CH1 L13: Language and meaning

  1. In the last post, we discovered how a brain can create concepts and hierarchically make them more abstract. The concept of the plant is more abstract than of rose. We also saw that we couldn’t imagine abstract ideas [1]. Now the question is “how can brain think about abstract ideas?”
  2. Let’s imagine that abstract ideas were invisible things around us. How could we understand them? In the invisible man [2], his presence would be perceived if he was dressed. To abstract ideas, the dress is language.
  3. In this context, language is the medium through which we experience our ideas then we might communicate them with others. It’s an overarching definition encompassing all the forms of languages we know.
  4. Language is a system of signs with which we communicate meanings (with ourselves or others). Now we need to define two concepts in this definition: signs and meanings. Let’s start with meaning.
  5. Each supersign [3] or concept can be called a unit of meaning. The concept of rose makes them meaningful because it groups them.
  6. Each concept creates a dichotomy. The concept of rose divides the whole world into the things which are rose or not. So, another way to define meaning is to define meaninglessness. If a concept can’t exclude things or give different values to them, it’s meaningless.
  7. Example 9: once I noticed that a student of mine was scrolling her Instagram feed (rather fast), liking all the pictures. I asked her “How could you like all of them?” She said, “they’re my friends and I want to support them.” Then I said, “Your likes will become meaningless to them if they know you like every picture.” [4]
  8. Life will be absurd if all days are alike. In my opinion, the greatest punishment of all time is what Sisyphus was sentenced to; he had to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top, repeating this action for eternity [5].
  9. That might sound contradictory to what we discussed in the posts about habits: doing things habitually saves some time and energy [6]. So, if we automate everything, every day will look alike. Won’t it make our life meaningless?
  10. Yes, if you don’t have any big dreams. That’s why many people find their life boring if they’re stuck like a hamster on a wheel. But following a routine is what great minds have done. It frees your mind from dealing with perfunctory things and let you think about your dreams and plan to make them come true. So your days might look alike but in fact, they’re different because each day you’re at least one step closer to your goal.
  11. We’re gonna discuss another aspect of meaning which is predictability in the coming posts.


Exercise 12:

    1. Is an instinctive reaction meaningful?
    2. Is it true that the rigidity of a notion is proportional to the rigidity of its dichotomy?
    3. How can we merge the concept of dichotomy with of spectrum?



[1] Link

[2] A novel by H. G. Wells. [Link]

[3] Link to the post about supersign

[4] A biological reason to that would be a level of uncertainty makes the anticipation of a reward more thrilling. Researchers have shown that the level of dopamine (a happy hormone) is maximum when the chance of getting a reward is almost 50%. That’s why gambling is so addictive because it raises the dopamine level to the max.

[5] Link to Sisyphus

[6] Link to the posts about habit. [the first post] [the second post]


  1. Pingback: The 3rd Sigma

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