Most Australians … gamble

(continued from: Most Australians)

Indeed they do.  Gambling losses in Australia are now running at some $20 billion per annum.  Combine that thought with a reflection upon the average Australian’s devotion to high culture, and you begin to see why sentences such as these

If I win the Lottery on Wednesday I will buy a Steinway
If I won the Lottery on Wednesday I would buy a Steinway

are to be heard on all hands. The messages they encode are by all accounts remarkably similar, each envisaging the buying of a Steinway in the aftermath of a Lottery win, and so it might be that most Australians detect no significant difference between them.

But not my correspondent Emilia B. Prunewattle, Chair of the Chatsworth Anti-Gambling League, who has a decided preference for the message encoded by the second of the pair.  The first sentence would never pass her lips.  Why? What can explain her resolute preference for the transported modal over the aboriginal alternative?  How can a purely temporal account of tense such as ours account for it?

The messages that our two sentences encode are both projectives, for in both cases tense is earlier than time-about (the hallmark of a projective message).  Both messages envisage a future Lottery win, but tense is either present (in the first case) or past (in the second). 

We teach that they encode verdicts, arrived at thus:  the speaker conducts an exercise of the imagination, a fantasy (let us call it), in which a Lottery win turns up, and she goes on to buy a Steinway.  Now every fantasy has a beginning, a moment from which onward imagination takes over from history.  And on our theory it is this moment, the moment of the fantasy’s inception, whose location is encoded into the ‘if’-clause via our tense-code.  We call it the CHANGE-OVER POINT.

Any narrative is conceived as following in the wake of some sort of past. A fantasy beginning at c takes over, as its past, the history of the real world up until c.  Historical facts with dates earlier than c are accepted into the fantasy because – in a sense – they are part of it.  They belong to its past.  Up until c, real world and fantasy world share a common history.  Any historical facts later than c are liable to imaginative revision, according to the whim of the fantast.

And now we can see why Emilia B needs to resort to the transported form.  She cannot sensibly fantasize winning the Lottery on Wednesday without setting aside a present fact, namely that she is a resolute non-gambler. Her fantasy then must needs begin somewhere back in the past, at a time before her resolution solidified.  Or at least, far enough back in the past for the fantasy to envisage the slow dissolve of that resolution, as she sinks imperceptibly into the gutter.  

And with that in hand we can also explain how our two sentences do not completely coincide in significance even for the inveterate gambler.  There is a slight access of generality in the preference for the transported form.  By switching to fantasy earlier, and therby disentitling all facts about his present circumstances, our gambler intimates that his resolve to buy the Steinway does not depend narrowly upon immediate circumstance.

(to be continued in: Most Australians … volunteer)

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