Schemas, and Plans
GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON KNOWLEDGE
Efficient processing of texts cannot afford to operate on a LOCAL scale.
Procedures which could handle only single items or small groups of items would
lack the requisite directionality and control that keep tabs on predictions and
probabilities in such a diverse intersystem as communication. I noted in II.2.9,
for example, that syntactic processing should treat single items as MICRO-STATES
inside MACRO-STATES, so that the building of structures would have orderly
priorities. In III.4.27, I argued that the SPACES in text-world models can be
viewed as conceptual macro-states. However, these structures originate largely
from within the text, i.e., they are BOTTOM-UP macro-states; there must also be
TOP- DOWN macro-states coming from outside the text and supplying GLOBAL
hypotheses about what is going on in the textual world (on top-down versus
bottom-up, cf. I.6.5). In this chapter, I shall explore recent work concerning
these large-scale stored organizers for knowledge.
Whether in memory storage or in actual utilization, configurations of knowledge
can have at least four perspectives (III.4.II.7). First, knowledge can be viewed
as an ARRAY in which elements are arranged such that access of
potentially relevant elements is provided. This perspective is called a FRAME
(cf. Minsky 1975; Charniak 1975c; Winograd 1975;1 [1. Some
researchers seem to treat “frame” and “schema” as synonymous, but the
distinction is both crucial in theory and borne out by the major sources I cite.
Of course, still other ways could be found to contrast them (cf. Tannen’s
blinkered survey, 1979); Scragg 1976; Petöfi 1976; Metzing [ed.] 1979). For
example, a ‘house’-frame would be a network of entries such as parts,
substances, uses, etc. that houses have (cf. III.3.25). The format is one of
links fanning out from a conceptual control center (III.3.8), with no single
commitment to a sequence of actualization. Second, knowledge can be viewed as a
PROGRESSION in which elements occur during actualization. This
perspective is called a SCHEMA (cf. Bartlett 1932; Rumelhart 1975, 1977a, 1977b;
Rumelhart & Ortony 1977; Spiro 1977; Kintsch 1977a; Mandler & Johnson
1977; Thorndyke 1977; Kintsch & van Dijk 1978a, 1978b; Adams & Collins
1979; Freedle & Hale 1979). For example, a ‘house’-schema could describe
the order in which houses are assembled, or the sequences in which people can
walk through them. The schema is thus much more committed to an ordered sequence
of actualization than is the frame.
Third, knowledge can be viewed as relevant to a person’s PLAN in which
elements advance the planner toward a GOAL (cf. Sussman 1973; Abelson 1975;
Sacerdoti 1977; Schank & Abelson 1977; Allen & Perrault 1978; Carbonell
Jr. 1978a; Coben 1978; McCalia 1978a; Wilensky 1978; Beaugrande 1979a, 1979b).
For example, someone who wants a house or is told that somebody else wants one
would summon up plans for building or buying a house. The
‘house-getting’-plan will look very different depending on the method
selected. A plan to buy a house will also differ from a plan to burgle one—a
factor affecting priorities of processing (R. Anderson & Pichert 1978).
Fourth, knowledge can be viewed as a SCRIPT in which elements are INSTRUCTIONS
to PARTICIPANTS about what they should say or do in their respective ROLES
(Schank & Abelson 1977; Cullingford 1978; McCalla 1978a, 1978b). For
example, a ‘restaurant’-script has instructions for the customer, the
waiter, and the cashier (or the policeman if you don’t pay), to be enacted in
an established pattern.
These four perspectives yield a gradation from general access toward operational
directionality and order. Frames and schemas are more oriented toward the
internal arrangement of knowledge, while plans and scripts reflect human needs
to get things done in everyday interaction. One might argue that schemas are
frames put in serial order, that plans are goal-directed schemas, and scripts
socially stabilized plans (on the latter cf. Schank & Abelson 1977: 72f.).
In this progression, the pattern becomes more selective, and expectations more
definite at any given time of application; consequently, the episodic aspect
dominates over the purely conceptual-relational one more and more. However,
considerations of economy (III.3.18) lead me to suppose that much knowledge is
shared by these perspectives. For example, the ‘house’-frame could be
selectively activated to produce a ‘house-building’-schema by following
“part-of” and “substance-of” links and then putting the results in an
order dictated by knowledge about materials and construction. The frame would be
useful for a descriptive text about existing houses, and the schema helps in
telling or understanding a story about a particular house getting built. If
people were then called upon to actually build a house themselves, they could
convert the schema into a plan via further knowledge about how to buy or obtain
materials, how to select a site, and how to procure the co-operation of other
people. A professional contractor doubtless has a complete, detailed, and
routinely applied ‘house-building’-script that other people do not possess.
These large-scale knowledge configurations supply top-down input for a wide
range of communicative and interactive tasks. Their utilization is a form of
PROCEDURAL ATTACHMENT, where operations are adapted and specified to fit a
current requirement (Bobrow & Winograd 1977; cf. II.2.19; III.4.1). This
attachment requires more processing as the task at hand becomes more detailed
and precise. For instance, a schema or plan for ‘house-building’ undergoes
more development for a large, luxurious edifice than for a small, modest one.
Still, the availability of global patterns of knowledge cuts down on
non-determinacy enough to offset idiosyncratic bottom-up input that might
otherwise be confusing (cf. IV.2.9).
Depending on context and co-text, the selection of the appropriate global
pattern may be difficult (cf. Wilks 1975a: 47, 1977b: 389; Collins, Brown, &
Larkin 1977; Schank & Abelson 1977: 58; Charniak 1978; Rumelhart 1978; Woods
1978b: 9ff.). The consensus is that an understander must watch for cues and
their “intersections” (Charniak) or “coincidences” (Woods). Obviously,
the understander cannot afford to wait and gather large numbers of cues, or the
pattern won’t be selected in time to be very useful. Hypotheses should be
formed early and applied until a major snag is encountered (cf. Kuipers 1975).
This procedure is not without drawbacks: the early hypothesis might be wrong and
bias understanding such that contradictory cues would be overlooked for too long
a time (cf. Bruner & Potter 1964). The understander may be able to adjust by
treating the first hypothesis, now rejected, as a “near miss” (Winston 1975)
that may remain useful for reasoning by ANALOGY (cf. III.3.21).
The occurrence of DETERMINATE cues is plainly more reliable than that of TYPICAL
ones, and typical in turn more reliable than ACCIDENTAL. If a text starts right
out with (Charniak 1978: 187):
(172) The woman waved as the man on stage sawed her in half.
‘magician’-frame or ‘magic-trick’-schema can be confidently applied,
even without having these domains named in the surface text. However, if the
text beginning were less determinate:
(173) John walked thoughtfully down the aisle.
many candidate frames (supermarket, church, airplane) or schemas (shopping,
getting married, getting on a plane) could fit. The understander would have to
wait for a continuation, such as:
He swiped a can of caviar from the display shelf.
(174b) He swiped a Bible from a pew.
(174c) He swiped a bottle of tequila from the stewardess’s cart.
Bransford and M. Johnson (1973) deliberately constructed non- determinate texts
for people to read. They found that the following sample was treated as nearly
incomprehensible and was poorly recalled (1973: 392f.):
If the balloons popped the sound wouldn’t be able to carry since everything
would be too far away from the correct floor. A closed window would also prevent
the sound from carrying, since most buildings tend to be well insulated. Since
the whole operation depends on a steady flow of electricity, a break in the
middle of the wire would also cause problems. Of course, the fellow could shout,
but the human voice is not strong enough to carry that far. An additional
problem is that a string could break on the instrument. Then there could be no
accompaniment to the message. It is clear that the best situation would involve
less distance. Then there would be fewer potential problems. With face to face
contact, the least number of things could go wrong.
supplied some subjects with a picture showing a young man presenting a serenade
with guitar accompaniment to his girlfriend; she was positioned at the window of
her sixth-floor apartment, obliging the man to transmit the song via a
microphone whose loudspeaker was supported outside her window by six
lighter-than-air balloons.2 [2. The picture provides the background knowledge
which the definite articles presuppose; even the articles become exophoric (cf.
V.5).] The subjects with the picture understood the text right away and recalled
more than twice as much as the others. This text describes a rare and improbable
situation, but Bransford and Johnson (1973: 400) also prepared an unresolvably
non-determinate text about the everyday activity of washing clothes, and the
results were the same.
