Just What Is Meaning? A Lay Perspective


The Origin of Symbols, Code and Meaning

Memories are NOT CODED. They are ANALOG recordings, not unlike phonograph records and the old photographs before the invention of digital cameras. There is some evidence that memories are stored in a manner similar to holographs within the medium of the brain. Memories may include recordings of coded information, this would be how symbols are recognized.

 Only when communication between brains is needed does CODE come into play. One brain must create appropriate SYMBOLS which represent the information. These symbols must be physicalized in some manner because the only input mechanism available to the other brain are the five senses of the body. Information is packaged and lumped, nuances and unimportant details are necessarily removed, symbols are selected and generated. If the other brain is receptive, then the symbols are sensed by the body, evoking the memory centers of the second brain. Communication is completed if the second brain understands the code and “remembers” the meaning in its own analog memory.

The Origin of Language

The brain records sensory inputs as memory. The mind constructs an internal symbol system describing the sensory information in ways the human body can communicate or relate the information. Details of the input which the mind cannot put a name to may be remembered or memorable, but cannot be communicated. Have you ever experienced something that you were unable to describe to someone else who had not experienced it?

Two people who have experienced the same or similar types of events can have a conversation about it and begin to form a language. Language is a shortcut to memory. It is the human capacity for the invention of vocabulary that sets them apart from other creatures (and from computers). If two people share a new experience, they’ll be able to talk about it by recognizing the same features in the sensory record and describing it in terms that evoke the same memory in the other person. Eventually, they’ll form a unique vocabulary of short hand symbolic terms and phrases to permit efficient communications. This is how strangers who meet at 12-Step Meetings are able to express and understand each other.

 But if only one of the two persons has experienced the events, there is no referent memory in one of the two. Think of the old saw “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Have you ever heard a new musical piece and tried to explain it to someone who hasn’t heard it? It takes a lot of explanation and yet is ultimately a failure.

 Consider another example: Wine tasting connoisseurs

 These people have an intense sensitivity to subtle features of taste and smell making their experience of wine very rich with information. More importantly, they have been able to attach vocabulary to these differences in unique ways that allows them to communicate with other wine experts. Of course, their success at communicating is predicated on the existence of other individuals with similar talents and experiences. When they try to explain to someone without the sensitivity of taste, their words merely confuse or sound hilariously out of place.

 This is one example of how “context” arises in human communication.

 What does this suggest for our major theme? 

  1. The features that are recognized in the sensory record are dependent first on the individuals whose senses recorded them
  2. The features that are chosen for communication are dependent on the interests and needs of the individuals doing the communicating. Other features that at first do not seem to contribute to the remembrance of the experience are often ignored or discounted.
  3. The vocabulary describing and naming these features is dependent on both the individual who sensed and on the people to whom they try to explain the sensation. Thru trial and error, the person who is trying to communicate will hit upon terms that find resonance in their audience.

4 Responses

  1. “These symbols must be physicalized in some manner”
    I get what you mean, but I wonder.. I suppose complex symbols are made of other symbols. One source, I think, is the inputs, they get converted to symbols and build upon. Then there are these symbols made of other symbols – principles and relations we learn.
    But isn’t there also some hard-wired symbols? Maybe the feelings of goodness, and love, and other principles of nature.

    Though now that I think of that, these symbols could be learned into totally blank slate brain, that’s probably why we have adaptive neurons, to inputs and outputs, in a very meaningful way, tie middle layer being our consciousness.
    (anyway, thanks for articles, they stimulate my thinking process, even though I didnt get anywhere here :P)

  2. Thanks for the comments! It’s given me the idea for an example of the difference between the symbol and the meaning.

    When I feel love, there’s a visceral, physical sensation and a swirl of emotions. I like being with the person I love because when I am around them they bring out these sensations in my body and brain, and they seem to experience similar sensations (at least they tell me they do).

    But I don’t consider these sensations to be symbollic. When I try to describe my feelings of love, that DESCRIPTION is symbollic (namely, it consists of my using language to describe those feelings). I may act symbollically too, expressing my love through deeds and gifts without saying a word.

    I may recognize or interpret the actions of others as symbollic of their feelings of love, even though I don’t myself feel the same sensations of love. I’m able to do this because I recognize that such actions might be those I would do for someone if I loved them.

    Some of the actions I witness and classify as symbollic of love I have learned from others by being told they are such symbols. A single rose presented to a lady, doing something difficult with little thought of reward or remuneration, and so on – these are actions that I have learned from my society to be symbols of love. Hence, when I recognize in myself those feelings of love, I may choose some of these symbols and actually perform them on behalf of the one I love in order to communicate that love to them.

    So my actual feelings and emotions of love are what I intend when I say “meaning”. My statements and acts that I perform which I intend to show or communicate my feelings, those are the symbols.

  3. Ok. But if you take more meanings, and put them together to get yet another meaning. Don’t you feel like those meanings were again like symbols creating a new meaning?

    In my understanding, every bit of information is a symbol – what is represented by the invididual neurons in the brain. And if you take all related bits (that is neurons, symbols), and look at it as a whole, what you get is meaning.

    The sentence is a symbol, and it is made of word-symbols. And the list of word-symbols makes a meaning. Which, when given a name (or feeling), becomes a symbol, that can be further involved in other meanings.

    • Psycho: I am not ignoring your questions. I really liked them and am planning a detailed response. Will probably post as a new entry because I have a lot to explain… Thanks for your provocative questions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: