The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Verificationism

Coherence put truth back into the mind of the observer. Verificationism put it back out into the world.

The British philosopher Michael Dummett criticized holism because it cannot explain how an individual can learn language. If the meaning of a sentence only exists in relationship to the entire system of sentences in the language, it would never be possible to learn it. For the same reason it should not be possible to understand the meaning of a theory, if its meaning is given by the entire theory and not by single components.  Dummett's theory of meaning is instead a variant of intuitionistic logic: a statement can be said to be true only when it can be proved true in finite time (it can be "effectively decided", similar to the intuitionistic “justified").

The truth of a statement must be provable in a finite amount of time, otherwise the statement is not true. The statement "I will never win the Nobel prize" is provable (just wait until i die), but the statement "I am a genius" or "there will never be another like me" are not provable, and therefore their truth value cannot be determined. When we say that a statement is true, we mean that it can be verified. Dummett applies to the world at large the same rules that "intuitionists" applied to logic: to decide the truth of a statement is to prove a theorem. The proof determines truth. If no proof can be constructed, then there is no truth. Verification is not just a means to achieve truth: it is truth. The two concepts are virtually impossible to separate.

Similarly, the Finnish philosopher Jaakko Hintikka proposed a "game-theoretical semantics", whereby the semantic interpretation of a sentence is reduced to a game between two agents. The semantics searches for truth through a process of falsification and verification. The truth of an expression is determined through a set of domain-dependent rules which define a "game" between two agents: one agent is trying to validate the expression, the other one is trying to refute it.  The expression is true if the truth agent wins.  Unlike Dummett's verificationist semantics, Hintikka's is still a "truth-conditional" semantics. 

The British psychologist Philip Johnson-Laird, too, believes that the meaning of a sentence is the way of verifying it.  In his “procedural” semantics, a word's meaning is the set of conceptual elements that can contribute to build a mental procedure necessary to comprehend any sentence including that word. Those elements depend on the relations between the entity referred by that word and any other entity it can be related to. Rather than atoms of meanings, we are faced with "fields" of meaning, each including a number of concepts that are related to each other.  The representation of the mental lexicon handles the intensional relations between words and their being organized in semantic fields.

Something is true if and only if its truth can be practically verified.

 


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