Normally, texts are not constructed with the intention to be irreducibly
non-determinate. But this tactic can be applied in literary texts, however,
especially those produced in settings of political censorship. Wolf Diermann’s
song about ‘China behind the wall’ ostensibly comments on conditions in the
People’s Republic of China; but it can (and, given Biermann’s situation,
doubtless should) be taken as applying to conditions in East Germany behind its
own gruesome wall. Religious texts avail themselves of non-determinacy, so that
some metaphysical mode of existence can be portrayed in terms of everyday
existence; such is the case with the allegories in the New Testament. An
intriguing but still open question is whether these alternative textual worlds
are built up in parallel, or whether processing has to treat them sequentially
(the latter view taken in Schmidt 1979).
Non-determinacy can be introduced from the side of the receiver as well. One can
take many texts and apply to them knowledge patterns that their producers may
not have even considered. For example, managers of a recent seminar on
“Marketing Warfare” proclaimed that ‘what works best in warfare also works
best in marketing.’ They distributed posters with quotations from Carl von
Clausewitz’s 1832 book On War, each quote being translated into the
frames, schemas, and plans of American business, e.g.:
Napoleon’s objective was not to merely outmaneuver but to annihilate the
Translation: Keep pushing till you hear from the feds [federal government
agencies controlling business practices until George W. Bush stole the White
Moral effects are greater on the side of the conquered rather than the
Translation: God is on the side of General Motors.
support of their metaphoric outlook, the managers circulated a statement of a
female business executive:
In presenting my ideas to an all-male board, I’ve found I’m understood
better when I use the military or football terminology of offensive-defensive.
Frames, schemas, plans, and scripts should be capable of INHERITANCE (cf.
III.3.19). Inheritance would apply for relations of classes to superclasses and
metaclasses. A ‘sun-frame could inherit from a ‘star’-frame, a
‘folktale’-schema from a ‘story’-schema, a ‘bank-robbing’-plan from
a ‘steal’-plan, and a ‘pizza-parlor-script from a ‘restaurant’-seript.
The storage address of knowledge would depend upon what patterns were more
likely and efficient in use (see especially Fahlman 1977). A statement of
CANCELLATIONS (cf. III.3.19; VI.3.4) could apply, e.g. changing the ‘visible
at night’ of the ‘star-frame to ‘visible during the day’ for the
‘sun’-frame. Plausibly, text processing often requires several frames,
schemas, etc. to interact with each other, leading to further modifications in
context (cf. D. Bobrow & Norman 1975; Adams & Collins 1979).
The standard of INFORMATIVITY requires that understanding cannot involve perfect
matching of input to a frame or schema; instead, there must be at least minor
variables or discrepancies to uphold interestingness. Thus, an understander
can’t afford to discard a frame or schema at the slightest difficulty. Other
recourses could be: (1) check to see if the mismatching element is connected by
determinate, typical, or accidental linkage to its environment in the frame or
schema; (2) if accidental, continue as before; (3) if typical or determinate,
check to see if the text is fictional. We saw in IV.4 that a newspaper writer
constructed an article so that a ‘psychoanalyst-patient’-frame worked for
the opening stretch of text, but had to be discarded in favor of an
‘anthropologist-chimpanzee’-frame later on. The discarding does not vitiate
the usefulness of the original frame for understanding the context where it did
When the text fails to match receivers’ frames, an operation of FRAME DEFENSE
may ensue: the text is rejected or simply not understood in order to preserve
the validity of the frame (Beaugrande 1978b: 9f.). A striking demonstration was
provided by an editorial board’s comments on a paper I submitted to a
prominent journal in educational research. One reviewer was a professor of
English Education and another of Linguistics. The paper was rather critical of
conventional linguistics and proposed to deal with the issues from a quite
disparate direction. While the English professor remarked that ‘the untempered
rejection of sentence grammars (context-free) as avenues of understanding
reading is important (and, I believe, correct) and in need of restatement’,
the linguist decried the paper as ‘polemical about linguistics,
unnecessarily.’ The intriguing point was that due to frames, the two reviewers
reached totally opposite judgments of the readability and style of the paper.
The English professor’s remarks on these headings are in (179) and the
Linguist’s in (180):
Appropriate to this purpose, objective. Lucid. The subject matter is
necessarily complex, including multiple, systemic inter-relationships. The
writing style clarifies and exemplifies relationships as simply and directly as
If I didn’t have to review this article I would have stopped reading it
shortly after I began. His/ her main points are buried in a writing style that
surely tested my patience, to be utterly frank. Diffuse, tiring, not to the
this fashion, evidence in support of frames can be garnered even among scholars
who are reluctant to admit the existence of such mental constructs.
So far, it is not settled how global knowledge organizers should be constituted.
To conduct empirical studies, we need at least some indication of the nature,
extent, and construction of mental patterns. Although we cannot observe the
patterns themselves, we can observe their influence upon human utilization of
knowledge. I shall illustrate this approach in regard to frames, schemas, and
plans in the course of this chapter. My explorations are all oriented toward the
use of texts. It might be desirable to find some text-independent means of
studying global organizers, but I see no way to do so with a reliable consensus.
A text whose topic is not familiar should make people uncertain about finding a
frame. An experiment I conducted with the help of Richard Hersh at the
University of Florida pursued this prediction by presenting the following brief
Sunspots are believed to be caused by magnetic fields inside the sun. (181.2)
These fields slow down the energy flowing up from inside the sun, (181.3) so
that the gases above them are cooler and seem darker in color.
groups of subjects heard the text read aloud and were asked to write down as
much as they could remember of it. The second group, however, was required to
wait five minutes before writing, during which time no activities were imposed.
I felt that direct reproduction from short-term sensory storage would certainly
become impossible in that interval.
If the text were fully and accurately understood as is, the result might be a
configuration such as that in Figure 23.
entire content is encased in a BELIEF SPACE, evoked by ‘are believed’ in the
text (cf. Hendrix 1975, 1978).3 [3.I include the inference
that the ‘belief is held by ‘scientists’, as verified by our test results
(V1.2.4). We also have an instance of an underlying relation-’cause-of-being
mapped onto a surface expression. I use the convention of simply passing the
link label ‘ca’ (for cause) along to the next node.] In addition to
‘sunspots’, ‘the main nodes are ‘magnetic ‘fields’, and ‘gases’,
as indicated by their multiple linkage. The explanation for sunspots is a causal
chain: (1) magnetic fields slow down energy; (2) gases above become cooler; (3)
cooler places are darker; (4) darkness yields spots.
I did not anticipate that our test subjects, all first-year college students,
would have prior expertise about sunspots. In fact, only 3 out of 35 rendered
intact the causal chain just stated. The rest omitted or altered the textual
world in ways suggestive of attempts to subsume the material under some
non-specialized frame-like concept.
The most striking instance was the student who declared the text to be dealing
with an ‘eclipse of the sun’, cued apparently by ‘sun’ plus
‘darker’. In contrast, the addition of ‘scientists’ as
holders of the ‘belief’ was a fully reasonable inference for the type of
material. We tabulated our protocols to find the concepts that fared the best,
with these results: ‘magnetic fields’ won out with 25 out of 35; ‘dark’
then followed with 21, ‘gases ’and ‘cool’ with 18 each, and ‘slow’
had only 6 recalls. The tendency to utilize ‘magnetic ficlds’ as a subsuming
frame over others is very manifest in the amount of associated entries readers
added to that node. Consider these protocol fragments:
Sunspots are believed to be caused by lines of magnetic force which radiate
outward from the center of the sun.
Sunspots are caused by magnetic fields around the sun that build up the heated
particles in one area.
this content is derived from knowledge about magnetism rather than from the
presentation. The same source may have led to their statements about
‘electricity’ (1 subject), ‘force’ (5), ‘radiation’ (3), and
‘disturbance’ (1); and three subjects relocated the fields ‘around the
sun’, following a ‘lines of force’ notion like that in (182). On the other
hand, the students had a hard time envisioning magnetism slowing down gases. One
converted the ‘fields’ to ‘shields’ to make this effect more acceptable.
The causality between cooling and darkening was better recalled (18 subjects).
The notion of ‘spot’ depends
determinately on the attribute ‘dark’ or at least ‘darker than surrounding
area’. One subject mentioned ‘blotches,’ one ‘patches’, and one even
made the spots ‘black’. The subject who recalled only:
Sunspots in the sun are always dark in color.
another whose protocol was almost the same (both on the no-delay condition!) may
have understood or recalled almost none of the text, but knew of course what
‘spots’ should be. One subject drew the concepts of ‘cool’ and
‘dark’ even closer together by eliminating the need for causality:
The temperature of the gases on the sun varies in color resulting in dark spots.
