To Pragmaticism and Beyond: The Emergence of Meaning in Complex Systems

I’ve been active on the ontolog-forum for the past month where I’ve been engaged in dialog with the great folks there discussing, in part, topics related to my recent post called the State of the Semantic Web: Representation and Realism. The upshot of the discussion is that there’s a consensus that a model theory based on Tarski’s Semantic Conception of Truth does not provide a theory of meaning. It’s worth exploring the threads that start here and following through at least to here.

There’s much more to be said about what this means to Tim Berners-Lee and the great work going on in Web Science, but it’s fair to say what was originally and with the best of intention described as the web of meaning should more accurately be described as a web of truth.

Before I continue with the central topic of this post, I’ll reference a secondary point in the ontolog dialog: a) linked data representation of the world as a 303 redirect needs to be further developed and b) the RDF model theory should be revised to account for what’s implied by differentiating information and non-information resources in the linked data initiative. I’ll come back to this in a later post.

The central topic for this post is to sketch out a program for developing a new theory of meaning. This new theory of meaning will, surprisingly, extend Tarski’s Semantic Conception of Truth. Of course, at one post per month in my blog, it will take a few years to elaborate this new theory of meaning. I’ll develop the theory both informally and formally. In short, my hypothesis is this: a) semantics provides a theory of representation and truth; b) semiotics provides a theory signs and their interpretation; c) pragmaticism defines the effect of a conception on other objects as the whole of the conception; and d) meaning emerges in a complex system through the convergence of relational properties and domain knowledge.

So, the sketch of this program is as follows:

a) develop a structural model of the relational properties in both Tarski’s meta and object languages using the triangle of signification as suggested by Roland Barthes in Mythologies

b) illustrate emergent properties of the complex system between the meta and object language

c) develop domain knowledge based on Peirce’s ten trichotomies

d) illustrate convergence of the complex system over time

e) develop a proof of the hypothesis using inference rules in a deductive system

f) provide a revised definition of interpretation using semiotics

g) extend the relations used in determining meaning from equality to equivalence, isomorphism and adjointness

Hopefully you’re intrigued by this sketch. There’s much work to be done and the goal is to take the sketch from a thought experiment to a formal theory and worked example or two using lambda calculus, category theory and a computational infrastructure in Haskell.