Talk:Meaning (non-linguistic)

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Somatic worries[edit]

I'm having trouble understanding how ToM and the natural language instinct are relevant to meaning. It seems to me that they're the faculties that help us to produce meaning, but are not direct instances of meaning in themselves, or even directly produce meaning. It's only when these faculties are in conjunction with more general thought-processing abilities that they seem to directly produce personal meanings.

I can see the process of imprinting would be a kind of meaning, though. Very Eriksonian. Lucidish 23:54, 21 February 2006 (UTC)

If a construct within the brain is directly responsible for both linguistic and interpreted meaning, isn't that relevant to a discussion of meaning? It seems that we do not start our lives completely from ground zero. How much more generic do the thought-processing abilities have to be before they constitute a source of meaning? Bob 00:20, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
These faculties, while surely important to the meaning creation process (along with all the cognitive faculties), don't seem to have to do with meanings themselves. Also, the syntactic faculties / language acquisition device would only be salient to linguistic meaning, while this article is more about non-linguistic meaning.
I'd be most comfortable in dealing with theories and perspectives which actually use the word 'meaning' explicitly in their literature. I think we can look into research and still enjoy exploring the topic. Lucidish 04:11, 23 February 2006 (UTC)
Imprinting looks like a process of filling in the "syntax" for a semantic structure that is already in place. The form differs from generation to generation. The content remains the same. Bob 00:26, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
I'm not sure that I would characterize it like that... after all, a syntax has to do with the rules which govern the construction of sentences in a language, while imprinting has to do with making associations with objects (people) in the world. Lucidish 04:11, 23 February 2006 (UTC)
For me, imprinting is an explanation for both the rapid acquisition of language by children and the "intuited" development of an understanding of other people (a personal theory of mind). I believe that there are other cases where this operates in people and there is one in particular with relevance to Erickson's view: the process of sexual awakening. I suspect that he was specifically working off of that since the thoughts of many people revolve ever after around that moment in their development. I wonder if the object of his affection would appreciate being called the "external source of gratification". "Obsession" would be a kinder word.
I find myself turning (again) to the "form versus content" way of organizing concepts of meaning, as illuminated in the Diamond Sutra. In this context, for linguistics, form is syntax and content is semantics. For interpreted meaning, form is that which is perceived and content is interpretation. For "imprinting", form is the stimulus/perception and content is the innate mental structure (the lock) that the stimulus keys into. So we see that form/syntax varies but the underlying content/semantics are "grave and constant (#3)".
There are countless examples of this across cultures, professions, philosophies, and arts. It is the useful product of abstraction / interpretation / derivation, as opposed to some other creative alternatives like delusion, mental paralysis, schizophrenia, paranoia, or solipsism. On the other hand, the failure of meaning is really just another type of meaning.
I'm worried that the overly general definition of imprinting in the intro of that wiki has done us harm. (Namely, that "Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning... that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior"). What you indicate about language acquisition might be true if the above definition were acceptable, because then the term "imprinting" would be a category which would include general pattern-recognition: the difference between ducks and trucks, what a cat looks like, etc.
But "imprinting" iirc has to do with a more specific phenomenon, having to do with learned preferences. And we can learn things about the world at a young age which we are emotionally neutral towards. Semantic categories, it seems to me, can be learned with some emotional detachment: I can delight in the learning of a new concept, but I don't have to fall in love with the object of the concept in the process. Syntactic learning also seems to be one of those emotionally neutral things; or at least, it seems to have a different sort of emotional involvement, if any (i.e., while there may be some righteous indignation in response to grammatical errors, that doesn't seem to be a kind of phobia or philia).
Theory of Mind is typically explained in terms of so-called "theory-theory" and "simulation-theory". I'm not sure where imprinting fits there. Maybe I'm missing the connection. Could you say more? Lucidish 23:46, 27 February 2006 (UTC)
Reason, learning, and free will are our gateway away from fate. Imprinting is the exact reverse, opening a door into a genetically enforced capability, with all the attendant risks and capabiities (as in being "born with wings"). Perhaps we need to help the authors of the "imprinting" article, making the wording more precise. I have not studied it with that in mind.
There are at least three significant imprinting processes in humans: (1) language, starting between one and two years old; (2) ToM, starting between 3 and 4; and (3) sexual awakening, usually starting in the teens. I am maybe detecting the beginnings of another innate faculty that arrives with age. Call it sentimentality, or social vigilance. I am on the perimeter of the bubble that protects children, all the people for whom I am responsible.
Without childhood suffering there is unlikely to be a real sense of individual purpose until sometime after (3) develops. It is too bad that there is no imprinting process — only the school of hard knocks — to (mis)inform us about learning, reason, purpose, or philosophy.
Maybe I'm wrong, but that doesn't seem to be how the word is used in psych. I don't know what the correct word would be to describe phase-sensitive learning in general. But from what I've read, "imprinting" just has to do with (3) and filial imprinting.
Anyway, the common theme between all these issues you bring up is a "principles and parameters" model of the mind. I'm still hesitant to call syntactic learning a kind of meaning: I need to see other scholars refer to it in that way before I can make form an intelligible intuition around the idea. Same with ToM. Do you have any references or somesuch? That would help me a great deal toward understanding how this all hangs together. Lucidish 18:04, 28 February 2006 (UTC)
I agree that syntax is not meaning, by definition if nothing else. Likewise, form is not content. That does not imply that syntax is irrelevant, or that children are imprinting (or "learning") sematics rather than syntax. Quite the contrary. The implication is that, at least to some degree, the internal semantic structure is a given. We, as people, only have to learn how this internal structure maps to our surroundings - or to the relevant language syntax.
I suppose that it is possible that syntax at one level of abstraction becomes semantics at the next meta level. That would explain why the internal semantic structure can perform its function without ever really being visible to ordinary introspection, i.e. introspection without the benefit of the psychological and medical literature. We have sudden feelings with a strong sense of relation to events and perceptions, but how those feelings are driven by our perceptions is mostly invisible.
I will survey the literature, although that process will certainly turn up something to support me. It is like reading a rorschach blot, or the Bible. Talk is all over the map. None of this needs to go into the article. The discussion alone is interesting. Bob 19:43, 28 February 2006 (UTC)

