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Meaning... what does that mean ? (A comic drawing from Joe KS website.

Last revised 9/6/2014. Return to Major concepts. See perception, conscience.

The first meaning of meaning is the "performative" value of a message. By doing what is commanded, the receiver shows that it has "understood". The dog sits, the lift goes to the fifth. And, millions if not billions of times per second, a computer understands what the program commands.

In other words (see form), the meaning is got from a raw input (raster) by an interpretative process. And the resulting data, or sometimes code, will be interpreted as the receiver as actions to do. Something like:
if the input is I, then produce the output O. That would be the "behaviorist" standpoint.

The effect may be invisible from outside. Be a simple storing of data, for instance. Or "evocation" of data from long termed memory. Then the automata expression E = f(I,E) and 0 = g(I,O), is better.

Not every part of a message is meaningful for a given receiver. And we can separate two cases :
- the relevant information is formally written In/on the being, directly readable by a machine (barcode, for instance)
- the relevant information must be sorted out of the "natural" features of the being, by processes which may be rather simple (size or weight of an apple) or highly complex (artificial vision and pattern recognition).

In the 1950's-1970's, meaning was seen as information, as an extension of Shannon (even if Shannon had excluded meaning from his formulas). You find an expression of that in books like [Osgood, 1957] or [Moles, 1971 and 1972].

But this approach has its limits. We have tried to go farther in our Laval Virtual 2013 paper. There we open the way of another measurement of meaning: the quantity of meaningful data (or code) that a given receiver (notably a program) can extract from a document (notably a work received as a raster). This would be somehow symmetrical to Kolmogorov complexity (see provisional notes in our ontology).

Different evaluation systems will give different appreciations results. A powerful recognition system, with a large library of pattern and a large stock of features, will extract more meaning than a basic one. But this is precisely a confirmation to this approach validity: two different persons have different tastes, and an expert like Panofsky [46] can write 25 pages on "Arcadia Ego" by Nicolas Poussin, in which a non-specialist visiting the museum will only see some undefined characters talking in front of a rather dull stone monument?  

Since Google  is investing in these evaluation tools – and many others, too, including military and medical professionals - we can expect great things in the years to come. And this kind of Watson-type cognitive machine will give them the technological resources they need (if they don’t have them yet).

Quantitative aspects of meaning

To be "meaning", a message of sign must have a lenght somewhere between
- at least minimal informational weigh to bring the intended meaning
- at most the bandpass of the receiver.

Some references

<Image, meaning and discovery, by Felic Frankel. 12 pages in [Grau 2007 ].
< Variation, construction et instrumentation du sens. by Maryse Siksou, ed. Hermès/Lavoisier 2003.
< La structure absente. Introduction à la recherche sémiotique, by Umberto Eco.
Mercure de France, Paris, 1972 (Italian Original Milano 1968).

< The measurement of meaning by Osgood Charles E., SUCI George J and Tannenbaum Percy H. University of Illinois Press, 1957.
< Meaning in the Visual Arts. by Erwin Panofsky, University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1955.
< General systems theory (Wikipedia).

Riss (book of pari)
German Tuutle

(1930) Dictionary or symbols

Varia to te developed and edited


Let us try a presentation by levels, from the physical to the transcendent.
Starting with the general definition, meaning is the effect of a perception on a receiver

Meaning of anything is the behavior I'll have when I perceive it

1. Physical. Just forces

Measurement is something in the physics laws (acceleraion, forces, movement conservation

And heath. Mass.
The signal emerges from the crude physical forces. A kind of prediction on the receiver. How can it be learned in non-couscious, Darwin etc.
Structure of the matter.

