Publication 6310

Freeman W. J. (2000) A neurobiological interpretation of semiotics: Meaning, representation, and information. Information Sciences 124(1–4): 93–102. Fulltext at
The branch of semiotics called semantics deals with the relation between meanings and representations, widely known as the symbol grounding problem. The other branches of semiotics, syntactics which deals with symbol–symbol relations as in a dictionary, and pragmatics which deals with symbol-action paradigms as in traffic signs, are well done by computers, but semantics has eluded computer simulation. In my view, this is because computer programmers have neglected that aspect of Shannon’s definition by which information has no meaning; computers process information, whereas brains create meaning. Brains obtain information about the world through the consequences of their own embodied actions. The information thus obtained is used in constructing meaning and is then discarded. One kind of information in the world consists of representations made by other brains for social communication. Computers use representations for information processing and symbol manipulation. However, brains have no internal representations. They deploy dynamic neural operators in the form of activity patterns, which constitute and implement meaning but not information, so that the problem of symbol grounding does not arise. Brains construct external representations in the form of material objects or movements as their means for expressing their internal states of meaning, such as words, books, paintings, and music, as well as facial expressions and gestures in animals and humans, but even though those material objects are made with the intent to elicit meaning in other brains, they have no meanings in themselves and do not carry meanings as if they were buckets or placards. Meanings can only exist in brains, because each meaning expresses the entire history and experience of an individual. It is an activity pattern that occupies the entire available brain, constituting a location in the intentional structure of a brain. It is the limited sharing of meanings between brains for social purposes that requires reciprocal exchanges of representations, each presentation by a transmitting brain inducing the construction of new meaning in the receiving brain. EEG data indicate that neural patterns of meanings in each brain occur in trajectories of discrete steps, which are demarcated by first-order state transitions that enable formation of spatiotemporal patterns of spatially coherent oscillations. Amplitude modulation is the mode of expressing meanings. These wave packets do not represent external objects; they embody and implement the meanings of objects for each individual, in terms of what they portend for the future of that individual, and what that individual should do with and about them.

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