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The Semantic Mind…

Relationships of Meaning

“A concept is not a mere jumble of particulars — that is only its crudest species. A concept is the living influence upon us of a diagram, or icon, with whose several parts are connected in thought an equal number of feelings or ideas. The law of mind is that feelings and ideas attach themselves in thought so as to form systems. But the icon is not always clearly apprehended. We may not know at all what it is: or we may have learned it by the observation of nature.”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce



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

“Thinking only begins at the point where we have come to know that Reason, glorified for centuries, is the most obstinate adversary of thinking”…

- Martin Heidegger[1]

“A central failure of the “mind as a computational system” theory is that computations, per se, are devoid of meaning”…

– Stuart A. Kauffman

“A sign is not only something which stands for something else; it is also something that can and must be interpreted”…

— Umberto Eco

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

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

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

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

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

A world beyond Cartesianism and Reductionism.

A world that attempts to express in higher dimensions all the paradoxes and complexity of reality.

A shift from the What and How to the Why[12]?

A distinction between Knowledge and Wisdom[12].

A difference between Abstraction and Experience[12].

She explored 18th Century Philosopher Immanuel Kant’s[13] distinction between Verstand (understanding — intellect — knowing ), which seeks to understand what we perceive through our senses and Vernunft (reason — thinking — beyond knowing), which is concerned with higher-order thinking for deeper meaning.

Arendt views thinking as our quest to understand the meaning of our world.

Our restless pursuit of questioning what we encounter in our attempts to make sense of our existence.

A quote from Hannah Arendt:

“The great obstacle that reason (Vernunft) puts in its own way arises from the side of the intellect (Verstand) and the entirely justified criteria it has established for its own purposes, that is, for quenching our thirst, and meeting our need, for knowledge and cognition…

The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning.

And truth and meaning are not the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth”…

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

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 (Symbolic), Geometric and Semantic [11] Minds in how we Think — via the philosophical introspection — the reflexivity and self-reflection of Heidegger — or — the active thinking (our societal participation and humanness) 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 Cartesianism and Reductionism to a higher-order form of sensemaking.

Bridging The Reality Gap[17].

Ontology and Semantics

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

Ontology is our high-level abstraction of the emergent complexity of reality — a metaphysics that deals with the nature of being.

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

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

In contrast, Semantics studies 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.

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

“The reason that no computer program can ever be a mind is simply that a computer program is only syntactical, and minds are more than syntactical. Minds are semantical, in the sense that they have more than a formal structure, they have a content”…

— John Searle

The emergence of Language

“ We humanise what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human”…

- Hannah Arendt

Language — a structured system of communication and a way to humanise complexity — a way to share information, knowledge, experience and meaning — has been central to how we bring coherence to 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] believed that language originated from emotions and 20C. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein[20] saw philosophy as being grounded in the study of language.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”…

– Wittgenstein

Language as the 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 distinguishing 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 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 humans from other animals, such as cats, even though both are capable of inductive reasoning.

A human superpower for a Complex World.

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 new 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 approach to design that optimised economies of scale and algorithmic standardisation in response to ever-growing complexity.

He contended there was an absence of 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.

The more problems to solve, the more technology, and the more external problems, the more technology. Rinse and repeat…

A phenomenon starkly illuminated in Heidegger’s 1954 book — The questions concerning technology[26] — which explored humans' relationship with technology.

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

Context and patterns mattered in solving problems.

A pattern language where his tools were patterns and not things.

Relationships that 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 Adjacent Possible [27] — an evolutionary dance…

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

“ The most dramatic results can happen when ideas are combined. By connecting ideas together creative leaps can be made, producing some of history’s biggest breakthroughs”…

-Kirby Ferguson

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

“Chomsky’s work on generative grammar will soon be considered very limited… It does not deal with the interesting structure of language because the real structure of language lies in the relationships between words — the semantic connections. The semantic network — which connects the word “fire” with “burn”, “red,” and “passion” — is the real stuff of language. Chomsky makes no attempt to deal with that and therefore, in a few years, his work will be considered primitive[29]”…

Through the evolution of the Semantic Mind, we can traverse the valley between the Random and the Regular[30] — the Complexity of Reality — embracing the emergent.

Semantic ontology, connections, interdependencies, and interrelationships.

“The principle of interpretation says that “a sign is something by knowing which we know something more” (Peirce). The Peircean idea of semiosis is the idea of an infinite process of interpretation.”…

— Umberto Eco

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.

By combining exponential increases in information, examples, computation, memory and new chip designs (e.g. GPUs), we now have the opportunity to find new patterns in large oceans of data[34].

A high-dimensional abstract topological landscape of the Human Hive Mind.

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 — new tools for extending the frontiers of Semantic Abstraction.

Our eternal search for Ground Truths[32].

“What we see of the world is only a sliver of what’s “out there.” There is much that is invisible to the eye, even when we augment our sensorial perception with telescopes, microscopes, and other tools of exploration. Like our senses, every instrument has a range. Because much of Nature remains hidden from us, our view of the world is based only on the fraction of reality that we can measure and analyze. Science, as our narrative describing what we see and what we conjecture exists in the natural world, is thus necessarily limited, telling only part of the story… We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge, but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery… It is the flirting with this mystery, the urge to go beyond the boundaries of the known, that feeds our creative impulse, that makes us want to know more” …

– Marcello Gleiser – The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning[35]

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

The limits of Cartesianism, Reductionism and Classical Term 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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Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid