Darn You, Doc!

This is just what I love about my friends online, and just what drives me crazy. At the threshold of a weekend of manic activity, Doc responds to my vote of confidence with an elegant clarification that provokes me to push back a little. As a wise man once proposed, “It’s more complicated than it appears.”

My demurrer involves the second part of Doc’s formulation: “Gestures are expressions of intent.” I’d like to factor the word “intent” out, for a variety of reasons. At first, I thought that “intent” might be implicit in “expression”from the start, but then I recognized that we could speak intelligibly of unconscious expressions; when my eyes widen in surprise, I express my startled response without intending it, and we could multiply examples indefinitely. My [initially] preferred alternative “Gestures are deliberate expressions,” which I hoped would capture the element of intent without using an overloaded word, seems to leave out some phenomena. But the possibility of unintentional expression, and of significant gestures that aren’t deliberate, leads me to wonder whether some gestures might be unintentional?

I see a possible usefulness in talking about “intent” in the marketing context: we want to offer advertisers something to work with, and if (on Doc’s account, still haven’t gotten to Steve’s) we can get advertisers thinking about their interlocutors as maybe “intending to buy something,” they’ll be more likely to pay attention. Of course, Doc can just stipulate that when he says “gesture,” this is what he means. But what about this: what if we opted for “Gestures are expressions of interest,” or “are interested expressions” (using “interest” in the sense of “interested parties,” “people whose interests are affected by X”)? Does that advance the cause of precision in our use of this term? (I have no particular interest in making it more salable to marketers, though if the discussion helps Doc gain traction for his arguments, then so much the better.)

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