Phaedrus 24

My identity on chess.com would seem to require some explanation. Hopefully you can read English, as in addition to my various western US time zone friends*, I keep getting matched with opponents from Europe and sometimes Latin America; chess.com is not just fun, but globally if not cosmically fun.

The simple, enigmatic name results from a confluence of a few factors …

David Fogel’s 2002 book
about his program that taught itself to play chess [well]

Most directly, the title derives from David B. Fogel‘s 2002 book titled Blondie 24: Playing at the Edge of A[rtificial] I[ntelligence]. An Engineering Professor trained in the intelligent computing area, and like many in the field, taking a bit of an evolutionist tack** in his modelling solutions driven by a fascination of the reasoning capacities of “the human project” as we might call ourselves, Fogel pioneered a method of writing a program that teaches itself how to play chess(!). It intuits from its database of games played (over the internet, against random opponents) what types of moves lead to success and otherwise, then adjusts its playing manner. Early on, as Fogel related at a conference I was able to attend a few years back, this method of training had the unfortunate result that a lot of its online opponent got angry upon losing, swearing and taking all manner of oaths one does not normally reserve for one’s friends. To alleviate this problem Fogel and his programming partner decided to rename the program “Blondie 24” and give it an identity of a pretty young woman, as seen on the book’s cover. Amazingly enough, even the most mercilessly dispatched opponents conversed in the most civilized of manners when they played “Blondie24.” I have found a similar picture of a young blonde woman, whom some may recognize as one of ‘Charley’s Angels,’ so when I beat you …

playing, and programming computers to play, chess
has haunted man throughout the digital age.
It would appear to be superior to the alternatives.

Secondly, while I am in fact neither a pretty young woman nor [an ancient] Greek (the name is taken from a Platonic dialogue, the Phaedrus, a dialogue on love it appears, reading it has been on my to-do list for a while), the character shows up as a sehnsucht type figure (haunting the works of both literary Romantics and C.S. Lewis, ex. in his Surprised by Joy) who hunts for truth (like a “fox,” the translation of the name) in Plato and in Robert Pirsig’s 1965 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Books in which “Phaedrus” can be found;
2005 40th edition, and sequel Lila also shown

In Plato’s Phaedrus, he finds that love is “a kind of divine madness that can allow our souls to grow wings and soar to their greatest heights” <wiki, whom no one is ever allowed to quote>. However, those (ancient) Greeks, love … we’ll just leave it there. … but Phaedrus as an icon for the unrelenting search for truth and meaning is the sense in which I appropriate the name. I am also neither 24 years old (I am roughly blonde still; I am not Cameron Diaz however, nor even her gender), nor a Zen Buddhist. This all brings us to the 3rd influence …

As a high schooler, I travelled with our church (C&MA) youth group to Estes Park CO, and heard a series of messages using Pirsig’s hit 1965 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book is a tale of Pirsig’s search for truth and meaning, pitting “Logic” vs. “Rhetoric” in his battles through the University of Chicago’s doctoral program in philosophy and the classics (Rhetoric wins 2-0, twice the margin of the Griechenland over Deutscheland in Monty Python’s Philosopher Soccer match). As C.S. Lewis was once rebuked by friend, mentor and fellow Oxford literary intellectual Owen Barfield (as described in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy), philosophy “wasn’t a subject to Plato, it was a way.” However pop-culturey, this was perhaps my first exposure to philosophy, which I have been able to pursue and enjoy since, resulting in things like writing articles at AnUnexpectedJournal; some of my favorite articles include discussions relating George MacDonald and The Queens Gambit Netflix series and Life of Pi, Wrinkle in Time and G.K. Chesterton.

That is the tale of “Phaedrus24.” With such a powerful moniker, one might suspect that I can not be stopped, winning here, winning there, so much winning … Well, one’s suspicions might be relieved to find out just how true they are. Consider the following results …

Some unfortunate opponent fell to a particularly beautiful if diabolical checkmate, and can hardly be faulted for not seeing what was coming, esp. since any study of my games would have shown that it had been a few decades since I had been able to execute this maneuver

However, some opponents even I have found difficult to defeat, but that’s ok. We enjoyed each other’s company, and a good game.

* most of my chess-playing friends from HBU and Faulkner University program in Humanities inhabit the western regions of ‘Murica. We found each other(s) through distance learning projects on which I’ve embarked, finding myself, as did Dante, “in the middle of my journey through the [often dark, per Dante!] woods of life” (in media res).

** As to the evolutionary bias of many artificial intelligence researchers, whether from fields such as fuzzy logic (though Bart Kosko ‘s fuzzy logic exercises derive from his ultimately Buddhist beliefs, akin to Pirsig), neural networks, or genetic algorithms, their research tends toward inspiration from nature and thus, typically from a model of evolutionary biology. Alternative models do exist, following perhaps economists and social scientists such as those often working, ironically enough, in fields such as evolutionary and institutional economics, in which human choices rather than deterministic laws of nature are considered the basis of human choice and intelligence. An AI researcher with fairly explicit philosophical modelling of human consciousness, Leonid Perlovsky, author of such books as Neural Networks and Intellect (2001) and editor of Neurodynamics of Cognition and Consciousness (2007) and Toward Artificial Sapience, Principles and Methods for Wise Systems (2008), once replied to the criticism that he did not rely on evolutionary models with something like “well, 90% of the world follows an established religion. If you just make up your own religion and your life turns out like crap, you have no one to blame but yourself.” His avoidance of the typical evolutionary models for intelligence in fact can be shown to draw support from renowned philosopher and naturalist/atheist NYU Professor of Philosophy Thomas Nagle, who argues in Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialiat Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False that the “timeless laws of physics and chemistry” are insufficient to account the design and order credited with the processes of blind chance; instead, Nagel, committed to a naturalist/atheist position, argues that some sort of systemic propensity and purpose needs to be posited to shepherd the evolutionary process intelligently along. In doing so, he begins to share common ground with such “intelligent design” figures as the Caltech Astrophysicist and Christian author Hugh Ross (astrophysicist) – Wikipedia whose organization Reasons to Believe argues :old Earth” theology and science (unlike Answers in Genesis focus on “young Earth” theory). However, the most philosophical summary I have found comes from Oxford mathematician, theologian/bioethicist and philosopher John Lennox who concludes his God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (2009) with “at the end of the day, there are really only two accounts for the cosmos: an intelligent mind and mindless matter. It strikes me as ironic that those who claim to possess the former tend to choose the latter.”

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