• creativesoul
    6.9k
    What sorts of things are meaningful? How do these things become meaningful? To whom are these things meaningful? These are all reasonable important questions to ask. We can look towards actual everyday events and find plenty of good answers.

    We can offer an accurate account of some specific language use and in our doing so provide a prima facie example of shared meaning by virtue of our doing so. Each and every time someone offers an accurate account of Kant's Categories, the meaning that was first attributed by Kant is attributed once again by someone else. That meaning transcends Kant in the exact same way that the meaning of "hula hoop" transcends it's original usage by being the name of a referent(the thing called such). As long as same correlations are being drawn between the language use and other things, the meaning continues.

    We can watch a user die and witness his/her meaningful creation remain. Historical accounts are more than adequate proof of this. We can know a user is dead and suspect that their creation has died alongside. It's very difficult sometimes to know if the original meaning of certain language use no longer exists. Such knowledge requires drawing the same correlations between the language use and other things as the speaker. It requires knowing what the speaker was talking about. In these cases, the speaker is dead.

    We name something for the first time. By naming something we make both the names and their referents(something other than the name) meaningful. Naming practices are one way we attribute meaning. An original naming event happens when a capable creature draws a correlation between the name and it's referent. All subsequent and consistent/coherent use of that name maintains that meaningful correlation. We all learn to point at the tree when uttering "tree". This is rudimentary shared meaning:A plurality of creatures drawing correlations between the same things. In this case, it's a plurality of creatures drawing correlations between the name and it's referent(between "trees" and trees).

    We all 'agree' that those things are trees and these things are not... by virtue calling those things "trees" but not these things. This agreement is necessary for language to proceed in it's evolutionary process. The 'agreement' need not be an intentional act. To quite the contrary, prior to the ability to voluntarily enter into an agreement about the referent of a name, one must already be deeply embedded in language use.

    One must first learn how to pick stuff out to the exclusion of all other things prior to being able to take account of how we pick stuff out. We name and we describe. All of this is to create, further perpetuate, and/or build upon meaningful things.


    Why does it seem so difficult to do this when talking about conceptions/uses/senses/etc, of the same term "meaning"? Is it not a reasonable question to ask someone when they're using the term "meaning" what they are referring to? Ought not the speaker know what they're referring to, when using the term as a noun? I mean, when we begin using pronouns like "it" as a means for referencing, if all we're are pointing to is the term "meaning", then we've got some serious explaining to do.

    So, the persistence and/or continued existence of meaning is clearly not existentially dependent upon any individual user, but rather it is existentially dependent upon language being used in a consistent way. That consistent usage is satisfied - it happens - when a plurality of capable creatures draw correlations between the specific language use and other things.

    This holds good for all uses of the term "meaning" as well.
  • fresco
    567
    Since 'meaning' is contingent on 'speech acts' , your title 'let's talk about meaning' could be construed as 'lets eat our tongues' !
    BTW, an attempt to divert 'meaning' onto a property of 'things' seems equally mentally incestuous to me since 'thinghood' already presupposes that aspect of language behavior we call 'naming' (the first or nominal level of measurement)', which is used to denote significant focus of human attention.
    In short, 'meaning' is about 'what matters' both individually and socially and we attempt to organise that shifting state of affairs via a socially acquired combination of gestures we call 'language'.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    Since 'meaning' is contingent on 'speech acts' , your title 'let's talk about meaning' could be construed as 'lets eat our tongues' !fresco

    The term "meaning" is existentially dependent upon speech acts. So is the term "Mt. Everest". Neither of those things(the referents themselves) are also existentially dependent upon speech acts. Although, obviously linguistic meaning is, it's not the only 'kind', it's not the only way to attribute meaning, and it's certainly not the first way one does.

    So...

    I'm failing to get your point.

    In short, 'meaning' is about 'what matters' both individually and socially and we attempt to organise that shifting state of affairs via a socially acquired combination of gestures we call 'language'.fresco

    The term "meaning" is not about the terms "what matters".

    So, again...

    I'm failing to get your point.
  • alcontali
    826
    What sorts of things are meaningful? How do these things become meaningful? To whom are these things meaningful? These are all reasonable important questions to ask. We can look towards actual everyday events and find plenty of good answers.creativesoul

    Meaning, i.e. semantics, are not always a useful goal.

    The best part of advanced mathematics and metamathematics is about removing all possible meaning from an abstraction while only leaving structure, i.e. a bureaucracy of formalisms to apply to a preferably meaningless symbol stream.

    The flagship of mathematics is general abstract nonsense.

    In mathematics, abstract nonsense, general abstract nonsense, generalized abstract nonsense, and general nonsense are terms used by mathematicians to describe abstract methods related to category theory and homological algebra. More generally, “abstract nonsense” may refer to a proof that relies on category-theoretic methods, or even to the study of category theory itself.

    In other words, the presence of meaning, i.e. any possible reference to real-world semantics, is considered to be a bug, an error, and a serious defect in higher mathematics. It needs to be corrected by applying additional operations of further abstraction:

    Abstraction in mathematics is the process of extracting the underlying essence of a mathematical concept, removing any dependence on real world objects with which it might originally have been connected, and generalizing it so that it has wider applications or matching among other abstract descriptions of equivalent phenomena. Two of the most highly abstract areas of modern mathematics are category theory and model theory.

    Every time I see an attempt to attach meaning, i.e. semantics, I shiver, because we should be doing exactly the opposite of that. Full abstraction can only be reached when the expressions in language have become completely meaningless. If they still mean something, then there is something wrong, which then needs to be corrected.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    Isn't 'meaning' simply something that humans recognise? Isn't it a concept we invented to describe things we believe to hold some sort of significance? Nothing to do with language directly; more to do with being human, no?
  • Joshs
    733
    In mathematics, abstract nonsense, general abstract nonsense, generalized abstract nonsense, and general nonsense are terms used by mathematicians to describe abstract methods related to category theory and homological algebra. More generally, “abstract nonsense” may refer to a proof that relies on category-theoretic methods, or even to the study of category theory itself.alcontali

    That's an awful lot of differentiated terminology for a practice without meaning. It's true that mathematics abstracts away meaningful content but it does does so in order to arrive at meaningfully useful tools. One chooses to make use of a particular calculative method becasue of its pragmatic usefulness in relation to one's purposes. For instance, number abstracts away all particularies of the set of objects it counts, but it does so in order to allow us to form the notion of the act of counting itself, which is anything but meaningless in its origin or purpose.
  • alcontali
    826
    It's true that mathematics abstracts away meaningful content but it does does so in order to arrive at meaningfully useful tools.Joshs

    The application of math in the real world is itself not math but always something else, such as physics, engineering, and so on.

    Math supplies a bureaucracy of formalisms that will help maintaining consistency in these other fields. It is these other fields that are (possibly) real-world meaningful and useful.

    For math, being meaningful, i.e. semantically rich, would only detract from that goal. Being directly useful would also detract from that goal.

    In other words, the applicability of math would be badly impaired if it sought to be directly meaningful or useful. Math is necessarily, in and of itself, meaningless and useless, in order to maximally relegate these characteristics to its real-world application.
  • T Clark
    4.2k


    You seem to be using the word "meaning" in at least three different senses:
    • Meaning as the definition of a word
    • Meaning as the interpretation of a set of ideas
    • Meaning as significance.

    They all seem to get mashed up together. I think things would have been clearer if you had defined your term better at the beginning.
  • Possibility
    776
    Math is an attempt to contain meaning within value. It declares itself ‘meaningless’ in order to maintain the illusion that there is no meaning outside of value - that cannot be positioned in relation to value.

    Yes, in order to make use of meaning in the universe we value, we must eventually position it in relation to value - but it doesn’t follow that there is no meaning outside of value. Neither does it follow that we cannot make use of that meaning.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k


    Or one sense that covers/exhausts them all...

    :wink:
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Or one sense that covers/exhausts them all...creativesoul

    No doubt that all the aspects of "meaning" I mentioned have something in common. It's not as if all the meanings of "meaning" are unrelated. But still, I think getting our words right at the beginning is important.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k


    ...and you think/believe that I've not?
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    ...and you think/believe that I've not?creativesoul

    I don't think you were clear enough laying out what you were trying to say. I was confused. The discussion was muddled.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k


    That's no surprise to me. Don't take that the wrong way. It wasn't about you, so much as it was about me.

    What's muddled or confusing for you?
  • alcontali
    826
    Math is an attempt to contain meaning within value.Possibility

    Math is not about quantities, or numbers, and in that sense, not about values. Only number theory is.

    Furthermore, number theory is, in and of itself, a relatively weak axiomatization which is certainly not Turing complete. Numbers do naturally reappear inside any axiomatization that actually is effectively Turing complete, such as set theory (zfc), lambda calculus, combinator calculus, and so on.

    So, if "value" means "quantity" or "number", then no, because it is not an essential building brick in math.

    It declares itself ‘meaningless’ in order to maintain the illusion that there is no meaning outside of valuePossibility

    Math is "meaningless", i.e. devoid of semantics, because it only seeks to deal with syntax, i.e. the bureaucracy of formalisms that govern the abstract, Platonic world of mathematics.

    Furthermore, math only supports knowledge, i.e. justified beliefs, while knowledge is just one limited mental tool. Knowledge cannot possible be an essential or the primary ingredient in the discovery of new knowledge, because otherwise humanity would either have no knowledge at all, or else, have discovered all possible knowledge already.

    What's more, not all knowledge can be expressed in language and objectively shared. Michael Polanyi already pointed out the existence of tacit knowledge.

    Furthermore, we have no guarantee that our existing list of standard academic knowledge-justification methods is complete: axiomatic, scientific, historical, and epistemic. There could be other epistemic domains generated by their own associated method. Who says that we are successfully operating in all possible epistemic domains?

    What's more, not all epistemic domains apply mathematics as a tool. For example, the historical method does not rest on numbers. In fact, it does not seem to involve any mathematics at all.

    Yes, in order to make use of meaning in the universe we value, we must eventually position it in relation to value - but it doesn’t follow that there is no meaning outside of value.Possibility

    In fact, mathematics does not tell any of the applied, real-world disciplines that happen to use it, how exactly they should define semantics. To that effect, math would actually have to deal with semantics, i.e. meaning, which it obviously doesn't. These applied disciplines can only use mathematics to maintain consistency in their own semantics-heavy statements. They cannot use mathematics as a source of semantics/meaning, because mathematics refuses to supply that ingredient.

    Neither does it follow that we cannot make use of that meaning.Possibility

    You can use real-world oriented disciplines for the purpose of dealing with meaning, but even these disciplines are not the exclusive source of meaning.

    I was just pointing out that not all knowledge is meant to provide meaning. In Immanuel Kant's lingo, synthetic statements a priori, such as mathematics, are not providers of meaning, and even actively avoid providing meaning.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k


    That's just not true...

    Math is clearly meaningful. Arriving at a conclusion that says otherwise just shows how far off the rails one's thought/belief can go if they begin with a gross misunderstanding. Math is not only meaningful, it is rigidly so. Numbers name quantities. Symbols are meaningful.

    Some things exist prior to language. Math isn't one. It is a language.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    Being devoid of semantics is being devoid of theory of meaning, it is not being devoid of meaning.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    Math is not about quantities...alcontali

    What is math about then, if not quantities?
  • Joshs
    733
    the applicability of math would be badly impaired if it sought to be directly meaningful or useful. Math is necessarily, in and of itself, meaningless and useless, in order to maximally relegate these characteristics to its real-world application.alcontali
    To give you a little background, I adhere to radical pragmatism (Rorty) and Husserlian phenomenology(starting with his Origin of Arithmetic). From the perspective of these approaches, any experienced reality is inherently meaningful in that it has significance for, matters to us.
    Math does not become meaningful only when it is applied to real world phenomena. The origin of number and calculation is a series of synthetic intentional acts of understanding that emerged at various points in human history. If one goes back far enough, one can find cultures with no notion of object permanence, formal counting or number. These were conceptual inventions motivated by practical concerns, much like concepts such as left-right, high-low, fast-slow. In order for number and calculation to have any coherence, one must first construct the idea of a world of discrete objects out of the flux around us. Further ,we must develop the notion of empty plurality, etc. These are semantic notions in themselves, prior to their application to phenomena we wish to perform calculations on. We wouldn't know what a calculation is in the first place unless we retained the semantic meaning that led to its creation by our forebears. It is not that math is useless in and of itself, It is that that there is no such thing as math in and of itself.To think of calculation is to automatically imply a substrate. That is what counting means. To count is always a counting OF something. If the semantic emptiness, that is, the absolute abstractive generality of the something, is one component of what calculation means, equally implied is how a mathematical operator acts on, transforms its object. Multiplication, addition ,subtraction, simple counting, these are all specific procedures ,and as such they represent specific semantic meanings, developed through pragmatic interaction with the world at some point in human history.

