The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Situation Theory

This conceptual revolution was, ultimately, about the meaning of life, and therefore affects Semantics.

The US mathematicians Jon Barwise and John Perry devised a "situational semantics" which reverses Frege's theory of meaning. According to the tradition founded at the end of the 19th century by the German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege, meaning is located in the world of sense. On the contrary, Barwise and Perry anchor their theory of meaning to a biological fact: the world is full of meaning that living organisms can use.  Meaning is not exclusive of language: it is pervasive in nature (e.g., smoke means fire). Meaning involves the informational content of situations and arises from regularities in the world. Reality is made of situations. Meaning arises out of recurring relations between situations.  Barwise's unit of reasoning are situations because reality comes in situations. Situations are made of objects and spatio-temporal locations; objects have properties and stand in relations. 

A living organism (a part of the world capable of perception and action) must be able to cope with the ever new situations thrown up during its course of events and to anticipate the future course of events. It must be able to pick up information about one situation from another situation.  This can be realized by identifying similarities between situations, and relations between such similarities. Each organism performs this process of breaking down reality in a different way, as each organism "sees" reality in a different way, based on its ecological needs. 

The type of a situation is determined by the regularities that the situation exhibits. Regularities are acquired by adaptation to the environment and define the behavior of an organism in the environment. The similarities between various situations make it possible for an organism to make sense of the world. At the same time they are understood by all members of the same species, by a whole "linguistic community".

Formally, one situation can contain information about another situation only if there is a relation that holds between situations sharing similarities with the former situation and situations sharing similarities with the latter situation.  In that case the first situation "means" the second. Meaning is defined as relations that allow one situation to contain information about another situation.

Barwise emphasizes the "relational" nature of perception (e.g., perception is a relation between perceiver and perceived) and the "circumstantial" nature of information (information is information about the world). The mind, which processes that information, is strictly controlled by the environment.

 


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