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This month, we talk to Zsofia Zvolenszky (Eötvös University) about fictional characters and places. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Han Solo and Luke Skywalker sneak on board the Death Star and attempt to rescue to Princess Leia. The escape plan goes awry, and pretty soon it looks more like Princess Leia is rescuing them. That was me summarizing the plot of Star Wars: A New Hope . But what was I talking about, exactly? We know that Princess Leia doesn’t actually exist–she’s a character that George Lucas made up. But she also isn’t the same thing as, for example, a person I made up a lie about as part of a con. Anyone who hears the above plot synopsis knows that I’m talking about a fictional character, and agrees to play along with me in pretending that this person exists, so that we can all enjoy the movie. The difficult question is: what does it mean to ‘play along’ in this way?

In this episode, Zsofia Zvolenszky argues that Princess Leia, the fictional construct, deserves to be thought of as a human-made artifact. It’s not a physical artifact, like a sculpture or a chair, but it’s still a thing that a person made, just like a certain circuit design or computer algorithm. This artifact, though it isn’t physically realized, is what the name ‘Princess Leia’ refers to. Join us as our guest walks us through the topic of fictional proper names!

Matt Teichman