    In sum, for radical pragmatism and phenomenology, any empirical fact has a formal, normative component. By the same token, formal mathematical concepts, originating in the most basic notions of number and counting, have a empirical component that defines their meaningful sense, and renders them at the same time a discovery and an invention.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k


    A definition of "meaning" is - I suppose - what you're seeking from me. Fair request.

    The best I can offer is what all attribution of meaning consists of and/or requires. According to current convention, all theories of meaning presuppose symbolism.

    So...

    At a bare minimum, all attribution of meaning(all meaning) requires something to become symbol/sign, something to become symbolized/significant and a creature capable of drawing a mental correlation, association, and/or connection between the two.

    There are no examples to the contrary.
  • fresco
    567
    Optionsfresco
    You fail to get my point because you fail to understand that talking about language is in essence an infinite regress equivalent to pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.
    The only 'given' we can start from is that we are clever primates with a complex set of socially acquired behavioral gestures ,we call 'human language' which segments what we call 'the world'. The abstract persistence of 'words' (internalised gestures) act as place markers for focal aspects of that shifting flux we call 'things' allowing us to attempt to predict and control aspects of our world relative to our lifespans and our pattern seeking. Place markers are not 'representational' of 'things in themselves', they are contextual memory aids within potential action plans.
    'Meaning' is about the internal visualization of a 'potential to act'.
    The meaning of 'chair' is (usually) 'potential to sit upon'. The meaning lf 'unicorn' is 'potential to observe a picture of, but never enounter, a type of animal'.
    (References: Heidegger ...'caring'. Merleau-Ponty...'affordances'. Maturana...'languaging' is a behavior which coordinates behavior'.)

    NB. All the above will remain 'meaningless' to you unless it triggers 'an intention to act' in you, e.g. to follow up the references. If you stick to the futile quest of 'defining meaning', it means we have mererly engaged in a bit of social dancing which seems to be the principal activity of 'philosophers'.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    I want you to feast your eyes upon a wonderful three course dinner. A wonderfully tasty ego boost called "personal attack" gets the rhetorical palate juiced up and ready to go.

    Onward to the next course...

    What's a tasty ad hom without the healthy effects/affects of non-fat non sequitur yogurt?

    Oh, let me tell you, the two make an unmistakeable well good for poisoning. Don't drink from that well.
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    There are no examples to the contrary.creativesoul

    Got one?
  • fresco
    567

    To whom was the ad hom suggestion addressed ?
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    The bootstrap analogy is old and tired. We can use language as a means for knowing about all sorts of stuff that is not existentially dependent upon language. Thought/belief is one of them.
  • fresco
    567
    No, thats more incestuous 'word salad'. What is 'knowledge' or 'belief' other than 'degree of confidence in the results of potential action' ?.
    ...dance on by all means....!
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    Don't drink the water...
  • creativesoul
    6.9k
    One can be both certain and wrong.

    If knowledge was equivalent to 'degree of confidence in the results of potential action', all knowledge would require thinking in terms of potential and/or logical possibility. Not all knowledge does. Some(to put it lightly) knowledge is about what's already happened, and/or is currently happening and not about what may.

    Thus, knowledge is not equivalent to 'degree of confidence in the results of potential action'.

