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Harv, Can You Help Me With This?

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Posted by Aurino Souza on September 5, 2002 19:41:12 UTC


As you probably noticed, I don't care much for philosophy. However, I came across this philosophical issue which I find absolutely fascinating. The issue is the one I was trying to discuss with Dick when it hit upon me that Dick talks and acts exactly like my nephew. Which is too bad, because I think he understdands the issue better than anyone I ever heard of.

Let me try and give you an idea what the issue is. You have something in your mind: an idea, a theory, a story, an experience, whatever. You want to communicate that something to others. Since telepathy is not an option, you must necessarily rearrange that something which exists in your mind so that it becomes a stream of symbols. At the other end of the process, a reader/hearer will interpret your stream of symbols and use that interpretation to build something in his mind which is not a stream of symbols.

In an ideal world, the receiver ends up with exactly the same thing the transmitter has. In reality, as we are so painfully aware of, that seldom happens. It will probably not happen even to this particular stream of symbols. Hopefully, there are ways to get around that problem, that is not the issue. So here's what the issue is:

If we define that "stream of symbols" as "statements in a language", it seems something extremely important has been overlooked for centuries: in what way do the properties of languages, especially spoken languages and mathematics, constrain the communication process?

Another way to put it is, how do we make the distinction between the objective truth of a theory and its semantic correctness?

I don't know if that is clear to you. I'm fully aware of how the problem is sort of a philosophical catch-22, i.e., the problem is present in any attempt to describe the problem, and there is no way around it, which is why it is a problem to start with.

Do you know what I'm talking about, and are you aware of philosophers who have approached it? I looked up Wittgenstein et al and I can tell you they are not talking about it. This seems, as far as I can tell, an entirely original issue, but then I'm not an expert so I don't trust my own opinion. In any case, I think it's one of the issues Dick talks about, at least I came to understand it with his help.

So, give me some guidance into the brave new world of 20th-century philosophy, would you?

Many thanks,


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