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Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
January 26, 2004

There was a saying that I learned in high school biology that stated "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". I remember the saying and it's underlying supposition that the developmental stages of an embryo repeats the evolutionary development.

I looked it up to be sure and found that this is called the "biogenetic law" or the "theory of recapitulation" and that it was proposed in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel but has been discretited although modern biology does recognize some connections between ontogeny and phylogeny and there might even be some allegorical truth to the saying.

Well, I'm not a scientist, but this saying occurred to me the other day while pondering the evolution of chess and I wondered, "Do we, as individuals, recapitulate the historical development of chess in our own learning processes?"

Do we, as individuals, start with some confusion of the rules and even the piece movements, then learn a few openings with little idea about the ideas behind them, then learn some tactics and traps with which to win a few games from even weaker opponents, then start to understand where some of these openings are leading and so we increase our repetoire, gradually learning the significance of pawns and squares which in turn leads us to a more positional mentality until we finally reach the maturity of understanding and looking for the correct move that satisfies the position, advances our plans and hopefully succeeds in gaining some advantage?

It, at first, seemed to me that this is true at least as an analogy. But I started considering those special people who go from infancy to maturity in a few years. There have been a few prodigies and lately in seems that every new GM is hardly more than a child. Chesswise, they go directly to adulthood while the rest of us are stuck in a permantent state of adolescence, or as in my case, early childhood. So, while this idea of recapitulation works to some degree in most cases, it doesn't work in all cases.
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