§4.5. Kinds of value

So much for making new and more specialised kinds of object - for example, new kinds of room, or new kinds of animal. This allows us to describe the physical world in elegant ways, but what about concepts which aren't so physical?

Without getting into philosophy, we can probably agree that numbers like 1, 2, 3, ..., and texts like "Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz", are not physical. Inside Inform, those are values, but not objects. Inform already has a good stock of this sort of concept built in, so it may not immediately seem clear why we need to create new ones. But in fact this is very useful. To describe the physical world, we need concepts like (for example) distance and brightness. We want to say that two armchairs are 12 feet apart, or that a given light-bulb is very dim. Here, "twelve feet" and "very dim" are clearly not physical objects; they need to be values, but not objects.

As these two examples suggest, sometimes we want a quantitative way to measure things, sometimes not. Thomas Hardy, in his novel "The Return of the Native", writes:

When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van, ordinary in shape, but singular in colour, this being a lurid red.

Hardy doesn't tell us that the wavelength of the light is 700nm, he tells us that the colour is "lurid red", and we understand. Later in the same chapter, Hardy writes:

The loads were all laid together, and a pyramid of furze thirty feet in circumference now occupied the crown of the tumulus.

and now we do have a quantitative measurement: thirty feet. This is how people write about the world, and how they read about it. So Inform needs to provide both sorts of measurement.

(a) Here is a qualitative example. Suppose we would like a candle lantern to burn down, gradually diminishing in brightness. Then we'll need a way to talk about the current strength of the flame, but only in vague terms. Here goes:

Brightness is a kind of value. The brightnesses are guttering, weak, radiant and blazing.

"Brightness" is now a kind of value on a par with (for instance) "number" or "text". There are only four possible values, named as above. Kinds of value like this, where there are just a few named possibilities, are extremely useful, as we'll see.

(b) Now a quantitative example:

Weight is a kind of value. 1kg specifies a weight.

The difference here is not the way we create the kind, but the way we tell Inform what the possible values are. Instead of a list, we teach Inform some notation. As a result, "26kg" is now a value, for instance. Quantitative kinds like this are sometimes called "units", because - as in this example - they're often units in the sense of measuring things. Many Inform projects never need units, but they can still be very useful, and they're described in detail in the chapter on "Numbers and Equations".

 Start of Chapter 4: Kinds Back to §4.4. Plural assertions Onward to §4.6. Properties again