Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Ontology of Sociology

The present post is simply a sort of by-trifle to The Ontology of Psychology.   It might alternatively be dubbed “The characterology of individual action in a multiperson structured setting”.

The unit of analysis  in Goffman’s accounts  is always the individual role-player  striving to effect his will  within a role-structuring situation.
-- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981; 21984), p.  115

This put me curiosly in mind of the ‘sociology’ of chessmen.  (Here we speak, not of the vision of grandmasters, which is doubtless far more holistic, but of patzers, which is the only one I know.) 
Originally, the game was a metaphor or rather ‘video-game representation’ for medieval warfare.  Thrilling stuff.   And to a beginner, at least, it really does feel as though individual pieces are venturing out, or ignominiously retreating,  issuing powerful threats or just pushing pawnily along.   Sometimes, a noble warrior even ventures to be ‘sacrificed’ for the greater good.  I can testify that, as a scrappy lad first learning the rudiments, the queen, rather than just a factor among many, in a sort of multivariate algebraic equation,  was dizzying in her potential power -- “Wait’ll I sic my queen on ‘im!”  It was reminiscent of the culture of trading baseball cards -- Trajea a Mickle Mantle for a Yogi Berra plus a Roger Marris.    An archive of children’s chess-matches  would probably back this up, showing far more early-game forays by that dominating dame, than in expert play.

Compare, from Nabokov’s chess-novel:

…palpable pieces whose quaint shape and wooden materiality  always disturbed him, and always seemed to him but the crude, mortal shell  of exquisite, invisible chess forces.
Luzhin removed and placed on the table beside him  what was no longer an incoporeal force, but a heavy, yellow Pawn.
… The weightiest elements on the board  called to one another with trumpet voices, and again there was an exchange, and again two chess forces  were transformed into carved, brightly lacquered dummies.
-- Vladimir Nabokov, The Luzhin Defense (1964)


In Go, by contrast, the counters are all blandly interchangeable in themselves.   They pop out of nowhere, one by one (indefinitely); and once placed, have no power to move from the spot.  A holistic view is imposed even on the beginner.

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