The candidate frame of ‘sun’ however, was not heavily used, perhaps because
it doesn’t provide much help for this particular text world. This frame may
have been used by the subjects who mentioned ‘molten gases’, ‘hotter
gases’, and ‘extra heat at the surface of the sun’, where an
‘attribute’ was inferred; and the recall of the ‘spots’ as
‘circles’ evidently by conflation with the form of the sun. Experts
on astronomy would doubtless have made better use of the ‘sun’-frame—a
sketch is provided in Beaugrande (1979j)—
and had a ‘sunspot-formation’-schema securely stored.
These results only begin to suggest the intricacies of frame attachment.
However, they already suggest that even a straightforward, short (37-word) text
is processed via general knowledge patterns akin to the “advance organizers”
envisioned by David Ausubel (1960). In the following section on schema
attachment, I suggest that global knowledge patterns have their own priorities
regarding what materials are important and they should get organised.
To explore schema attachment, I return to the ‘rocket’ sample (35) given in
full in III.4.20. That text is better treated by a schema than a frame, since it
deals with a sequence of events rather than with a description of a rocket as
such. Of course, a ‘rocket’-frame could apply to some portions, and we
should probably designate processing as dominated by the schema, not as
exclusively and exhaustively attached by it.
A schema can also be represented as a NETWORK, although with a fixed ordering.
its nodes appear as a progression of EVENTS and STATES in a time continuum. Our
surface text is conventional in that it follows the underlying time order
consistently, although, as we shall see, the surface signaling of the various
events and states is uneven.
3.3 The ‘flight-schema is regular and balanced, as is
graphically clear from Figure 24.
internal patterning of ‘location’ state exited via a ‘motion’ event that
leads to entry into a new ‘location’ state runs recursively throughout. The
initiation operator ‘ί’ applies to the initial ‘take-off’ event,
and the termination operator ‘τ’ to the’ ‘land’ event. The
minimal components of ‘flight’ would be an object in the class of’
‘flying objects’ (or a subclass of it) that ‘takes off,’ ‘ascends’
to a ‘peak’, then ‘descends’ ‘near the ground’, and ‘lands’
finally ‘on the ground’. The actual text does not make all these events and.
states explicit. It follows that if people nonetheless recall them, the evidence
for the schema as a mental pattern is fairly strongly proven (more evidence
cited in VIII.2.2).
The superclass of ‘flying objects’ could have various subclasses, such as
‘aircraft’, ‘birds’, ‘bats’, ‘cannonballs’, ‘service
personnel’, and so on. Our ‘rocket’ belongs to a further subclass of
‘aircraft’, and its specification could CANCEL (III.3.19) some expectations
about ‘aireraft’ that would otherwise be INHERITED (cf. Fahlman 1977: 94):
rockets of this primitive type did not usually have pilots and landing gear, for
example. These cancel links are shown in Figure 24.
If this schema were applied as top-down input to the reading of the ‘rocket’
text, its nodes would be inserted as CONTROL CENTERS into the text-world model,
and text-world entries confirming each node would be hooked on, yielding a
configuration such as we see in Figure 25.
The various densities reflect the different degrees of node confirmation. The cues that the rocket begins down ‘on the ground’ are reliable: ‘stood’ indicates a stationary location that is at
asserted to be a known geographical region in the southwestern United States. At
the moment of being ‘empty’, it could certainly not be in motion yet. Note
that despite the lack of tense distinction (‘had weighed’ would be clearer),
readers would infer the ‘empty’ state to be earlier than the ‘carry’ of
the next assertion. The presence of the entire fuel supply also indicates the
rocket still being on the ground, because none has been burned up.
3.6 As was suggested in III.4.29, the proposition
‘everything was ready’ can be taken as subsuming whatever was needed to
‘enable’ the ‘take-off’ event. That event is shown to be imminent by the
‘flares’ serving’ as a signal to fire the rocket’. The ‘take-off’ is
expressed only by means of ‘rise’, though the “causal proximity” to
‘roar’ and ‘burst of flame’ points to the initial motion rather than to
simply ‘ascending’. The following state of being ‘near the ground’ is
only inferentially represented by the first ‘slow’ rate of rising, since at
low altitudes, propulsion must work hardest against gravity and inertia. The
entry ‘rise’ also represents the ‘ascend’ event, along with ‘sped
upward’ and the increase in velocity (‘faster and faster).
The peak height of this particular flight is never mentioned at all, and must be
inferred to have been reached somewhere between ‘sped upward’ and
‘return’. The notion of extreme altitude is at most suggested by the
flame’s resembling ‘a yellow star’ and the rocket’s being ‘too high to
be seen’ — reasoning by analogy in the first instance, and by disenablement
in the second. The ‘descend’ event easily attaches ‘return’, and, by a
further inference, the ‘watching plane’ whose altitude would be lower than
the rocket’s.5 [5. This inference was well documented in our
empirical data (e.g. in the sample protocol shown in VII.3.35).] The state of
‘near the ground’ doesn’t attach anything, not being relevant to a rocket
without landing gear (hence, it is not problematic). The ‘land’ event
attaches ‘plunge into earth’, and the final state ‘on the ground’
emerges from the mention of the ‘starting point’. It is significant that the
producer of our sample text saw no reason to say anything more as soon as the
final schema event and state had been expressed. The mapping of text boundaries
onto schema boundaries is a sufficient strategy for signaling beginnings and
endings of texts.
To investigate the role of the schema in comprehension and recall, we turn to
the findings on this text obtained by Walter Kintsch and Althea Turner at the
University of Colorado and later replicated by Richard Hersh and Roger Drury at
the University of Florida. College students (mostly first-year) read the text
either aloud or silently and were asked to write in their own words whatever
they could remember. If a ‘flight’-schema had indeed been used, people
should recall materials connected to schema nodes the best; or, if material had
been overlooked or subjected to decay, the schema could guide a PROBLEM-SOLVING
search to restore connectivity (cf. 1.6.7). Both of these predictions were
confirmed by the data.
The inference that the ‘ready’ state should be associated with the take-off
was often expressed in protocols. In one group of
36 readers, 9 wrote ‘ready for blast-off’ or words to that effect.
The treatment of the ‘take-off’ and ‘ascend’ events was still more
revealing. They are represented in the sample text by the same expression
‘rise’. But our subjects frequently split their recall into an expression
with an initiation component, and an expression without one-precisely the
distinction at stake here. The expression ‘take-off appeared verbatim in no
less than 29 out of the 72 protocols for this text version. Counting alternative
expressions with initiation (e.g. ‘lift off’, ‘launch’, ‘shoot off’
etc.), there was a striking total of 71 occurrences. Surely such a result could
not come from any source other than a ‘flight’-schema. The expression
‘ascend’ was used by 6 subjects, and, added to alternative expressions
without initiation (e.g. ‘go up’), reached 21 occurrences; the original
‘rise’ turned up in only 4 protocols. This dominance of initiation
expressions reflects their higher relevance for introducing the initial schema
event, without which nothing more can happen.
The text makes no mention of the point where the rocket attained its maximum
height. Thus, two subjects who mentioned the rocket being ‘at its peak’ must
also have been using the schema. Of course, an ‘ascend’ followed by a
‘descend’ obviates the peak to a large extent, as the original text attests.
Many subjects might have inferred this content but not bothered to mention it.
Subjects were less insistent on getting the rocket back down than they had been
on getting it up. This finding might arise from the focus on the more
PROBLEMATIC aspects: propulsion and gravity make FAILURE more imminent (cf.
1.6.7).6 [6. Compare with footnote of 21 Chapter III.]
The expression ‘descend’ (used by 7 subjects), together with
alternatives (e.g. ‘come down), yielded 27 recalls. The expressions with a
termination component (especially ‘land’, 16 subjects) totalled 33
occurrences. The original text expressions fared better than ‘rise’, whose
disfavoring might be due to its representing two schema nodes at once (cf.
VII.3.6). With 14 uses, ‘return’ survived better than any schema-node
expression, and ‘plunge’ was reasonably preserved with 8.