Form/Content, Principle/Parameter, LADs and "Imprinting"[edit]

I do not care for the terminology principle/parameter. It is confusing. I would have expected better of linguist Chomsky. I suspect that it is all about syntax, in any event. Some theorize that there is a natural language or at least a natural grammar (as shown by creoles). Chomsky's theory is not about the (semantic) matching up of the perceived map with the internal and eternal verities.

The existence of a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) would justify the term "somatic meaning" and might even justify the use of the (rather limited) word "imprinting". I agree that, as usual for a dilettante like me, the value of the word is superficial. The body has an ancient lineage and a complex development cycle with intricate feedbacks between environment and internal structure. Sorting it all out is the work of specialists.

The relevance of the LAD to non-linguistic meaning is that if the LAD exists then there are very likely other "devices" that support our sense of meaning. There is clear physical evidence for a Language Device, if not for a LAD. When damage occurs at a young enough age the language function can be tranferred to the opposite hemisphere of the brain, as shown by brain activity scans. This is a flexibility not usually expected of a "device".

Current literature on autism suggests that a similar neural device exists for "empathy", a device which is variously defective in autistic people. The literature also carries the implication that the ToM device is secondary to the LD/LAD in origin and development. Certainly it would require the detailed information provided by language to reach its fullest development. Language (as forms of "talk therapy") is also the most promising treatment for mitigation of autism.

What I get caught up on is the idea that the theory of mind module, or the language acquisition device, are (either of them) of much interest to an article on meaning. I can understand how they might be potential sources of meaning, but I don't see how they describe instances of it. Lucidish

I ran across some papers on pre-linguistic primordial communication, one proposing music as the origin of speech and one proposing gestures (similar to Ayla's "Clan of the Cave Bear" friends). Most other evidence contradicts the gesture theory, although gorillas and chimpanzees seem to be capable of some level of language based on gestures. The chatter at cocktail parties supports the "music" theory, if one takes the music to be similar to the singing of birds.

There is much more material related to non-linguistic meaning that has not been considered. The playback of meaning as felt by someone else (resonance?) is an important part of human experience. How else would we explain the endless hours in front of the TV soaps or playing video games? It is a simulated/replicated world, and to that degree its basis must also have a parallel in the physical structures that support our dreams while we are asleep. Three of the definitions of constructivism suggest that we live within an autopoietic bubble of meaning, similar to a living dream (nightmare?).

That's very interesting (re: relation of music to meaning). What were the articles / references? Lucidish 22:52, 3 March 2006 (UTC)
Gesture - [1], [2], [3], [4]
Music - [5], [6], [7], [8],
Natural Meaning - [9]
Form & Content - [10] (a very slow link)
There is more, perhaps less relevant, or not accessible ($$), or perhaps not yet evaluated. Bob 10:21, 4 March 2006 (UTC)


"Meaning as Interpretation" could be changed to "Meaning (psychological)". "Somatic meaning" could be changed to "Meaning (anthropological)". This has the advantage of refering to where some of the information originates, although the boundaries are blurry. "Cultural meaning" will be a part of the first category even though it is studied by many social sciences. Likewise, considerable work in psychology has gone into physiology, "body language", and the associated phenomena.

