A Chess Problem

I have asked this question before, but another challenger has appeared, and been defeated by it in such an embarrassing fashion, that I wish to throw the question open to any and all comers.

The question is whether or not the metaphysical theory of reductionist materialism, technically known aspanphysicalism, is true or false.

I would ask anyone willing to answer the following questions to answer:

1. Is it true that panphysicalism is the theory that all things one can name are necessarily made of matter?

2. Is it true that everything made of matter can be reduced to a quantitative measurement of physical base units, namely mass, length, duration, candlepower, current, temperature or moles of substance, or some combination thereof?

In other words, does or does not panphysicalism assert that the non-physical properties of physical things (including the ink marks we use on paper to express written words, or the air compression waves used to express spoken words) can ultimately or eventually be reduced to physical properties (such as brain elements in motion)?

3. Is it true that “checkmate” is a thing one can name?

4. Is it true that “checkmate” is a final move in chess when a threatened king cannot make a legal move to escape capture?

5. Is it true that “checkmate” no physical chessman representing the king (nor any physical chessboard representing the board) need be present for the move to be checkmate, since the checkmate can be described completely with no reference to these things?

As an example, allow me here to reproduce the earliest recorded chessgame.

Francesco di Castellvi – Narciso Vinyoles, Valencia 1475
1. e4 d5
2. exd5 Qxd5
3. Nc3 Qd8
4. Bc4 Nf6
5. Nf3 Bg4
6. h3 Bxf3
7. Qxf3 e6
8. Qxb7 Nbd7
9. Nb5 Rc8
10. Nxa7 Nb6
11. Nxc8 Nxc8
12. d4 Nd6
13. Bb5+ Nxb5
14. Qxb5+ Nd7
15. d5 exd5
16. Be3 Bd6
17. Rd1 Qf6
18. Rxd5 Qg6
19. Bf4 Bxf4
20. Qxd7+ Kf8
21. Qd8#

Please note that I here express the game and its conclusion in terms of 210 symbols generated electronically on a computer screen, but that, with no loss of meaning, the same symbols could be penned on paper, carved in stone, read aloud, spread by skywriting, tapped in Morse code into the hand of Helen Keller, contemplated silently in the mind of a monk in a cell, or played out on any number of boards with chessmen fashioned of any number of materials, or depicted in animation on a cartoon representing a board, with no physical board nor chessmen present.

The selfsame game can also be expressed as a four thousand word poem of sixty four stanzas, albeit with additional layers of symbolism which do not here concern us.

6. Can the final move of this game, which is a checkmate, be expressed solely in terms of the measurement of the base units of the physical properties of the physical objects involved?

Or, if a whole game is too complex, can merely the idea of “checkmate” (a final move in chess when a threatened king cannot make a legal move to escape capture) be so expressed?

I invite anyone willing to answer this last question in the affirmative to do so.

FOR IF NOT, then I submit there is at least one named thing which cannot be reduced to an expression of measurements of base units, therefore is a thing not necessarily made of matter, therefore panphyiscalism is not true.

I have hurled down my gauntlet against any willing to pick it up.


A mere assertion that it will one day be possible for someone else to express the meaning of the checkmate in this game in purely physical terms is insufficient to meet the burden of proof.

A mere assertion that the rules, moves, and tactics involved in chess are formations of neurochemical motions in the brain is insufficient, because, even if true, would merely be one more physical expression or representation of a nonphysical idea: the game described using neurons rather than using written words, spoken words, skywriting, Morse code, Catalan poetry, computer animation, or my brother’s heavy marble chess set with hand-carved chessmen he brought back from Hong Kong.

I am not asking if the symbols can be represented using material things to which we human attribute an arbitrary meaning. I am asking about the ideas symbolized by the symbols thus used.

Changing the material properties of the symbol, such as by using a marble chess board rather than an imaginary one, does not save Black from checkmate, or, indeed, change any move or tactic or the essential nature of the game itself.

By way of contrast, changing the material properties of a cheesecake, such as by using marble rather than milk products, would change the essential natural of the slice of cheesecake in question, and render it inedible.

This is because cheesecake is material. Changing the material of which it is made changes it from being cheesecake to being not-cheesecake.

Checkmate is not material. Changing the material used to represent the game does not change it from checkmate to not-checkmate.