A question arises here of fundamental import for language experiments. We have
seen that certain concepts are well recalled independently of the language
material originally employed to express them. My data suggest that expressions
failing to correspond to the schema pattern, such as ‘rise’ for two nodes,
will be replaced more often than those which fit better, such as ‘return’
and ‘plunge’. However, what looks like verbatim recall might also be
reconstruction via the schema, or a mixture of both factors. The question is
especially hard to settle because of domain-specific effects, such as the high
relevance of ‘take-off’ in this particular event sequence.
The material connected to schema states was retained much less well than that
for events (note here that I did not include states among primary concepts, cf.
III.4.4). The trend was to build an event-centered perspective into the recall
of states. The original text starts off with the rocket merely ‘standing’ in
a desert, with no indication that flight is impending. Yet our subjects
incorporated flight into their openings. They had the ‘rocket on the launch
pad’, ‘pointing toward the sky’, ‘waiting for blast-off’, and so on
treatment of ‘ready’ cited in 3.9). Nothing like ‘on the ground’
appeared in any protocols. Similarly, no expressions like ‘in the air’ were
found, but only the event-oriented ‘into the air’. No one recalled
‘high’, but 3 wrote ‘higher’ and one ‘further into the air’, again
showing focus on motion, not location. All protocols emulated the original in
making no reference to a location ‘near the ground’. Description of the
final state ‘on the ground’ was often attuned to the initial event: the
rocket was recalled reaching ‘the launch site’ or the place ‘where it took
off’ etc., in no less than 49 cases out of 72. Some original state expressions
in the text were well preserved, however. The locations of ‘desert’ (36
uses) and ‘earth’ (30) were doubtless supported by world-knowledge about
rockets and by the lack of equally available alternative expressions.
‘Stood’ came up 7 times, and ‘starting point’ only 3.
The clear dominance of event-based over state-based recall supports my premise
that processing was dominated by a schema rather than a frame (VI.3.1). Like
actions, events are multiple occurrences for processing (cf. III.4.6). They
update the textual world by definition and hence make the progression from the
initial to the final state possible. The ‘flight’-schema is eminently suited
for evoking concentrated focus on events, because the motion between take-off
and landing is continuous, during which locations can be only momentary.
Moreover, a moving object will attract attention over a stationary background
(IV.2.5). Given a situation where people have to do their best with the content
of a textual world, they justly focus their processing resources on events and
actions. If restrictions are placed on the extent of their protocols, for
instance, if a SUMMARY is requested, events and actions will survive more often
than other material.
Event representation in recall might accordingly correlate with the intuitive
notion of “good understanding” for narrative texts, and for stories in
particular. If we simply count the total number of propositions recalled, we
might give higher ratings to someone who recovered a flurry of incoherent
details, e.g. attributes, than to someone who remembered a small number of main
events. When a tabulation method with higher numerical values for events was
tested by Walter Kintsch and myself, the resulting scores did appear to
correspond to our intuitive impression that one protocol attested better
understanding than another. But we have no basis yet for deciding how large the
scale of numerical differences ought to be.
If processing involves spreading activation (III.3.24), tabulation should
perhaps take into account the number of propositions that some conceptual node
might cause to arise through activation alone. I present in Chapter VII some
intriguing evidence that our test subjects were indeed supplying material in
this fashion. Again, the problem of direct remembering versus reconstructing
becomes acute. The conventional assumption that people are simply creating
“traces” of input (cf. Gomulicki 1956) obviously makes experimentation
convenient, and theoretical models simple, but fails to account for the data I
present. There is no doubt some abstraction of “traces” going on, but it
interacts heavily with patterns of expectations such as schemas (Beaugrande
& Miller 1980). Future research will undoubtedly shed more light on the
For the orthodox behaviorist, human activities are exemplified by jerking a knee
struck with a rubber hammer or a hand burnt on a hot stove. The faculties for
building and implementing complex plans whose individual actions may not be
explainable via outward stimuli simply did not enter the picture. Carried to its
conclusion, behaviorism seems to end in either of two severe dilemmas. If every
response must be paired with exactly one stimulus, people would never know what
to do when encountering new stimuli. If stimuli and responses can be generalized
over whole types and classes, operations would bog down in combinatorial
explosion while searching for a means to characterize each stimulus coming along
(cf. II.I.2). These dilemmas only appear escapable if human actions are
plan-directed, so that stimuli from the environment can be judged regarding
their relevance and appropriate response.
The need for human interaction emerges from the complex organization of social
reality. Discourse is a mode of symbolic interaction demanded especially when a
situation is too intricate or diffuse, or resources too limited, or
contingencies too dependent on personal motives, to allow successful management
by physical intervention. Discourse functions as ACTION and INTERACTION that
control the course of events (cf. van Dijk 1977a; Morgan 1978b: 265); and as
META-ACTION and META-INTERACTION that provide a verbal monitoring and evaluating
of the course of events (cf. Winston 1977: 72). The “performative
utterances” of “speech-act” theory (Austin 1962: 4ff.), e.g. those used to
perform a marriage or open a meeting, are situations where this dual status of
discourse converges: the monitoring utterance is the event. The more
general case is only partial convergence: the discourse action is relevant to
the speaker’s plan, but not in ways openly and explicitly proclaimed. People
hardly ever say things like (cf. Bruce 1975: 35):
I am now describing the situation in accord with my personal interests.
I hereby get you to see this my way.
theory of language that treats all utterances as performative by inserting ‘I
assert’ in front of them and then deleting it to get the utterances back into
their original form (cf. Ross 1970a; Sadock 1970; Bailmer 1976) is, I think,
missing the point. The important differences of context are levelled, as if
speech-acts need not be adapted to their environments of occurrence (cf. Cohen
1978: 26). I cannot see how pragmatics can make headway unless we are willing to
explore the social realities of language use.
To be relevant to a GOAL, discourse actions should be relevant to steps in a
PLAN. There are PRECONDITIONS to be met (Sacerdoti 1977; Schank & Abelson
1977; Cohen 1978; cf. ‘prerequisites” in Charniak 1975b). Preconditions
include both MATERIAL RESOURCES, e.g. objects providing instrumental support for
actions and events,7 [7. Cf. Wilensky (1978) on ‘objects”
in story-worlds (also in VIII.2.39, VIII.2.41).] and PROCESSING RESOURCES, e.g.
mental capacities providing attention, understanding, and problem-solving (cf.
IX. 1.4 for a more extensive list). The standards of textuality as set forth in
1.4.11 are pervasive and fundamental preconditions for using discourse in plans.
For that reason, the violation of the standards is usually taken as a signal of
a plan to dtere or block communication.
A plan can be formally represented as composed of PATHWAYS leading from one
situation or event to another, or on occasion, looping back to a previous one.
The plan begins with an INITIAL STATE and runs to the FINAL STATE via a
progression of INTERMEDIATE STATES— the “states” being defined from the
planner’s standpoint. A plan is successful if the FINAL state matches the
planner’s GOAL state. The goal state is thus a situation expected to be true
in the world when the requisite actions and events have modified the current
state of the world (cf. Cohen 1978: 26).
Under the simplest circumstances, the planner needs only to test its current
state in the situation and to decide what action should be performed, continued,
or terminated—the familiar “test-operate-test-end’ (“TOTE’) model of
Miller, Galanter, and Pribram 1960,1968). But Miller et al.’s (1968) example
of someone pounding a nail into a board is far too simplistic as a model of
human interaction. In real situations, there are often many alternative actions
to consider, and the resulting future states are much harder to predict. For one
thing, long-range goal attainment demands the co-ordination and protection of
subgoals (Rieger & London 1977; Sacerdoti 1977). If a block or even outright
failure is encountered (cf. I.6.7), the planner should not just back up and try
again, but analyze the failure to improve the plan (Sussman 1973; Davis &
Chien 1977; Sacerdoti 1977; Wilensky 1978).
The study of how people select actions has been hampered in the past by an
insipid ‘trial-and-error” outlook on learning as inherited from
Thorndike’s (1911) heavily biased experiments. Thorndike’s puzzle-cage was
equipped with levers, only one of which opened the door. Placed in the cage, the
cat could only try one lever after another and with repeated trials, the cat was
able to open the door right away. Such planless actions are in reality the only
way to handle such an odd situation—as Walter Kintsch (1977a: 441) comments,
even a Gestalt psychologist couldn’t have escaped from the cage except by
trial-and-error. The objection to this mechanism as a means of normal behavior
is the same that applies to all stimulus-response theories: unworkability in
complex settings because of combinatorial explosion (cf. VI.4.1). If people
communicated by trying out this word or phrase, then that, then yet another, to
see if the desired discourse would result, language interaction would look quite
different from the way it does — much slower, for one thing.