We might have to wait for someone to sort out all the social sciences, including history. Maybe the current classification scheme is simple enough to work with some relatively minor explanation. I worry that some of these distinctions come from us, however recognizable they may be by the general public.

You bring up an important point. I think it would be fruitful to step back and make sure we're using terms that people in the various disciplines would use. Lucidish 04:13, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

Natural Meaning[edit]

"Natural meaning" raises a variation of the question "If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?". In the Himalayas many Buddhists have automated devices (wheels and flags) to recite their prayers for them. At the time, I kept wondering whether a prayer without a mind's consciousness was valid? Does it have meaning? I am inclined to think that meaning does not exist without the mind, but millions of years of evolution may mean that I am wrong. Survival/persistence has an intrinsic "natural" meaning all its own. "Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forest of the night!" Fearful is right. Bob 00:20, 22 February 2006 (UTC)

I think the way that the word "meaning" is used in the case of non-natural meaning has to do with the interpretations and associations that people form of natural phenomena. So the mind still plays a part. Paul Grice made some hay out of this distinction, if you're interested in learning more. Lucidish 04:17, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

I would accept the clouds/rain as a sort of simplistic natural meaning (if such a thing could be). I tend to think that the weather vane is actually an elaborate sign created with an intent to communicate, which is hardly a natural result.Bob 20:48, 22 February 2006 (UTC)

That's one way of looking at it. Maybe it's not the best example. Grice's main example was something akin to, "That smoke means there's a fire". Lucidish 04:17, 23 February 2006 (UTC)
"Say, Roy, do you see that smoke on the ridge over yonder?"
"Yes, Gabby, there's some brush burning over there."
"Roy, that's not just burning brush.  Them are smoke signals!"

I think that this whole article is really about "interpreted meaning" or "interior meaning". It would be helpful to mention Grice in the context of natural meaning. There is no point in discussing the physical genesis/basis of non-linguistic meaning, so we can remove the cognition section at the end. Any discussion of meaning has a way of equivocating to something else that is better discussed elsewhere.

Quite right. Done and done. Lucidish 23:48, 27 February 2006 (UTC)

On compositional semantics[edit]

I think you posted on the wrong page. This page has to do with non-linguistic meaning. Lucidish 04:37, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: I was commenting on the first sentence of this article:

A non-linguistic meaning is an abstract object which is not associated with conventional signs that are arranged in any compositional way.

  • JA: I looked, admittedly just glancing, but did not see the parallel positive statement made on the Meaning (linguistics) page. Jon Awbrey 04:44, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
  • BD: In a more precise sense, this article is talking about situations where context is everything and syntax is irrelevant except as a recaptitulation of causality. I think that lies somewhere outside the Group of formal grammars. That makes parsing pretty difficult, but then that is what we are mostly designed to do - parse causal context for meaning. I think I will remove the semiotics template from this article. It was valuable only for the reference to biosemiotics (which seems to be a very peculiar way of looking at natural phenomena). Bob 06:40, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
Ah. The word "compositional" was used in the Fregean sense, not in the Chomskian one. And the subject isn't obviously about semantics or grammar at all, rather it has to do with pragmatics and semiotics. Lucidish 17:07, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: Frege's and Chomsky's usage are roughly compatible here, and it is one of the reasons why Fregean semantics is limited to the more artificial varieties of formal languages, context-free at best. This restriction is appropriate to Frege' main concerns with logic and mathematics, and it is largely the misunderstanding of this point that has led others to try and stretch his approach beyond its capacities. Jon Awbrey 17:18, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
I've been taught in philosophy of language courses to understand the principle of compositionality in broader terms. We've used it to discuss certain (mainly semantic) features of natural languages -- or at least (presumably) to discuss those components of natural languages which arise from the contributions of those which sit lower on the heirarchy. It was in that spirit that I used the word, which I hope was not idiosyncratic. In any case, the point seems to be moot, since Bob rewrote the intro. Lucidish 22:31, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

Meaning of the 'meaning'.[edit]

The first step in explanation of meaning of the 'meaning' is to note that truth, as something observable, is the duality of a symbol and its meaning. For example the truth smbolised by the word 'book' is such a duality because that which the symbol 'book' means is independent of the symbol 'book'. The same object which in english language is called 'book' has many other symbols in other languages and yet the meaning is in all the cases the same. The symbol 'book' is physicsl in the form of a sound, a written geometrical figure or some other phisical form of communication with another person, using senses. The 'meaning' is independent of the senses and it resides in the mind, i. e. in the immaterial space time.( (talk) 16:45, 15 December 2009 (UTC))


This reads like an OR-fest, both the article and the talk page. if you think I am wrong about that, you know what to do. 1Z (talk) 09:09, 3 October 2012 (UTC)