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Once matter and energy were self-organized into the first, simplest living organisms, at least here on this planet, meaning emerged - in the sense of significance and value–albeit only initially in the most elementary sense. Living organisms, even simple ones lacking any semblance of a nervous system, let alone a brain or consciousness, have rudimentary goals - to survive and reproduce. They are thus intentional, purpose-driven agents.
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Neuroanthropologist Terrence Deacon laid out a 3-nested conception of information in which the lowest level is just a quantitative measure of the content communicated by the information, and the highest level is the significance or meaning of the inform...
Quantum mechanics, the fundamental physics theory that describes nature's physical properties at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles, is spectacularly successful in its practical and technological applications. But its interpretation leaves many unanswered questions about what it is really...
An intentional agent forms an internal representation of a thing in its environment (glucose), enabling it to recognize, respond to, and process that thing. The internal representation has value and meaning to the organism in that it represents something good or...
Our brains are constantly pattern-seeking, ceaselessly making connections between things and habitually deciphering meaning from and assigning value to our experiences. As symbolic, analogical thinkers, our brains routinely create higher-level symbolic represent...
An intentional agent can interpret patterns as being about something of value to itself concerning its environment. For example, glucose is of value to a bacterium–it signifies or means energy to the bacterium.
The computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam noted that one of the most important and enigmatic forms of human mental activity is the investment of raw sensory information with private meaning in the form of language. Only human minds can forge a mental link...
Internal representations may refer to things in the environment. They bear a relation or correlation to that thing. They signify or mean that thing.
According to a helpful definition by the evolutionary biologist Eva Jablonka and neuroscientis...
And so we derive our narrative, a meaningful life story that weaves together all the parts of our identity and personal history. Importantly, our narrative includes all the ways in which we have had some relational effect, however small, on the people and other sentient ...
We might paraphrase Rovelli’s explanation about fundamental particles: Our life is the ensemble of the ways in which we affect other lives around ourselves–and the ways in which they affect us. Our life exists reflected in everyone else.
The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom, who...
We have discovered that, at the core of the physical reality, it’s not particles, it’s relational connections […] Each object is defined by the way it interacts with something else. So when it’s not interacting, it’s just not existing.
Social psychologist Roy Baumeister suggested that “the meaning of life is the same kind of meaning as the meaning of a sentence in several important respects: having the parts fit together into a coherent pattern, being capable of being understood by others, fitting into a broader context...
According to Rovelli’ theory, objects don’t exist independently of each other; they only exist relationally, as defined by their interactions. The world is not composed of “things” that “have” properties. Rather, the properties of a system are determined when the system interacts with...
Symbols differ from simpler signs in that “the use of symbols requires analogical reasoning–the understanding that signs stand for things,” as evolutionary biologist Eva Jablonka and neuroscientist Simona Ginsburg explained. They noted that “language is the paradigmatic s...
Most learning by organisms is based on establishing correlations between things–correspondences or associations. Positive and negative reinforcement (rewards and consequences) in the process of learning by association leads brains to assign value to stimuli–“go...
In the realm of biosemiotics - the study of signs and meaning in living organisms and systems - scientists “use the term ‘sign’ to denote a ‘carrier’ of functional information: a predictive, designating or representing input (e.g., predictive sensory cue such as...
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
In the beginning, there was matter and energy. There was no meaning to it. Yet, now there is plenty of meaning–at least to us, in the sense that we use the term: significance. So, where did all this meaning come from? How did meaning enter a universe that lacks inherent meaning?
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