Evocation, part 4

4. Games and techniques.
Let us imagine a chess game. Two players assess the situation on the board move by move, perhaps anticipating future positions, but using heuristic techniques, for the most part, in order to narrow the choices among the large multiplicity of possible lines of play from a given position. Master and grandmaster players have peculiar styles to their play. The opponents in the imaginary situation before us play in utterly different ways, but they are aiming at the same goal. One plays a dynamic, aggressive, slashing style, while the other plays a defensive counter-punching positional game. What is it that results in the differences in their play? They see the same situation on the board; if they know their opponent well enough each will be able to anticipate the others' moves. For since there are, even within the confines of the game, many ways for a winning state of affairs to come about, there is often no one best line of play. The why of a certain player's move in a position being different from another, when their skills are equal (and high) has more to do with an interior understanding of general techniques and a set of preferences for classifying the positions on the board as favorable or unfavorable to varying degrees. The heuristic chess masters use are often in common, but many are peculiar to only some or one player, or given special emphasis, or result in varying evaluations depending on the interests and strengths of the player. Mikhail Tal was famous for understanding his opponents' tendencies enough to lure them into far-sighted traps of as many as ten moves (even in grandmaster chess this is an eternity). Other grandmasters played with a special eye for the aesthetic qualities of the game; grandmasters and appreciators are able to find beauty not just in winning strategies but in placements which have little functional difference from others closely related to them in terms of relative advantage.
The long account of chess, while the game has its own aesthetic charms, is given in order to make a point about language. In communication in natural language, and likely in many related symbol systems in which meanings are not always sharply fixed, style is often as important or more important than substance. Certainly art may function like this, with stylistic flourishes overpowering the other properties a work expresses. Perhaps Pollock did as much with technique (or the removal of it, depending on one's viewpoint) as anyone has. There is little of symbolism to be found easily if at all in his drip paintings, but there are many stylistic qualities available.
We use language not just to make ostentations of things we see (or counterfactual ones), but also to transmit abstract ideas such as emotions, mathematics, and even philosophy. Suppose we adopt sensible view in which language is consists by word use, and the largest unit of function is the language-game. Like the chess game, there are many available moves in our language in most situations. Some language-game moves may be more successful than others, depending on how well what is intended to be passed along actually is understood. We are masters of the language-game, and are able to understand these various moves, methods, tendencies, and techniques. Such may include even styles of metaphor-construction.
Recalling the account of predicates as labels in schemata and attached to realms, we can begin to construct a larger picture of language use. A label, as part of a schema, classifies things in the world—even imaginary ones. We have options for the various moves we may make with a label, by choosing a schema in which it fits and applying it to its "home" realm, or to another realm. As I said earlier this classificatory function is a way for us to understand and navigate the world around us, by attaching significance to things and (aspects of) situations. Our linguistic abilities allow us to have rich and complex understandings (that is, relations between concepts expressed in predicates as well as by other sorts of words).
Our concepts relate to one another in different ways for each of us. Though some associations may be common to many people, as with the color orange and the orange fruit, some associations—perhaps most of them—are idiosyncratic, and depend on the history of the individual who has the association in her repertoire of ways to play the language-game. And what shall we say about these associations of concepts, which seem to be of a higher order of organization than the organization that schemata impose on realms? If the latter are constellations of concepts, then the associations are the arrangements that make one's ability to navigate the world through understanding into a galaxy of cognitive states.

[Update. See the rest at parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7.]


Post a Comment


Create a Link

<< Home