what does mean mean?

Humpty DumptyLet's put Language on the chopping block. Do words have real meaning? What does "mean" mean?

You'd think that if words are slippery and vague, at least numbers are solid and safe. We might argue about the meaning of words, but there's no denying that one plus one equals two. Is there?

When Arithmetic and Geometry see Kurt Gödel* coming, they run screaming into the night. Why?

They scream because they're afraid that their foundations will be revealed as rickety, unsound and unsupported in the harsh spotlight of Gödel's incompleteness theorems; that their truths will dissolve in a Gödelian bath of universal acid; that they will be condemned as inconsistent and incomplete.

As a so-called "formal system" for locating, identifying, capturing and transmitting meaning, Language faces the same Gödelian issues as do Arithmetic, Geometry and other systems. In the same way as the axioms of Arithmetic and Geometry can only be proved consistent outside of those systems, so too can the consistency and completeness of Language statements only be established by stepping outside of Language. The incompleteness of language is built into the foundations of the Tower of Babel. The absolute, pure, true meaning of words can't be demonstrated in words or by using words; the absolute meaning of words can only be established outside of Language.

Words are labels that language-users apply to elements of reality. Words are signs with which language-users point to elements of reality. Every language statement is metaphorical, to a greater or lesser degree. There's no direct, seamless connection between language statements and "bedrock reality". Words have no meaning of their own, no intrinsic meaning, only the meanings assigned by language-users and language-makers. As Humpty Dumpty says in Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking Glass":

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
Disagreement is what happens when language users have different points of view about which labels apply to what.

Einstein's General Relativity means that there are no privileged frames, no absolute times or spaces applicable everywhere or anywhere. Similarly, there are no absolute meanings or truths, with one exception: that which encompasses all meanings and all truths, ie, Everything That Is (ETI).

Q: Does meaning = truth?
A: Maybe, but the truth of that proposition remains to be proven.

* He's dead now so it would be his rotting corpse they'd be running from.

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Karen said...

I commented on this post with a post of my own:

http://flipsideflorida.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/chopping-block/