Is there a C-object Operator?

August 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

In computer games and similar media we interact with pictorial representations. In reporting this interaction, we are not simply reporting our interaction with representations, but we report what is being done as what is being depicted.  How are we to understand the literal contents of these reports?  More generally, is it useful to think of these setting as imposing an operator the reports of what is normally taken to be depicted?

In a couple of conference presentations (here and here), I have presented and elaborated a particular view about the nature of this sort of action.  It is customary to account for the nature of the relationship in terms of notions such as fictionality, pretense, imagination and especially simulation or virtuality.  As complentary notion I have proposed that we in such settings see a peculiar semantic phenomenon, something that I want to distinguish from these other accounts. When we report a player actions as in

(1) John shoots a bear

in the context of game play, we are reporting actions with graphical shapes with properties that are derived from their original representational properties.  For example, certain graphical features of a shape is used to show that it represents running or shooting, and these features and objects is what I have called “c-objects”.  As I see it, these -c-objects and c-features are the peculiar result of a culture saturated and immersed in representations, in which reality reasserts itself by transforming semantic features into complementary real properties and objects.  In context of game play, I would propose that what is reported in (1) really has the literal content of:

(2) John c-shoots a c-bear

As a device to clarify the the logical and other semantic implications of these reports, Olav Asheim has proposed to use a generalized operator that is at work in reports of such happenings. The operator Np,t(p) which takes a proposition such as “Alice is flying” with an index for person and time, and mapts it into a proposition for relevant contexts that systematically modifies the original report, whether it be in a dream, in a game, in a fictional book, or the settings in a computer game.  Thus candidates for instances of N applied to “John shoots a bear” might be:

(3) Pretend john, tuesday (John shoots a bear)

(4) Imagine john, tuesday (John shoots a bear)

(5) Virtual john, tuesday (John shoots a bear)

or, as Asheim also proposes

(6) Ludically john, tuesday (John shoots a bear)

Any conclusions about the nature of what is reported will depend both on the concrete analysis of how each operator maps a proposition from the original report, and whether it yields a satisfactory account or explanation of the phenomenon in question.  What I want to consider here is whether the proposed analysis of the c-objects at the level of reports about them can be accounted for in the form of a special C-operator that apply to the normal reports.

Asheim argues that if I claim that an interactive setting gives rise to new properties and predicates, so that (1) in the context of game play is analyzed as:

i)  John C-shoots a C-bear

then the following transformations are in order:

ii) (E)x(C-bear(x) & C-shoots(John, x))

iv) (E)x(C(bear(x)) & C(shoots(John, x)))

v) (E)x(C(bear(x) & shoots(John, x))

While I will not rule out that there is such a thing as a C-operator, I am hesitant for two reasons.

First, there is the matter of utility. I assume that it is possible to make all sorts of “operators” in the sense that one can transform propositions in systematic ways, for example by adding time and place, a standard logical modification or some such thing. It is perhaps possible to have a null-operator that maps a proposition back to itself.  We don’t need such operators: if an operator is to have a practical utility it must add an expressive power that not contained in the paraphrase of ordinary extensional logic, hence why there are such things as modal or deontic operators. This is also why there might be useful to have such a thing as a pretense operator.  However, in going from (1) to (2), there is no practical need for a special operator. The logical relations are are exactly the same as in ordinary logic and “c-shoots” is a straighforward predicate just like “shoots”. In such cases it is perhaps best to just use the new predicates, rather than complicate matters by a sentential operator. So my retort is: why would we need a C-operator?

Secondly, I have my doubts as to whether a C-operator would be sufficiently clearly defined.  Asheim is certainly right that according to the proposal, the c-properties are created in a systmatical fashion, but even so, I’m not sure if it is sufficiently systematic or predictable to qualify as an operator.

In the proposed set of equivalences above I have no objection to the move from i) to ii). I have a problem the move from ii) to iii) in which c-bear(x) is proposed to be equivalent with C( bear(x)). This does not sense to me, since the variable no longer is within the scope of the quantifier in the latter expression?  In any case, it seems clear that iv) is a candidate on its own merit, since in interacting with representations the report (1) is transformed to (2). My problem here is that the transformation is an empirical process of meaning change, and it depends on whether the application conditions of the relevant predicates are dependent on graphical surroundings or not. It is also dependent on whether there is a sufficient amount of interaction going on. It seems to me that an operator, while the operation may not be actually specified, must depend on some purely a priori criterial principle. Hence Fictional(p) simply applies an operation that gives rise to the proposition “If is fictional that p”. Whatever it means to be fictional, this particular transformation is a priori.  It would be wrong to use an operator whose operation is contingent and empirically determined. It would allow operators such as Tuesday15 april(John is Oslo) which transformed the enclosed proposition to “John is Trondheim” because John happened to be in Trondheim on that date. The meaning change effected by interaction is a bit like that.

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§ 2 Responses to Is there a C-object Operator?

  • Olav Asheim says:

    What exactly is a C-bear, and what does it mean to C-shoot. I have proposed before that the C can be interpreted as an operator (a predicate operator, or, almost equivalently, an operator on open sentences which can also be applied to closed sentences). John Richard has some misgivings about this analysis. He seems to suspect that the variable can no longer be in the scope of a quantifier in the expression “C(bear(x))”. I see no reason for worry here so long as the operator is otherwise meaningful: C is defined as a predicate operator. His other doubts are more important: Is such an operator of any use to us? Or is it kind of ad hoc, constructed post factum, so to speak. This is a question that deserves serious consideration. In search of an answer I will take a new look at the C as a modifier, starting with

    1. There is an object x such that (x is a C-bear & John C-shoots x).

    First, what does “x is a C-bear” mean? I will propose the analysis “x counts as a bear in the game”. Similarly, I analyze “John C-shoots x” as “x performs an action that counts as shooting x in the game”. Do these open sentences allow of ‘translations’ that are operator constructions? “Counts as” is a kind of relation, but it is a very special relation, relating an object and a property. (We have learned from Davidson that actions and other events should be treated as objects. Ordered pairs, triples, and so on can also be treated as objects, as when we say “Peter and Mary count as a married couple in the game”.) It is not obvious that “count(s) as” can be replaced by an operator. However, if the object is a proposition (that p) and the property is truth, then we have what in effect is a sentence operator: “That p counts as true in the game.” We could possibly extend this strategy to open sentences in the following way: “That x is a bear counts as true in the game” and “That x shoots y counts as true in the game”. We then get

    2. There is an object x such that it counts as true in the game that (x is a bear & John shoots x).

  • jrsageng says:

    Thanks for your comments. I was not aware of the possibility of a combined predicate and sentence operator, but that should no doubt make the transition from ii) to v) legitimate (just noticed the wrong numbering).

    I have to object to the alternative account of the c-predicate in the new proposal, though. You write:

    “First, what does “x is a C-bear” mean? I will propose the analysis “x counts as a bear in the game”.”

    This is not what I intend with the c-predicates. A c-bear is a former graphical representation of a bear and does not count as a bear in the game. It counts as c-bear, in other words a graphical object that is somewhat similar in apperance a bear.

    I also have a problem with the notion of “counts as true in the game” here:

    “There is an object x such that it counts as true in the game that (x is a bear & John shoots x).”

    I think “counts as true” has two interpretations. It is either

    a. Is true, or
    b. Is pretended by S to be true.

    In the former case there is no need for an operator to analyse c-predicates since ordinary paraphrase applies. In the latter case, we are looking at a different operator. Again, my intention is that c-predicates express plain properties without any cognitive modification. True, there will often be pretense involved, but then the form of the report is: John pretends that the c-bear is a bear.

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