One could go to the other extreme and argue for the traditional criterion of
maximal utility: choosing the most gainful alternative (cf. Stegmüller 1969:
391). But the game-theoretical situations used in philosophical discussions also
do not bear much resemblance to human situations of communicative interaction.
In the latter, participants seldom know the exact gains that a given discourse
action brings. I would suggest that we should therefore envision the selection
of discourse actions in a model of PROBLEM-SOLVING where trial-and-error, as
well as maximal utility, have only approximative application. To find a path
from the initial state to the goal state is a matter of SEARCH (cf. I.6.7ff on
search types). Before a “trial” is made, the planner estimates the
probabilities of bringing the goal nearer. The next state can thus be identified
within a plan sequence in the same kind of operation described for AUGMENTED
TRANSITION NETWORKS (cf. II.2.12ff.; III.4.7): the processor tries to predict
and define the linkage to successor states. The pathway to a goal or subgoal is
a MACRO-STATE in which each action is a MICRO-STATE (cf. II.2.9; VI.1.1).
Whatever contextual knowledge the planner may possess about the situation serves
to predict and define links. If the situation is complex or unfamiliar, the
planner must use general knowledge about causalities (cause, reason, enablement,
purpose) and try to infer the goals of other participants on that basis. A
trial-and-error setting emerges only in the rare case where the planner has
neither contextual nor general knowledge of what to do. A maximal utility
setting emerges only in the rare case where every result of every action is
foreseeable and calculable on a unified scale of values.
If the notions just cited can indeed be generalized, we might be able to apply
the standards of textuality to action sequences as well as to texts. We can, for
example, describe PLAN COHERENCE as guaranteed by the RELEVANCE of its component
actions to the states leading toward a goal (on ‘relevance” as
task-oriented, cf. VII.2.8). PLAN COHESION results from the manifest
connectivity between one action and the next in the sequence. INTENTIONALITY and
ACCEPTABILITY cover the attitudes of the planner and the co-participants of
interaction, respectively. The highest priority is the maintenance of stability
via connectivity and continuity. A PLANBLOCK—an occurrence which prevents the
further pursuit of a goal-figures as a SERIOUS PROBLEM (I.6.7) and elicits
corrective action at that stage. There could be several ACTIVE CONTROL CENTERS:
the current state, the goal state, and important intermediate states expected to
occur. FORWARD PLANNING is done best with the current state as control center,
and BACKWARD PLANNING with the goal state or with an intermediate state between
the current one and the goal (cf. Schank & Abelson 1977: 82; Cohen 1978:
124).8 [8. The
process of UPDATING
(I.6.4) probably has a correlate of BACKDATING whereby a processor
reasons from a given state about antecedent states. The same linkages of
causality should apply as those for updating.]
MEANS-END ANALYSIS (I.6.7.1) allows both forward and backward planning at once
(Woods 1978b: 19f.). Quite possibly, planning may be going on simultaneously in
various directions from several control centers (cf. Fikes & Niisson 1971).
A workable planner apparently requires multiple models of future worlds, only
some of which show the goal state successfully attained. The criteria for
choosing one path over another would depend upon the expected probabilities of
attaining the goal and upon the relative undesirability of alternative final
states. Shortness, case, and directness would be inherently attractive traits
for a pathway; and past experience would be influential. These considerations
might be in conflict. A bank robbery would be a short, direct pathway to the
common goal ‘have money’, but it carries a high probability of entry into
intensely undesirable states (‘in jail’, ‘shot’, etc.). A successful
bank robber might disregard the risks and try again, oven though the overall
probabilities are much the same.
Multiple goals are another factor to explore, ranging from momentary desires to
long-range undertakings. I propose the DEFAULT or PREFERENCE assumption that a
goal should at least qualify as a DESIRABLE state. One may dispute about what
people’s desires are, and whether they are all secondary to the desire for
meresurvival(ef. Pugh 1977). Yet it seems safe to suggest that desires are both
personally and socially defined. Table 2 offers what I take to be a plausible
listing of desirability traits and their negative counterparts, such as might
act as defaults and preferences (after Beaugrande 1979a: 475) (for an assortment
of elaborate formalisms for desirability, see Kummer 1975: 58ff.).
with a typology of concepts, the degree of detail depends on the applications we
want to make (cf. III.4.2ff.). One might want to introduce goals like ‘have
money’ or ‘outlive your enemies’ as primitives, to say nothing of the many
whims that beset our everyday consciousness. I think it useful, however, to seek
a general set of features whose interaction and combination should make these
goals generally describable. For example, ‘have money’ could figure as
‘possession of instrument’ for such state types as health, satisfaction,
comfort, enjoyment, attractiveness, acceptance, independence
and so on. Another possible outlook is to rate desirable states on scales of
intensity, as undertaken by Schank (1975c: 45ff.).
The default character of desires can be assumed because people often don’t
make open declarations of what they want (cf. Schank & Abelson 1977: 108).
To discover other people’s plans, a planner must make extensive INFERENCES
based on this aspect of knowledge. The planner relies on the general postulate
of NORMALITY: that a given person has the usual desires unless evidence is
provided to the contrary (cf. Rieger 1975: 234). Defaults can be overridden by
such evidence, or simply because desires CONFLICT with each other. A TRADE-OFF
ensues in which one desire is sacrificed for the sake of another. Limitations
upon resources (V1.4.3) mean that expenditure in current states must be balanced
against plans for expenditure later. Short-range planning may attain desirable
states with such speed or intensity that highly undesirable states become
ineluctable afterwards.9 [9. We see some disadvantages of such
short-sighted planning and resulting goal conflicts in the stage-play discussed
later in this section.] Undesirable states can also result merely from
incomplete, contradictory, or erroneous knowledge among agents
Everyday situations might seem replete with counter-examples where people are
seeking undesirable states. But the instances brought to my attention so far all
indicate a trade-off. Good health could be undesirable for people seeking
sympathy (trade-off: health for solidarity) or trying to escape school, military
service, or heavy labor (example of the last in Goffman 1974: 116) (trade-off:
small portion of health for comfort). To avoid work, people might desire to not
understand requests and instructions (trade-off: knownness for comfort).
Altruistic people might sacrifice their own comfort for that of others
(trade-off: comfort for kindness). The masochist seeking pain trades comfort for
stimulation. We might also include here the antagonism between knownness and
interestingness that is inherent in the nature of informativity in communication
(cf. IV. 1,2 1).
The complexities of desirability can be brought readily under control by
SCRIPTS. A participant can enter a ROLE, i.e. assume the identity resulting from
a characteristic constellation of attributes and actions in conventional
situations. It is then a straightforward matter to predict what a participant in
a given role desires, at least as far as the role is being represented. A person
entering the ‘customer’-role in a ‘restaurant’-script can be assumed by
default to be in the state of ‘hunger’, a subtype of ‘need’ (PH3b), and
to desire ‘satisfaction’(PH3a). Someone not desiring to move from this one
state to the other should not enter the role. The other roles in the script
exert similar controls on the respective participants (waiter, cashier, etc).
I shall use a common situation type to illustrate how discourse actions figure
in building and carrying out a plan. The sample is the situation of desiring
possession of an object belonging to another agent. Schank and Abelson (1977)
propose a set of plans for this eventuality, being—in the order from the least
radical and emphatic to the most—ASK, INVOKE THEME, INFORM REASON, BARGAIN
FAVOR, BARGAIN OBJECT, THREATEN, STEAL, and OVERPOWER.10 [10.
This is my own ordering. Schank and Abelson (1977) usually put STEAL after
OVERPOWER (depending, I suppose, on what one considers the last resort). Notice
that for all cases, these ACTIONS provide the current owner a reason for
transferring possession of the object; the exceptions are STEAL (which enables
the transfer without the owner’s agency), and OVERPOWER (where cause is
applied to the owner). Looking backward in time, the transfer of possession is
the purpose of all these actions. The progression from milder to more extreme
plans is described in terms of planbox escalation in Beaugrande & Dressier
(1980).] The stronger the opposition from
the current possessor, the further the planner would move down the list. Good
friends might give you the object if you simply ASK. You might INVOKE some known
THEME, i.e., recurrent content in your life, such as your tastes or your
long-standing friendship with the possessor. You might go on to INFORM the
possessor of a REASON to give up the object (strictly speaking, if the reason is
already known, it is INVOKED; cf. VIII. 1.8). You might BARGAIN to do some FAVOR
for the possessor in return, or to exchange some OBJECT you possess yourself. If
all these failed you might THREATEN the possessor or STEAL the object when no
one is present. If the possessor remains adamant and stays at the scene, the
last resort is OVERPOWER. Although effective, threatening, stealing, and
overpowering are usually subject to institutionalized means of retribution
intended to serve as deterrents.