2. Emergence of the signal

The signal emerges not as a category of objects, but from the perception of an observer applying causality. There must be sone ltime lag, a lo

Meaning is the replacement of an object, action or phenomenon, by a signal "immaterial" signal

Semantics begin where physical determinism ends
and the meaning differs from a physical consequence

The signal is PMA on energy levels, but also on information quantity
Simplificatin. Retina remanency. Smoothing. Measurement
A permanent objet. Naming.
Big data as white noise

Part only of the reception (and then expression) can be said in words; or intenally logically


Recognition. Higher and higher level: recognize a feature, a being, an emotion, a behavior, a threat or affordance.
Recognize the human, the Turing test.
Recognise a definite person. Biometry.
Sesame, passwords.
Auto-completion : get the meaning with incomplete data. Can be done by a machine (Google)

Meaning is an aspect of PAM (Principle of action minimization) : a sign is ligher that its signified. In the general case.
Théorie statistique de la décision.
And reusability.
It has to be interpred by the receiver to have any effect. Organs
But to be properly so, the input must be perceived and heard as a signal.
Intermediary case : signal enzymes

"Ciel pommelé, eau peu éloignée

A natural phenomenon, object, scene
idenficition, detection, recogition, description, .... decision
e.g. it rains, i'll take my raincoat, I'll not go in Normandy this weekend, I have not to water my garden..
normally not intentional
Maybe also signals from oher communities, but we can detext (birds songs)

3. The signal as an purposeful emission

General L purpose. Impossible; Subgoals. Rabhi/

implies some convention between emitter and receiver
Implies memory. Learning

Pierce trilogy : index, symbol, icon

Psycchology and socioloy

Fodor, semantics
- He considers semantics as a variety of psychology. Description, not construction. Hence, enhancement and if/when possible, optimization is an issue. How to produce/get the maximum of meaning with the mininal message.
OK. : study the effects

- He deals with natural language, and humans. I am on any language, natural or not, form

Meaning = complexity of the message . complexity of the receiver

But what the "result" of the application. from the set E of all expresisions onto the set F of all "meanings" ??? What is the set of meanings?
Can be defined formalluy on a finite state automaton.
Or more "naturally" empirically on a human receiver.

This "effect" can be an "action" by the receiver, or only a change in its "knowledge". The message is only an information and, at least at that instant, has no consequence on the receivers action, behavior or mood.

Emotion as a consequence of perception. Emotion on the spectator is the meaning of the text, or of the expression of the character.

Perception takes time. Even if we are not conscous of it. Cinema.

If two signs have the same meaning... an equivalence relation on the set of signs.
Note that there is a sort infinity, with meaningless signs like page in Roxame or zeroes before and after the meaningful figures ... 000000017,0000....

Same meaning : the two signs can be replaced by each other. Typical of equivalence relation.

But a given sign can/will have different meanings in different contexts

3. Articulated languages

First there is the cognition move. From reality, or more exactly from the bits we detect in reality, through which we see reality, and from those bits the building of high level objects and ultimately of the world.

Systems of oppositions. Saussure.

Intension is the features included in an expression. E.g. a horse has four legs. A square has four sides/angles.
Extension is the (list of) set of occurrences, the population of horses. The set of all squares ...

Two expressions have the same meaning (the same intension) if they have the same structure (type of compositon of elements) and each correspondiing element has the same intension.

What is the "set of meanings" ? The real ? Then only expressions referring to the same real object of fearutre have the same meaning.

Language is a poweerful means of etting data to reach aims.
De quoi s'agit-il
La décision.

Meaning, the possibility of error (not dealt with, in genral, by semanticisis) and transgression (Leech). Tristan, *Thesee

Built of icons by analogy:
- the succession of samples from a sound sensor

Built symbols by convention: codes, standards. .
Thought they have optimization rules.

Coding. The linguistic schema. From the phrase to the surface.
But below this surface there are
- letters/phonemes
- bits
There are infinitely many ways of coding into bits.
Implied in a words are its parts/features (a horse has four legs, a head and a tail)

Intension is the features included in an expression. E.g. a horse has four legs. A square has four sides/angles.
Extension is the (list of) set of occurrences, the population of horses. The set of all squares ...

Two expressions have the same meaning (the same intension) if they have the same structure (type of compositon of elements) and each correspondiing element has the same intension.

From surface. Surface Vs deep structures
But in our perception it is not properly the surface itself we see, but its interpreation by our senses.
Somehow, surface is misuse of language. Surface doesnt exist by itself. We see the surface with our eyes. Our ears do not hear surface.
But, with high level beings, they build their surface (membrane, skin, expression).

