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Pandora Melly learns how philosophers play Scrabble
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Professor Richard Gregory, 73, cognitive scientist and writer

Wittgenstein said that thinking is a language game - I bet he never played Scrabble. I used to play, but gave it up for science and philosophy. Scrabble isn't actually a game about language. Instead it divests words of their meanings and reduced them to tokens with which one can score points. This is exactly how money is played by economists in the game of monetarism, where a currency is more important than what it can buy. Rather like trying to control the weather by pushing the hand up and down on a barometer!

For writers, words are bricks to be formed into sentence-structures of meaning. Sometimes their structure can be beautiful, in the same way that a building can be beautiful. Couldn't there be a Scrabble for interesting sentences? Or more abstractly, what philosophers call propositions. "Proposition" is a very useful word because it makes the distinction between the sentence - which is a collection of words - and what the sentence actually means.

If proposition Scrabble caught on, reviewers of books might score sentences for their proposition value, awarding meaning and length indices. So we come back to quantifying. But can meanings be valued by numbers? If meaning was more calculable, could one quantify the sylliness of syllables or the soapiness of soap operas? And might we assign points to politicians like cricket scores?

Normally you don't attach a number to a book by saying: "This book is 0.9 good" - although you do when you're marking examination-papers and allocating numbers to somebody's essay. I've never liked doing that, because a number can refer only to one dimension.

I like punning very much, which is really playing games with words. It's in my Who's Whom entry. What do you think of "Cooking in Ancient Greece" as a title for a recipe book?

For a fascinating discussion of the comparative abilities of the brains of ants and elephants, the reader is referred to issue 3, vol 26 (1997) of "Perception" (Ed. Richard Gregory), which Internet users may find at: http://www.pion.co.uk/perception

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