Thursday, May 03, 2007

John Doe and the Language of Film

71 asks,

From where do the pseudonyms John Doe and Jane Doe originate?
They seem to come from the need to make legal records public while still allowing for anonymity or the inability to name a legally relevant person (or body thereof). The Oxford English Dictionary has references to "John Doe" and "Richard Roe" going back as far as Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1768, although even the reference there makes it seem as if the names were widely used in legal circles.

What is interesting here for philosophy of language geeks is that "John Doe" is one name that actually is synonymous with a definite description. John Doe is the person whose body was found floating in the river.

Jeff Maynes asks,
Is film a language? I just saw a fascinating talk on this yesterday at a grad conference by a student at UMD, arguing that film had a syntax (and suggesting a semantics). I'm skeptical about the semantic bit, but it seemed like a real question with potential.
there are a number of people doing good work here and I am inclined to say yes. Not only do we interpret cinematographic sequences in the same sort of way that we interpret well formed formulas in a spoken language, but we can run into the same formalist issues. We can, for example, generate something akin to Epimenides' liar paradox. Consider the end of Blazing Saddles, in which the fight between the horde of bad guys and all the town folks spills off the set and into LA proper. The bad guy, Hedey Lamar (that's Hedley), Hedley, tells a taxi driver to drive him off the film. He goes to Grauman's Chinese theater to watch the very film he's in, so that he is now in a film in which he is not in watching the film he's currently both in and not in. But then he comes to see that good sheriff Bart is outside the theater, meaning that statements about the film he wasn't in were true of the frame of the film he was in. We now have "talk" in the film that about the film he wasn't supposed to be in. this is exactly the sort of violation that Russell's theory of types was designed to stop in talking about meta-mathematics. Mel Brooks, Kurt Godel, pretty much the same thing. Since the issues that Russell are concerned with are explicitly linguistic and we have problems of the same form in film, it seems reasonable to argue that film is a language.

Coming attractions: tomorrow, Back to the Future, time, and possible universes. When will then be now?