But, if you know the sensor, a bit can be an index

Genetics. Nothing but the reception of the male code in the female womb. Decoding the DNA. We do not perceive it at all, or only indirectly through.

Animals and humans; the senses. Vision, hearing, Mainly in the brain. But preceding ways in flowers, jellyfish..

Synonymy. The set of meanings can be an equivalence relation on the set of expressions. Frequently (generally) there will be an infinite class, since some minimal specimen of the class may be completed and followdd by any meaningless antecedents, typically, 17, 0000017, 17,000000 etc.
But on a definite machine, there will be limits (number of bits for an integer, float, double).

More precisely, there will be all the "transformations", e.g. from deep structure to apparent structure

Antonymy. Less clear. One could say that the class of antonyms is the set constituted by all the synomyms preceded by a negation .... ???

The "minimal" reprentation in a given system (00000001,0000000 = 1)

Defintions. Dictionary. Generally, you cannot replace a word by its definition (in natural languages). In maths ? In progrmmaing, somehow you copy the function and classes

A set theory approach. To the set of (global) perception corresponds a set of meanings.
That creates an equivalence relation into the set of perceptions: are equivalent all chose which have the same meaning.
Antonums, contrasts or opposition call for complementary sets.
There can be an inclusion relation, if the meaning of some perception is included in another meaning.

anguage can be mainly the trigger of a complex behavior. On-off switch Programming. Recursion. Infinity.

Languages, and any systems of signs cannot be fully described. Dictionaries and grammars are always partial and approximative. See grammaire synthétique.

4. Externalization . Writing, machines

For permanency and transmission, systems of signs are transferrd from oral to written.
Pour des raisons de permanence et de transmission, les systèmes de signes passent, si l’on peut dire, de l’oral à l’écrit.

Link : Meaning, a material autonomy in respect to their authors
From genetics towoards culture. Matter still matters. Objectivation of epistemology, then written grammer, "metaXX".

Machines. Sensors. Including headsets. Open CV. Signal processing. The cloud perceives.
Drawing, gears
Sensorial prostheses Expression prostheses

4. The digital fully

1947. The bit as such can be only a symbol. But the presentation, or physical value of a bit, may be an icon or indices. e.g. a light "on" evokes more naturally a 1, or "true" that a 0 or "false".

The bit has no meaning by itself. Its meaning is given from outside: the bits around, hardware and software devices, laws of biology and society.

Bit vS. Meaning
- position in a logic gates network
- position in a string (e.g. number, string, any variable)
- meaning as what does an automaton with this output (near to the Hodel definition)
- meaning can be "infinite" while T
(infinite : recursive wit no Stop conditon), but always countable

First there is the cognition move. From reality, or more exactly from the bits we detect in reality, through which we see reality, and from those bits the building of high level objects and ultimately of the world.

At the conscious level, we generally do'nt perceive bits.

No specific form, no specific matter.
Measurement in bits

What is the intension of one bit ?

One major point with the bit is that it is not only a parting of representations and represented, but more deeply the pure stem of separation between significant and signifier, the basic loss of immediacy.
Linguistics. Phonemes, grahemes, grammar.

The moment when perception becomes binary, emerging from strict analog physical play of forces.

Nothing is purely digital, ultimately. But the bit is from now on, the keypoint in meaning.
Examples: DNA and mitochondires, text and prosody. And "analog" parts in anytjhing digital, typically an image.

A layering.
At the most surfacic level, communication is analogous.
Bits can be very near (digital telecommunications) or very far (DNA).

Our five domains of digital
- Genetics. Cross-over and random.
- Animals. Pre-language, recognition.
- Humans and language.
- Machines. Note that only humans make machines. Finite automata. Turing and Von Neumann machines.
Grammar, a fortiori formal, do not exhaust the reality of language. See Catach, statistics, my book on French syntax, etc.
Id. for dictionary. More open.
Language. Typograhpy, bibliophily, prosody, oral expression.y.
Ongology. Dictionar Definitions.

Classic linguistics and semiology are centered on natural languages. These languages are less and less dominant in human communication, which itself is more and more replace by machine communication.


Graphic semiàlogy.
Data visualizatin.

