The Semantic Mind…

Thanks to Matthieu Joannon for sharing their work on Unsplash.



the study of meanings

General Semantics

the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs especially : connotative meaning




the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being

a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.

In 1973 Hannah Arendt[3] gave the Gifford Lecture[4] — an annual lecture that has been delivered since 1888 that is transdisciplinary[5] in its enquiry and brings together leading global thinkers in Religon, Science and Philosophy to diffuse Natural Theology[6] in the broadest possible way.

An investigation into metaphysics [7] and the first principles of things.

Our eternal search for truth, meaning[8] and understanding of the nature of Reality.

In her first set of lectures titled Thinking [9]that took place in Aberdeen, Scotland which was part of her last major work before she died — The Life of Mind[10] — she discussed the process of thinking, distinguishing between “Truth” & “Meaning”, “Knowing” & “Thinking” and the importance of our shared lived human experience.

Thanks to Ross Sneddon for sharing their work on Unsplash.

It’s a conversation that contrasted the Algorithmic and the Semantic Minds in Thinking[11].

She explored 18th Century Philosopher Immanuel Kant’s[13] distinction between Verstand (intellect — cognition) that seeks to understand what the senses we perceive and Vernuft (reason — the unknowable) which is concerned with higher order understanding for deeper meaning.

A quote from Hannah Arendt in exploring this:

It’s a plea for us to recognise the limits of what we can possibly know and our human condition.

The distinction between Science and Practical Wisdom — our Survival Instinct[14].

Whether it’s the influential work of 20th Century Philosopher Martin Heidegger (What is called Thinking? [15]) or Hannah Arendt they recognise that its when we combine the Algorithmic, Geometric and Semantic [11]in how we Think — via the philosophical introspection, reflexivity and self reflection of Heidegger — or — the active thinking (our societal participation and humaness) of Arendt in making sense and shaping our world — we have a greater capacity to navigate the complexity of Reality.

A shift beyond a simple Model of the World[16] anchored in reductionism, deduction, logic, and computation in sensemaking.

Narrowing The Reality Gap[17].

Thanks to Charles Deluvio for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Ontology and Semantics

At the edge of the interface of how Humans make sense of Reality are Semantics and Ontology.

Ontology being our high level abstraction of the emergent complexity of Reality — a metaphysics that deal with the nature of being.

Concepts and categories in a domain that show the properties and relationships between them.

It insulates us from the “fine grain richness[18]” of Complexity.

In contrast, Semantics is the study of how we make meaning out of this Reality.

The difference between our representation through language & signs and the things in the world that they represent.

Our morals, values, emotions, truths, beliefs and relationships .

Our interdependencies and interrelationships.

It’s in the connecting that we create the world.

The emergence of Language

Language — a structure system of communication and a way to humanise the Complexity — a way to share information, knowledge, experience and meaning — has been central to how humans make sense of the World.

Thinkers such as Immanuel Kant[13] held that it emerged from the rational and logical, whilst 18th Century Philsopher Jean-Jacques Rosseau[19] argued that language originated from emotions, and 20C. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein[20] argued that philosophy was the study of language.

Language being an operating system for our Quantum Reality[21].

Through our lived experience — space & time -and interdependencies- Language provides context and thereby meaning.

Noam Chomsky[22], the father of modern day linguistics ( i.e. the science of language) was highly influential in the mid to later 20th Century in shaping new ideas in our understanding of language including biolinguistics where the principles underpinning the structure of language are preset in the human mind and genetically inherited.

An evolutionary development of the human species that distinguished humans from other animals by the modes of communication used.

A rational nativist internal view of language that can be contrasted with an empiricist external view of language where all knowledge including language comes from our environment and the lived experience.

This innate linguistic capacity of humans according to Chomsky enables us to acquire and produce language from linguistic data from the time we are babies — a unique capacity that contrasts us from other animals such as cats even though both are capable of inductive reasoning.

A human super power for a Complex World.

Thanks to Jorge Rosal for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Patterning and Complexity

In the mid 20th Century British American Christopher Alexander[23] brought a fresh perspective to the nature of Semantics through his chosen fields of architecture and design.

In his book A Pattern Language[24] and his portfolio of work he presents a fresh view that in a world of increasing complexity the nature of how we view design fundamentally changes.