All of these plans except steal and overpower require DISCOURSE ACTIONS to
control the course of events. In our sample text, the owner of the object has no
notion of the object’s monetary value, being attached to the object for
sentimental reasons. This state of ‘unknownness’ (KN3b) puts the owner at a
disadvantage, but also places uncomfortable constraints on the discourse content
of the other agents. In effect, the latter must conceal the intensity of their
desire for the object in intricate and often amusing ways.
The text is a scene from a realistic comedy by the American playwright Sidney
Howard (1891-1939) entitled The Late Christopher Bean (completed 1932). A
rural New England doctor and his family, scraping along in a village near Boston
during the depression, suddenly learn that the works of Christopher Bean, an
impoverished, fatally ill painter they once befriended and housed, are now
fetching vast sums of money in the art world. Besieged by lucrative offers from
galleries and dealers, they search their home for canvases Bean might have left
at his death. In our scene, they recall that the painter left with Abby, their
housemaid, a large portrait of her. The family hits on the plan of restoring
themselves to social acceptance and affluence with the money they would obtain
by selling the portrait. But they decide they must not allow the maid to infer
the painting’s real value.
We observe Dr. Haggett, his wife, and their daughter Ada in the dining room of
their home. The maid is at present out in her quarters, where the family kitchen
is also located, preparing the midday meal. The maid is acting on the default
assumption that the family is hungry (cf. VIII.2.24), whereas their real goal is
quite different. The text of the scene, given here with small omissions, is as
follows (Warnock [ed.] 1952: 16ff.):11 (11. The reprint rights
for this passage were leased from Samuel French, Inc., of New York. Copyright,
1932 (under the title Muse of All Work) by Sidney Howard. Copyright,
1933, by Sidney Howard. Copyright, 1959,1960 (in renewal) by Dolly Damrosch
Howard. Reprinted by permission of Samuel French, Inc. for a rapacious $75.
(188) DR. HAGGETT: (1) Chris Bean did paint one portrait while he was here!
(2) Who did he paint it of?
HAGGETT: (3) Of Abby! (4) What’s become of it?
HAGGETT: (5) She’s had it hanging in her room ever since he died!
HAGGETT: (6) Ada, go in and see if it’s still there.
(7) But Pa, if it is, it must belong to Abby!
HAGGETT: (8) I ain’t going to do nothing that ain’t fair and square. (9) And
don’t talk so loud! (10) You want Abby to hear?
HAGGETT’: (11) Never mind her, Milton! (12) We got one thing, and one thing
only, to do now! (13) And that is to find out if Abby’s planning to take that
portrait to Chicago with her.
HAGGETT: (14) Call her in and ask her.
(15) She’d get on to you!
HAGGETT: (16) If it was me I wouldn’t hesitate.(17) I’d walk right into
Abby’s room and take that picture like it wasn’t no account.
HAGGETT: (18) There’s a point of conscience here. (19) One way of looking at
it, the portrait’s our property. (20) Abby’s no artist’s model. (21)
She’s our help. (22) We was paying her thirty dollars a month and keep....
HAGGETT: (23) We only paid her fifteen in those days.
HAGGETT: (24) The principle’s the same. (25) And the question is: did she have
the right to let him paint her portrait on the time we paid for?
HAGGETT: (26) Your conscience is clear, Milton. (27) There ain’t no doubt but
that portrait belongs to us. (28) Ada, go into Abby’s room and get it.
(29) But what will Abby say?
HAGGETT: (30) Wreck the room! (31) Tear down the window curtains! (32) Then your
Pa can tell her a burglar must have got it!
HAGGETT: (33) I’m only a simple country doctor. (34) I don’t care for money.
(35) It’s only for my loved ones I got to have it.
HAGGETT: (36) Go along, Ada. (37) Take it out the back way and upstairs. [Then
to DR. HAGGETT as (38) ADA goes out into the kitchen.] (39) Once we get it
we’ll hide it under your bed.
HAGGETT: (40) If Abby feels bad I can give her a little something. [(41) ADA
(42) Abby’s out there!
HAGGETT: (43) How about the picture?
(44) That’s there too!
HAGGETT: (45) What’s it like?
(46) You know! Terrible!
HAGGETT: (47) Well, it’s some comfort to know that it’s still all right.
HAGGETT: (48) What’s Abby doing?
(49) Packing her trunk.
HAGGETT: (50) Tell her she ought to be getting dinner ready.
(51) But if she stays out there in the kitchen!
HAGGETT: (52) Call her to come in and set the table.
(53) You call her!
HAGGETT: [in her sweetest tones] (54) Abby! Abby! [(55) They watch the kitchen
door. (56) ABBY enters.]
HAGGETT: [a heroic effort at play-acting] (57) I’m sorry I spoke so rough to
you just now.
[eyeing him askance] (58) Oh, that’s all right.
HAGGETT: [she drops a folded cloth on the table] (59) You can go ahead and set
the table for dinner.
(60) Yeah. [She proceeds to spread the cloth.] [(61) MRS. HAGGETT nods to ADA
who slips into the kitchen. (62) MRS. HAGGETT moves over to the kitchen door and
HAGGETT: [as before] (63) It’s nice of you to wait on us your last day, Abby.
[busy about the table] (64) It’s nothing. [(65) ADA returns.]
[a whisper] (66) Ma! The new maid’s there!12 [12. A new maid
has already been engaged to replace Abby on her departure for Chicago.]
HAGGETT: (67) Tell her to go out and take a walk around the village. [(68) ADA
retires. (69) ABBY starts for the kitchen.]
HAGGETT: (70) Where’re you going, Abby?
(71) Just out to the kitchen to get the mustard pickles.
HAGGETT: (72) Oh, I don’t think we need mustard pickles for dinner. (73) Do
you think we do, Milton?
HAGGETT: (74) I’ll be frank with you, Abby. (75) Them mustard pickles don’t
seem to set good with me. [(76) ABBY starts again for the kitchen.]
HAGGETT: (77) Abby! [(78) She turns back again.] (79) Didn’t you hear us,
Abby? (80) We said we didn’t care for mustard pickles.
(81) I was going to get some watermelon preserves. (82) You always liked my
HAGGETT: [stumped] (83) That’s so, Milton! You have always liked them
HAGGETT. [likewise stumped] (84) I know I have. (85) And I can’t think of a
thing against them now!
HAGGETT: [still blocking the way to the kitchen] (86) I thought you wanted to
talk to Abby, Milton?
HAGGETT: (87) That’s right, Hannah, I did!
(88) What was it you wanted to talk to me about?
HAGGETT: [at a total loss] (89) Well, about several things. (90) Let me see now.
(91) To begin with, I…I … [(92) ADA returns.]
[a whisper] (93) Ma! She says she don’t want to take a walk!
HAGGETT: (94) Tell her either she takes a walk or she goes back to Boston! [(95)
HAGGETT: [quickly] (96) I know what it was I wanted to talk to you about, Abby!
(97) It was about that new maid. (98) What do you think of her?
(99) Oh, she’s a nice gir1.
HAGGETT: (100) Of course she’s a very nice girl. (101) Mrs. Haggett wouldn’t
have chosen anything else. [(102) He becomes confidential (103) But Abby ...
think carefully. (104) Will she give the same satisfaction you’ve given us?
[really touched] (105) Now, that’s real kind of you to say that, Dr. Haggett.
(106) Of course, in fairness, you got to remember I had fifteen years to study
your manners and ways. (107) But she’s a nice girl, and if she finds she likes
the place enough ...
HAGGETT: (108) Do you think she will, Abby?
(109) Well, maybe she will and maybe she won’t.(110) I’ll get dinner on the
table first and talk afterwards.[(111) Once more she starts for the kitchen
door. (112) Dr. HAGGETT takes a step after her. helplessly.]
HAGGETT: (113) But Abby, you ain’t even got the table set!
