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Stuart W. Mirsky
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Stuart W. Mirsky (Stuart W. Mirsky is the principal author of this blog).
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A Horse of a Different Color

An exploration of what it means to understand the meaning of symbols, words, and gestures and how the mind manifests this.

A symbol inscribed in some long forgotten language, when unearthed by an archaeologist, would have no meaning attached to it unless and until someone uncovers the key to it. It might not even be recognizable as something meaningful at all until the key is discovered. Absent that, we should take it for nothing more than random markings or the like. But with a key for decoding we find meaning there. What is this meaning we have unlocked?

Wittgenstein might have said it's just the use to which the symbol was put by its long ago makers, a use we discover for ourselves by effective exercises in decoding (possibly through reliance on some standard, e.g., a Rosetta stone, or by using mathematical means to discern linguistic frequencies and deduce, from these, the role the markings once played for their makers in the long lost language). Words and other physical signifiers get their meaning because we give it to them by coming to understand their intended uses.

But what does it mean to understand the use? . . .

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