5. Automata, feedback recursion

cyber loops, electronics. defined by differential equations. relate that to recursion


by construction, a recursive function is not contiuous. It's an application of N into some space.
The analog loop of cybernetics lets open an immediate adaptation.

3. Behaviors and community, interaction and mirroring

Its a case of the general law of systems, L. It is more profitable to interact with the world through signals than "really", for material reasons and also "logical".

5. Autonomous subject, as receiver (interpretation of the perception) and an emitter with feedback (meaning of my life).

Find meaning in the present overflow of messages is the main challenge of present times. But the books about semantics and semiology don't help much. Let's try to progress.

Secondly there is the construction of signs, which implies that somehow we know, or that something knows for us, that these signs will be understood. The agents who create bits may be passive or active. Full societies, and finally the whole world.

Rectitude des appétit

We find partial expressions of that in linguistic theory. From sentence to words throught syntactic and semantic rules. But this view is partial, since the words are coded into graphemes and phonemes, and from there into bits.

Larsen . Simple "internal loop", with little of the external wols (but the echo sometimes)

textual emission,
- the coherence of this world, its transmedia and crossmedia nature, are fostered by the versatile possibilities of the digital, the bit,
- the bit brings also a convergence of human communication, genetics and machines; human traditonal nature is squeezed between an omnipresence of DNA and our growing ability to master hitherto deeply hidden genetic operations; and machines (devices and algorithms) are omnipresent; they outgrow humans in number and in communicative activities; in economy, genes become patentable and information capitalism is more important that goods; in politics, privacy protection and cyberwar become come in foreground; in entertainment and art, we are immersed in virtual reality and transmedia.

- we live in a multimedia world, where images and interaction are at least more present than

The test of "me"

5. The will, the purpose of the emitter

The automaton.
Equivalence of an automaton and a laguage.

The duty. An aspect of the S, requires from it to know what it has to do. Form me, both a duty, someting to do for the World, for my childre, grandchildren. Maximize the yield.

The tetralogy : belonging, purpose, storytelling, tarnscendance

A main point is the recognition of other humans (Gn 2). And the uncanny effect when the recognition is doubtful, or creates a doubt about its human nature

Deliberate deception.

Expression of meaning. Face moves. Even though expression on a face can be considered as meaning the emotion of the character.

6. Art

Art could be considered at the way to create a particular category of meaning, with ncessariyl
- a pleasure component
- a non-functional (useful) component.

Semantic enhancement.
Semantics in pracoce. "Make" meaning.

Style into a message (or work of art, of general expressive behavior) is a set of features/rules which meaning relates to the emitter, not to the things they talk about.

Compression and glitch.

The keypoint is to go from error or random to meaningful transgression.
Any new bit, the (n+1)th bit, is the basic transgression.

7. Transcendance

Answer to the stimuli. Depends on the state (finite automata)
The stimulus is yet a particular kind or relation to the external world.
Send a stimulus.

But there is also the "strenght", the importance of a message for the receiver. Depents on their L.

meaning Vs. process
the process is invisible, transparent
the process is the work, shown as such
the code is never shown clearly
pure data.

When descending the scale, processing depth, here also there is a stop condition. I (the system, being) answers before reaching the bottom. Otherwise it would be infinite.
Analogy with the resonance model.

Some straightforward cases : green light -> Go.

Mirroring and recursion.
"Factorization" of meaning. Language.

More poweful machines affords deeper level of behavior, farther and farther from reflexes. Long term memoy, evaluaion in a richer environment. (the automata parameters are higher and higher).

L theory
get more H with less P expense
In a population. Zipf, EDI.
Norms, standards

Economy, expansion
Spare athe use of hardware, energu, amter, time
Sapre use of bits? The best codes, compression

From things to representations. But also becase you can do operations on signs that are very costly, or radically immpossible on real things.
Generalisation, deduction, automatisation.
From representations to bits.

Exception: art, ornament

It is not necessay to have an emitter. Flowers,
Even less conscious. languages.

Growth. The selfish gene
Finite automata
Mirroring. Co-evolution. Recursion. Abyme.
The cloud.