[brushing her aside] (114) I know, but I can’t stand here talking with my
biscuits burning! [(115) She is gone into the kitchen. (116) Sensation.]
HAGGETT: (117) Why didn’t you stop her?
HAGGETT: (118) How could 1? (119) Why didn’t you?
HAGGETT: (120) You seen me try, didn’t you? (121) Now youll just have to face
HAGGETT: (122) It was your idea. (123) I never would have done it.
HAGGETT: (124) Keep quiet! [(125) She is listening at the kitchen door.] (126)
Not a sound!
HAGGETT: (127) Ada must be in Abby’s room now. [(128) ADA returns, tottering.]
HAGGETT: (129) Did you get it?
[gasping, her hand on her heart] (130) No!
HAGGETT: (131) She didn’t catch you?
(132) If the biscuits hadn’t been burning she would have!
HAGGETT: (133) We’ll just have to try again. (134) We’ll eat dinner quiet as
if nothing happened. (135) Then I’ll send her out on an errand. [(136) ABBY
enters from the kitchen, carrying a soup tureen.]
(137) I never seen you in such a state, Dr. Haggett. (138) It’s all them New
York folks coming here!13 [13. These ‘folks’ are the art
collectors wanting to get or buy the portrait.]
HAGGETT: [deep self-pityl] (139) And they’re all coming back any minute, too!
(140) Why do you bother with them, Dr. Haggett?
HAGGETT: (141) Can’t avoid responsibilities in this life, Abby. [Then with
unaccountable intention he adds] (142) Wouldn’t mind so much if this room looked
right. (143) It's
that patch over
the fireplace where Ada's picture
(144) You could hang up one of Warren Creamer's pictures.
(145) Warren's pictures ain't big enough for that. (146) We need something to
cover up the whole place.
(147) Well, I got nothing to suggest.
[as though a thought struck him sudden/y] (148) Abby, ain't
got a picture Chris Bean painted of you before he died?
(149) I got my portrait.
(150) Well, if that isn't just the thing! (151) We'll hang that
(152) Just till you go!
ABBY: [She is covered with embarrassment] (153)
Why, I couldn't have my
portrait in here! (154) What'd people say if
they come into your dining room and seen a picture of me hanging there, scraping
(155) Ain't this a democracy? (156) I'd rather have you there scraping carrots
than half of these society women who can't do nothing!
(157) I never could say no to Dr. Haggett! [(158) She goes.]
(159) A much better way than stealing it would have been. (160) This has got to
be done, but it's got to be done legitimate!
(161) She ain't give it up to you yet.
(162) You can't take more than one step at a time! (163) I got
all thought out. [(164) ABBY returns. carrying the portrait.]
(165) Well, here it is.
(166) That's very nice of you, Abby (167) We're fond of you! (168) Look, we got
two Abbies in here now. (169) One of them standing here in flesh and blood and
the other in an oil painting. (170) Seems a pity to let both of them leave us,
(171) Oh Doctor Haggett! I don't know how to thank you!
(172) If seeing the both don't give me an idea! (173) I'll let you have it just
as it come to me. (174) Since you're going away after all these years, it'd be
awful nice for you to leave the portrait behind you here with us.
(175) Leave it here for good!
(176) Oh, I wouldn't ask you to make such a sacrifice without giving you
something in return.
(177) How could you give me anything in return?
(178) Oh, I don't say I could give you anything equal to what
portrait would mean to us. (179) But I guess twenty-five dollars would come in
handy in Chicago! [(180) ABBY shakes her head.]
(181) Make it fifty, Pa!
puts her hand on her heart.]
(182) All right! I will make it fifty! (183) It comes pretty hard
to be handing out presents that size these days, but I’ll make it
fifty! (184) 1guess you ain't got much to say against that!
(185) Oh, but I could never see my way to giving up my portrait.
(186) Abby, you amaze me!
(187) How'd it be, Abby, if we had a nice photograph made of it and gave you
that to keep with you in Chicago
I tell you! I’ll get the photograph
you and send it back!
HAGGETT: (189) No photograph’d ever give us the comforting feeling that we
still had you with us!
(190) Would it really mean so much to all of you to have me hanging there in an
HAGGETT: (191) Would we want anyone we didn’t love in our dining- room?
(192) But it ain’t me. (193) It’s the time when I was young! (194) It’s
all how things used to be in the old days!
I argued in Chapter IV that the uncertainty or unexpectedness of occurrences
enhances their INTERESTINGNESS, because informativity is higher. In a planning
space, interest increases along with the probability of FAILURE to attain the
goal. Hence, a SERIOUS PROBLEM (failure chances outweigh those of success,
I.6.7) can make the planning space interesting: the goal must not be immediate,
obvious, or inevitable. The scene just quoted is a good illustration. The
various planning pathways meet repeated plan-blocks, and at times failure seems
almost assured. Indeed, when the play ends, Dr Haggett abandons the plan and
emphatically bestows the painting on Abby.
In earlier scenes of the play, the family is shown in need of money. Due to the
economic depression, it has become hard to collect doctor bills. To marry off
Ada, it is deemed requisite to spend the winter in Florida, where she can be
exhibited in a bathing suit. The New England setting was perhaps selected by the
playwright because of its reputation for thrifty people. All of these factors
reinforce the global goal ‘have money’ that could be readily assumed for
people at large. We are concerned in the scene above with the local goal ‘have
painting’. In terms of means-end analysis (I.6.7.1), this local goal would
decisively reduce the difference between the family’s current impoverished
state and the affluent goal state.
However, the PROBLEM SPACE for attaining the ‘have-painting’- goal is filled
with alternative pathways. Since the maid presumably wants to keep her portrait
for sentimental reasons, a simple ASK would not do. The preference is given
instead to a STEAL plan, which is essentially DEPTH-FIRST search rushing as
directly and blindly toward the goal as possible (I.6.7.3). The audience is able
to follow the interaction from (16) to (135) only by recourse to knowledge about
stealing. For example, Ada’s utterances (42), (51), and (66) are relevant to
the situation because an absence of owner and witness is a precondition for
successful stealing. Also, a STEAL plan is the
sole member of the plan repertory cited in VI.4.14 with a secrecy
precondition. The secrecy about the stealer's desire for the object and its
actual removal is compounded here by the secrecy about the painting’s enormous
value, yielding the type of serious prob/em cited in VI.4.
As soon as the existence of the portrait is remembered (1-5), the family desires
knowledge about its location and about its owner's plans concerning
its possible change of location (6, 13). The immediately obvious solution of
ASKing the maid (14) is blocked by the secrecy precondition: ‘she’d get on
to you’(15). The niggardly mother’s reaction is the immediate invoking of
STEAL as ‘taking that picture like it wasn’t no account’ (17). One way in
which a steal action updates the world is changing the agent’s character state
to ‘dishonest’ a value marked undesirable in Table 2. The doctor’s mention
of a ‘point of consciences (18) is understandable in that light. He solves
this sub-problem with an INFORM REASON that the family is the painting’s owner
by having paid for the time spent producing it (19-25). The mother immediately
accepts the doctor’s reason as sufficient (26-27), though we notice that it is
not presented directly to the maid. The reason fails to transform the steal plan
into anything like a rightful ‘possession’ state: the undesirable
‘dishonesty’ state is still impending, as attested by the many attempts to
shift actions to other agents: ‘go into Abby’s room and get it’ (28);
‘call her to come in’ (52); ‘you call her’ (53); ‘I thought you wanted
to talk to Abby’ (86); ‘why didn’t you stop her’ (117);’why didn’t
you’ (119); ‘it was your idea’(122). Revealingly, a ‘burglar’ is
suggested at one point as a fictitious agent (32).
Despite its directness of action, STEAL is clearly a high-risk plan. The doctor,
still disturbed by its implications, falls back on another INFORM REASON:
needing the money for his ‘loved ones’—a bizarre designation for
accomplices in a theft (35). While Mrs. Haggett calmly fills in the detailed
steps of the plan, namely a route to carry off and a place to hide the stolen
object (37, 39), the doctor tacks on an intention of BARGAIN OBJECT: ‘a little
something’ for the picture (40).
Ada’s announcing the maid’s presence (42) is at once recognizable as a
planblock. To remove the owner from the scene, Abby’s role as housemaid is
invoked by ASKing her to ‘set the table’ (52, 59). Because the maid was
yelled at in an earlier part of the play, the doctor greets her with a
‘performative” discourse action (V1.4.2) of apologizing. Moreover, because
the maid is intending to leave for Chicago, he feels it wise to INVOKE the THEME
of her loyal service ‘on her last day’ (63). Her replies to both ventures
are non- commital (58, 64).
The sub-problem arises of keeping the maid from returning to the location of the
painting. Her role as housemaid conflicts with that requirement, because the
kitchen is in the same vicinity. Her intention to fetch ‘mustard pickles’ is
blocked by the assertion that no such item is needed, and the doctor gives an
explicit INFORM REASON: indigestibility (71-75). The maid’s updated intention
to fetch ‘watermelon preserves’ offers a new problem: the doctor cannot
convincingly disavow his favorite food (81-85). This situation demonstrates the
trade-off principle among desires (V1.4.1 1). A usual desire is overridden by a
non-expected one, creating the incongruous goal of trying to escape being given
what one likes.
When the solution is adopted of detaining the maid by means of conversation
(86-87), ASK becomes a goal of its own, rather than a means of obtaining
knowledge. Indeed, the ASK plan is run even before the doctor has thought of
anything to ask about (89-91). He is saved by an outside planblock, the presence
of a new maid just arriving to replace Abby (93-94). The mother’s seemingly
unreasonable command to ‘take a walk’(67) has been rejected, and is
reinforced now with THREATEN (94). This tactic succeeds (as we find out later,
the new maid has returned to Boston in a rage). At the same time, the new maid
is seized upon as topic material for the doctor’s ASK (96-98)—an
illustration of the dual function of discourse as action and meta- action
(V1.4.2). The request to ‘think carefully’ is motivated by the special plan
of using up time (103). The doctor skilfully blends in an INVOKE THEME of
Abby’s satisfactory service through the years (104), eliciting in her
apperception a desirable character state of ‘kindness’ (CH 1a in Table 2).
4.26 This new solution to the sub-problem of how to detain the
maid in the dining room fails, again due to her scripted role as housekeeper
preparing dinner. She rushes off to the kitchen to rescue her burning biscuits
(1 14), leaving the family to expect discovery of the STEAL. They accordingly
hasten to shift agency back and forth, each hoping to evade the consequences
(117-123), but discovery is avoided after all. Discouraged by repeated
planblocks, the family abandons STEAL for the time being (133-135), and later
for good (159).
The depth-first rush of a STEAL plan, though holding forth hopes of quick
success, is subject to too many uncontrollable planblocks which endanger its
preconditions and enablements. The result is a gradual shifting to BREADTH-FIRST
search (I.6.7.2), where many alternative paths are considered. For example,
STEAL is supplemented with ASK, INVOKE THEME, INFORM REASON, and THREATEN. The
outright adoption of breadth-first problem-solving is manifested in the rest of
the scene. The global problem space of how to get possession of the painting is
broken down into sub-problem spaces: (1) how to get the painting moved to the
dining room (142-165); and (2) how to persuade the maid to leave it there
(166-194). The shift to breadth-first search is in fact announced by the doctor.
‘it’s got to be done legitimate’ (160) (abandonment of STEAL), and ‘you
can’t take more than one step at a timc’ (162) (look ahead only to a
proximate subgoal by breaking problem space down). The new approach again
involves some variety: ASK, INVOKE THEME, INFORM REASON, BARGAIN FAVOR, and
The plan of moving the painting is initiated with an INFORM REASON: an unsightly
patch of wall needs to be covered (142-143). When the maid suggests some
paintings brought by a village tradesman in a previous scene, the REASON for
rejection is: ‘not big enough’ (144-146). When she protests at the
incongruity of her portrait in its intended setting, yet another (mildly absurd)
REASON is INFORMED: the doctor values working women over ‘society
women who can’t do nothing’ (153-156)-the latter being, as was shown
in earlier scenes, just what the mother and daughter would like to be.
The special precondition for this planning phase is not secrecy, but
spontaneity. The desire to move and later to keep the painting must appear to
arise on the spur of the moment, i.e., with no other plan than the situation.
The family carefully distributes signals in strategic places: ‘as though a
thought struck him suddenly’ (1 48); ‘well, if that isn’t just the
thing’ (150); ‘if seeing the both don’t give me an idea’(1 72);
‘I’ll let you have it just as it come to me’ (173). These signals are
clustered around the actual requests to move and leave behind the desired
object. Notice that the absence of “sincerity
conditions” (Searle 1969) by no means renders the utterances meaningless or
inappropriate (“unhappy” in Searlese), let alone ill-formed—quite the
When the subgoal ‘move painting’ is finally attained, the superior goal
‘have painting’ is still remote. As Mrs. Haggett says, matching the current
state against the goal state, ‘she ain’t gave it up to you yet’ (161). The
doctor, who has learned something about problem-solving (‘you can’t take
more than one step at a time’, 162), answers that he has the further steps
‘all thought out’ (163). He plans to extend the attained subgoal by a
combination of ASKing the maid to leave her painting to the family, INVOKing the
THEME of her long service and their fondness for her, and INFORMing the REASON
that the painting would be a fitting souvenir. When this combination of ASK
fails, he switches to BARGAIN OBJECT: money for the painting. As is customary, a
bargaining refusal is countered by increasing the amount offered (180-184). A
renewed refusal (1 85) leads to a shift over to BARGAIN FAVOR: making a
photograph of the painting (187). Abby simply reverses this BARGAIN by offering
to make and send the photograph to the family (188). The INVOKE THEME of
fondness is renewed as grounds for preferring the painting itself to the
photograph (191). At this point, Abby’s true motives for refusing all tactics
emerge when she INVOKES the ‘old days’ which the painting represents to her
(192-194). This block is decisive, and the play ends later on with her still in
possession of her portrait.
4.31 I provide planning networks of the structure of the scene.
Figure 26, we have the DEPTH-FIRST plan for STEAL, in which all actions are
subordinated to the rush toward the goal ’painting stolen’. There are
repeated planblocks intruding (lower section of Figure 26) and eliciting new
discourse actions from the family F. Most of the blocks come from the action
track of Abby A, but the new maid NM also contributes. When the family’s
counter- actions (shown by arrows pointed toward blocks) are effective, the main
STEAL path can advance until the next block. The track ends with goal
unattained, due to the block of the owner’s presence (cf. VI.4.20) (Abby’s
running out to save her biscuits).
In Figure 27, we see the BREADTH-FIRST planning of the later scene.
organization of actions in this planning space is mainly alternative
(disjunctive), while that of actions in the previous space was mainly additive
(conjunctive).14 [14. Here again is a parallel between textual
aspects (cf. V.7 on disjunction vs. conjunction) and the organization of actions
(cf. VI.4.8).] This time, actions are directed to the simpler SUBGOAL of
‘painting moved’ in hopes of an extension toward the GOAL ‘have
painting’.15 [15. ‘Painting moved’ is an unstable goal
of the type noted in VIII.2.11.2.)] Abby again provides continual blocks for
each pathway. She is apparently persuaded by the hypocritical INVOKing of
‘democracy’ (155-156) and allows the SUBGOAL to be realized, but her
INVOKing the ‘old days’ (193-194) reveals her unalterable conviction.
The linkages for these networks require the representation of discourse actions
in my repertory of types. For example, the declaration of intention to steal
becomes ‘communication of-projection of-entry into- possession’ with
initiation at the first mention and termination at the abandonment; giving the
reason why the doctor needs money (‘for loved ones’) becomes
“communication of-reason of-volition of- entry into-possession’; asking
about the new maid is ‘communication of-volition of-cognition of-value’; and
so forth. Although more cumbersome than the Schankian primitives (V1.4.14),
these representations allow us to sort out the components of discourse actions
in greater detail.
We have seen how plan attachment correlates discourse actions with a continuity
of motivation and purpose. If we had looked only at conditions for truth or
sincerity as discussed in philosophy (e.g. Searle 1969), many utterances would
appear invalid or ‘unhappy.’ Yet if we look at the context, the design of
the component texts receives a good rating for efficiency and effectiveness in
advancing goals and overcoming planblocks. Plan attachment is also a model for
the understanding processes of the theatre audience. The traits of being
“realistic’ and “well-made” as a play rest on the connectivity of
actions and the plan-relevance of the discourse. Interest and humour arise from
the uncertainties, planblocks, and failure probabilities in the planning space.
Thus, plan attachment guarantees global comprehension and integration of both
predictable and surprising occurrences into a connected text-world model for
participants in communicative interaction as well as for observers.
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