Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Monday, January 09, 2006

Chess and Storytelling

Two of my favorite philosophers are Martin Gardner and Raymond Smullyan.

Gardner, in turn, admits that his philosophy is inspired by the writings of Miguel de Unamuno (whom I had never heard of before, and whom I have never read).

Smullyan calls his brand of philosophy 'Logical Positivism' (although I'd be hard pressed to give a definition of it). But I enjoy reading Smullyan (whom I have also met in person).

Smullyan gave me autographed copies of two of his less popular books, The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights. They are books of retrograde chess problems, couched within amusing character-driven stories.

I was thinking about chess and storytelling last night, after attending a hand-wringing session with a group of people all of whom have been victimized by a notorious unethical law firm that specializes in fleecing people who are unlucky enough to become embroiled in litigation arising from condominium disputes.

Trials are a contest of storytelling and chess. The winner is whichever party tells the best story and devises the best legal maneuvers. The hand-wringing group that met yesterday are distinguished for telling inchoate and incoherent stories and playing miserable games of courtroom chess.

Since neither party can tell a coherent story, the trial never concludes and the only winner is the unscrupulous lawyer whose legal maneuvers keep the litigation running indefinitely as the litigants blather increasingly incoherent accounts of their escalating tsuris.

But the story about the unscrupulous law firm is easy to tell.

First they shake you up. Then they shake you down.


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