4. Levels, beings



1. Null Signal, 0 signal

If I = O. No complexity of a message = no signal at all. That does not exist.
If R is complex enough, the absence of a signal, or the null signal can always be interpreted as an input (no news = good news). More exactly, in a S with memory, what is the input is several successive (possible infinite, or limite by memory) e.g. in an exponential smoothing , a permanent signal will incrrease each time, convergence. Asymtotic.
if the number of bits is finite, after a moment, the asympote is actally reached, no more dimintuion of distance

But, at a higher level, the S may count the number of cycles wher the asymptote distnce is not changed


If the value of the input is constantly equal to the asymptote, afotre some number of steps, all that we can count is the number of steps.

2. 1 bit signals

may be on/off, forwards/backwards
it it's on, may trigger the full complexity of the receiver

When there is only one bit, the meaning is purely external.
When 2 or more bits, progressive internalization of the meaning OOP
and self contained (drone)

A bit, isolated, has no meaning but,
- if you have many bits, you will generally be able to find some regularities, to decode (do reverse engineering to get the code, the language, the core meaning)
- a large set of bits can by itself be a high level automaton, as such as its structure allows this and there is a clock working as a motor.

Low levels : characters, phonemes, words.

Construction laws. just concat.
Then appeear special combinations of bits.
In DNA, some pairs

limits of matter : cohezionforces,
Human: Alexander, the Greek schism,

Limit violence. Rituals of submission
Limit risk : detect risks Meteo

Growth demands a structural sophistication.
Names, identifiers
When a set, a population, becomes too large, "natural language" is no longer sufficient. You have to build upon more formal, artificiel naming systems : NIR, IP, URL, EAN, "nomenclatures", addresses
rules for database identifiers
internet of objects

The keypoint is the separation of significant and signifier into the sign.
An analog sign is only a partial rupture.
A digital sign of one bit is a total rupture.
When several bits, the rupture may be more or less total. This depends on the kind of coding. Generally, il will remain some analogy. Would it be only because it is more efficient for our senses and mind

A bit is not even "something" by itself.
It must have some physical/material localization, with an "absolute" address

Only one basic structure: string, streaming. Concat.
other structures are given from outside,
may be (and more ande more) combined with contrl its. CNA
the string. or parallel channel (message "width" and "lenght"

Quantitative approach. Number of bits.
In perception
In emission

Internalization of meaning with size growth.
See telecom protocols.
Headers,e xtensions CSS (fatctorizing)
Recursion, (Smithj

Small groupings. Characters, words, DB item, classes, files. Codes history.

Elementary components are structures (or values of )

Genetics. Anthropometry as ADN. ADN as identifier. - Genetics. Genes. Global genome. Population
Small levels: pairs, genes.
High level : globl genome, species population, the whole life community.

DNA is a counter-example : its a source code going to analog interface. The code-to-code communication is hidden deep into the mothers uterus.
The cell, basic element of life.

Animals.- Animals. Neurons, brain. Society
Cells. Functions.

Humans.- Conscience. Senses, then explicitaion. The human. Identity.
Machines. Agents. Classes. The cloud.

The only final meaning: build the global mind. The God's plan

Ephésiens 3:1-13

See Bouge mots


--Notes about signs and semiology

Sign requires two separations : emitter/receiver and signified/significant,
sign is always a kind of dematerialization. otherwise would not be useful, economically profiable

emitters : nature, men, machine
receiver : nature men machine

some signs are generated by machines (sensors, thermoeters, magnetic compass...)
some signs are direct to machines (button, crank, keyboard, mouse)

Semiology or semiotics, generally, deal only with language
Let's try do look a wider landscape.

Types of signs /
visual, graphic
letter, alphabet
road sign
insign (sheriff star), clothes, tattoos
gesture, facial expression
Maps, legends. scale rules on typonymy pringing

any meaning atributed to any signifier by convention. icon/indexical/symbol

sound, pitch, phoneme, prosody (language, accent)
animals (birds, etc.)

corpus prepatration
cutting, digitizing

laws of combination. grammar, dictionary
emplotment, storyboard

integration is in space (1D 2D 3D 4D) or only time

integration is "analog" . e.g. sampled music, photography, film without moungint
integration is mouted, emplotted

translation from one system into another

evaluation of systems, and languages