His Phd Harvard dissertation documented in his first book — Notes on the Synthesis of Form[25] — arose from observations that architects, designers, builders etc… are increasingly grappling with the ever increasing complexity of new design structures.

It highlighted the limits of a reductionist deductive approach to design where economies of scale were optimised and processes standardised in response to ever growing complexity.

He contended there was an absence of system thinking and seeing systems as a whole.

A world where more and more technology was bolted or patched together to solve an ever increasing array of problems.

A phenomena starkly illuminated in Heidegger’s 1954 book — The questions concerning technology[26] — that explores humans relationship with Technology.

He envisioned a more adaptive evolutionary biological approach — a continuous transformation.

A pattern language where his tools were patterns and not things, relationships which could be identified, recombined and reused in a way similar to language.

Each pattern is a rule which describes what you have to do to generate

The essence of Creativity articulated by Kirby Ferguson in where “Everything is a Remix[28]”.

Thanks to Markus Spiske for sharing their work on Unsplash.

In an interview Christopher Alexander gave in 2014 he makes some critical observations on the work of Chomsky as it relates to generative gramma — linguistics as the study of a hypothesised innate grammatical structure.

Through the evolution of the Semantic Mind we have the opportunity to traverse the valley between the Random and the Regular[30] — the Complexity of Reality — and identify Patterns and Relationships.

Semantic ontology, connections, interdependencies, interelationships.

Exploring the nature of Being and what it is to be Human?

A different form of thinking.

The emergence of Deep & Machine Learning

As we outlined in the Power of Patterns[31], In search for Ground Truths[32] and Alchemy[33] the emergence of Deep & Machine Learning represents a profound tectonic and fundamental shift in how we perceive reality.

Through the combination of exponential increases in information, examples, computation, memory and new chip designs (eg. GPUs) we now have the opportunity to find new Patterns in large oceans of data[34].

A computational form of Perception, Induction and Sensemaking.

A new lens and approach to Calculative Reasoning as recently outlined by University of Toronto Professor Brian Cantwell Smith[18] that can be embraced by humans as instruments in judgement and our Semantic thinking of Reality.

Our search for Ground Truths[32].

Just like how Heidegger, Rosseau, Hume and Arendt challenged our perception of Thinking.

The limits of Deductive Reasoning, Reductionism, Cause-Effect and Logic.

The integration and blending of different forms of Thinking will be required in the 21st Century.

The embracement of the Semantic Mind


[1] Martin Heidegger —

[2] Albert Einstein —

[3] Hannah Arendt —

[4] Gifford Lecture —

[5] TransDisciplinary —

[6] Natural Theology —

[7] What is MetaPhysics? —

[8] Humility is truth and the sea of ignorance… —

[9] The Life of the Mind: Hannah Arendt on Thinking vs. Knowing and the Crucial Difference Between Truth and Meaning —

[10] The Life of the Mind — life-mind

[11] Why Philosophy matters more than ever in the Age of Entanglement?… —

[12]In search of wisdom in the information and knowledge age… —

[13] Kant: Philosophy of Mind —

[14] The Survival Instinct —

[15] What is called Thinking? —

[16] Reflexivity — reflexivity-bdd9d0a0fc7d

[17] The Reality Gap — the-reality-gap-74da0e5e869a

[18] Reckoning and Judgment The Promise of AI —

[19] Jean Jacques Rousseau — rousseau

[20] Ludwig Wittgenstein —

[21] When two worlds collide… —

[22] Noam Chomsky —

[23] Christopher Alexander — Christopher_Alexander

[24] Pattern Language —

[25] Notes on the Synthesis of Form —

[26] The questions concerning technology —

[27] The Adjacent Possible — Theory of the Adjacent Possible w/ Stuart Kauffman —

[28] Everything is a Remix —

[29] Systems generating systems — architectural design theory by Christopher Alexander —

[30] David Krakauer on The Landscape of 21st Century Science — 1

[31] The Power of Patterns — the-power-of-patterns-e1dc4c2352aa

[32] In search for Ground Truths —

[33] Alchemy —

[34]Humility is truth and the sea of ignorance —

[35] The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning —

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