    Some belief rides alongside...
  • fresco
    567
    Ah!...a foxtrot into what we call 'the past' !...what could be called retrodiction, the bedfellow of prediction which helps fuel those confidence levels !
    I doubt whether it would be worth going into 'time as a psychological construct' (Einstein) or 'things are just repepetitive events' or 'past and future are parochially ordered like up and down'(Rovelli), whilst you are wearing your comfortable philosophers dancing shoes.
  • alcontali
    826
    What is math about then, if not quantities?creativesoul

    On the one side, I do subscribe to formalism:

    Formalism holds that mathematical statements may be thought of as statements about the consequences of certain string manipulation rules. For example, in the "game" of Euclidean geometry (which is seen as consisting of some strings called "axioms", and some "rules of inference" to generate new strings from given ones), one can prove that the Pythagorean theorem holds (that is, one can generate the string corresponding to the Pythagorean theorem). According to formalism, mathematical truths are not about numbers and sets and triangles and the like—in fact, they are not "about" anything at all.

    but I am intuitively also attracted to Platonism:

    A major question considered in mathematical Platonism is: Precisely where and how do the mathematical entities exist, and how do we know about them? Is there a world, completely separate from our physical one, that is occupied by the mathematical entities? How can we gain access to this separate world and discover truths about the entities? One proposed answer is the Ultimate Ensemble, a theory that postulates that all structures that exist mathematically also exist physically in their own universe.

    The true nature of mathematics is still up in the air:

    It is a profound puzzle that on the one hand mathematical truths seem to have a compelling inevitability, but on the other hand the source of their "truthfulness" remains elusive. Investigations into this issue are known as the foundations of mathematics program.

    Philosophy of mathematics today proceeds along several different lines of inquiry, by philosophers of mathematics, logicians, and mathematicians, and there are many schools of thought on the subject.


    I tend to view mathematics with a mix of both formalism and Platonism.
  • alcontali
    826
    It is not that math is useless in and of itself, It is that that there is no such thing as math in and of itself.To think of calculation is to automatically imply a substrate. That is what counting means. To count is always a counting OF something.Joshs

    That is quite an anti-Platonist view. Mathematics deals with counting of not anything in particular. In the abstract, Platonic world of number theory, which is obviously not the real, physical world, there is no need for something to count. Mathematics explores that non-real world.

    The "OF something" is simply abstracted away:

    Abstraction in mathematics is the process of extracting the underlying essence of a mathematical concept, removing any dependence on real world objects with which it might originally have been connected.

    If the "OF something" is still present, then the statement is not part of mathematics but of something else (physics, engineering, and so on ...).

    Multiplication, addition ,subtraction, simple counting, these are all specific procedures ,and as such they represent specific semantic meanings, developed through pragmatic interaction with the world at some point in human history.Joshs

    These specific procedures obviously originate from pragmatic interaction with the world. However, the goal of mathematics is to abstract away the real world. Otherwise, without abstracting the real world away, it is not mathematics, but something else. Mathematics adopted its current nature in the first half of the 20th century. Mathematics prior to that, was not exclusively abstract, axiomatic, and algebraic.

    The turning point is generally considered to be the year 1905, with the publication of ZFC set theory:

    In set theory, Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory, named after mathematicians Ernst Zermelo and Abraham Fraenkel, is an axiomatic system that was proposed in the early twentieth century in order to formulate a theory of sets free of paradoxes such as Russell's paradox. Today, Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory, with the historically controversial axiom of choice (AC) included, is the standard form of axiomatic set theory and as such is the most common foundation of mathematics.

    Still, attempts to move to pure abstraction already began earlier, e.g. with Cantor's work on the various infinities. It triggered quite a bit of resistance:

    Cantor's theory of transfinite numbers was originally regarded as so counter-intuitive – even shocking – that it encountered resistance from mathematical contemporaries such as Leopold Kronecker and Henri Poincaré and later from Hermann Weyl and L. E. J. Brouwer, while Ludwig Wittgenstein raised philosophical objections.

    Nowadays, Cantor's work is considered uncontroversial. Mathematics is pure abstraction anyway. Mathematics has nothing to do with the real, physical world anyway. Therefore, extensive symbol manipulation (algebra) of infinities, with associated rules, has become a non-issue.
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