentioned,

A DOOR TO CONSCIOUSNESS: Meditation explores the nature of the mind, providing a way to study consciousness and subjective mental states from the first-person perspective of the meditator. In a collaboration with expert Buddhist meditators at Wisconsin, we have studied the brain's electrical activity using electroencephalography (EEG) during compassion meditation in which the meditators described the well-defined sense of self as becoming less fixed and permanent.

Substitute 'chess' for 'meditation', 'chess player' for 'meditator', etc., and the paragraph reads surprisingly well. In fact, it shouldn't be too surprising, because EEG experiments are occasionally made on chess players. What's EEG? In case you're as clueless as I am, the Wikipedia page Electroencephalography explains,

Electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp. EEG measures voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic current flows within the neurons of the brain

A few years ago, GM Simon Williams posted a piece on his blog titled EEG of my Brain Whilst Playing Chess for Horizon BBC. It started,

Just over a week ago myself and Stuart Conquest took part in a fascinating study for the Horizon TV Science program. A certain Dr Amidzic and Dr Sautoy were also involved. Below is an actual EEG reading of my brain whilst I was involved in a game of chess with Stuart Conquest.

The researchers claimed to confirm that his chess 'talent is tactical, not strategic.' That in itself is interesting enough -- the blog post attracted many comments -- but there are other, more powerful uses of EEG technology. Watch the following video.

Euronews Hi-tech - Look no hands! Brainpower keeps chess in check (2:14) • 'In Berlin they have a unique way of playing chess. The player sits motionless and, as if by magic, his pieces move around the board. His brainwaves are being harnessed so he can play just by thinking about the next move.'

For more about the technology, developed by Michael Tangermann at the Berlin Institute of Technology, see Brain-Controlled Chess Game Proves Cognitive Abilities of Locked-in Patients. If this becomes commercially available, it will force the FIDE rules commission to rewrite the rule for touch-move.

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