The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Semantics

In Chomsky's linguistic world, the "meaning" of a sentence was its logical form. At the end of the process of parsing a sentence, a logical translation would be produced which allowed for mathematical processing, and that logical form was considered to be the meaning of the sentence.

Unfortunately, syntax is ambiguous.

Sentences like "Prostitutes appeal to Pope" or "Soviet virgin lands short of goal again" (actual newspaper headlines reported by Keith Devlin) are "ambiguous". Language does that. In every language one can build a sentence that is perfectly valid but not clear at all. Solving ambiguities is often very easy. If the second sentence is encountered in the context of the development of Siberia, one may not even notice the ambiguity. The context usually solves the ambiguity.

A related problem is that of "anaphora". The sentence "He went to bed" is ambiguous in a different way but still ambiguous: technically speaking, "he" could be any of the 3 billion males who live on this planet. In practice, all we have to do is read the previous sentences to find out who "he" is. The context, again, helps us figure out the meaning of a sentence.

Not to mention expressions such as "Today is an important day" or "Here it is cold": when and where are these sentences occurring?

Because of linguistic phenomena like ambiguity and anaphora, understanding a discourse requires more than just figuring out the syntactic constituents of each sentence. In fact, even understanding the syntactic constituents may require more than syntax: the "lies" in "Reagan wins on budget but more lies ahead" is a noun (plural of "lie") or a verb (third person of "to lie")?

The scope of semantics lies beyond the single word and the way the words relate to each other.

In the 1960s the US linguist Jerrold Katz provided one of the most extensive studies on semantics.  His basic tenet is that two components are necessary for a theory of semantics. The first one is a dictionary, which provides for every lexical item (i.e., for every word) a phonological description, a syntactic classification ("grammatical marker", e.g. noun or verb) and a specification of its possible distinct senses ("semantic marker", e.g. “light” as in color and “light” as the opposite of heavy). The second one is a set of “ projection rules” that determine how the meaning of a sentence can be composed from the meaning of its constituents. Projection rules, therefore, produce all valid interpretations of a sentence.

 


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