IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - 10:58 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

http://www.earthsky.com/humanworld/quotes.php?id=44581 states, People and nature are intimately intertwined. Many people have said that. But the modern code for that is the "coupled human-environment system." Google shows 581 hits for the phrase "coupled human-environment". It is the latest word, which I understand as an application of my phrase "organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole". Note that this is not the general semantics phrase, but my variation on it. See http://www.xenodochy.org/gs/organism.html for a description. I can document my use of the alternative phrase as early as 1978.

How would you propose extending this to what I have, in the past, called "semantic environments" or "symbolic environments" - in particular, in regard to the often quoted phrase "meaning is in people"?

I am "of a mind" to think that "commonly shared meanings" "exist" in a "virtual" semantic environment, and a map of that environment is a dictionary. Early in one's life, one is altered and shaped by exposure to oral words used in contexts. Later in one's life, one is additionally altered by written words used in contexts. Time-binding means that words tend to be used consistently by different individuals. This is most obvious with respect to concrete nouns, but nearly every one can formulate definitions or descriptions for words that exhibit a high degree of similarity with the formulated definitions or descriptions of others. Standard dictionary definitions, through the medium of time-binding, act as a "force" that shapes how new learners use the words. Lexicographers, philosophers, and others, who write definitions and descriptions that become frequently referred to items, shape and alter the "common meanings" in the "virtual semantic environments", so a strong coupling operates between humans and semantic environments.

Some "purists" in general semantics circles claim that meanings exist (only) in people. What do you think?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, December 5, 2005 - 08:41 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben: [Ralph, I'm unfamiliar with your use of the terms "semantic environments" and "symbolic environments." Could you give a brief detail of your meanings with such terms?]

An "environment" is what what we can sense around us. We sense our physical environment by abstracting directly with our senses. A "virtual" environment is one that "seems" "real". By analogy think of recent "virtual reality" where a computer generated visual, auditory, and sometimes tactile, experience is "fed" to us using goggles, headset, and some clothing or mechanical devices that put pressure or vibration on some parts of our bodies. Such an environment is a "virtual" environment to the extent that we can take actions and experience things as a result. A "semantic" environment is the total of "meanings" we attribute to our experiences. We may hear a sound, but think of thunder, or think of a train rushing by; we experience these sensations in terms of what they mean to us, not in terms of the physical sensations. A "symbolic" environment is like a semantic environment, except it is generated by our responses to symbols. It is a "second order" environment. The symbols "mean" things to us, but the combined effect of continued exposure to symbols gives us a semantic reaction that we can describe in formulations. If you heard "Red Sox", and you can conjure up player names, batting averages, etc., even though you have never met the players, you are calling up your map of the symbolic environment. If someone says "Freud" to you, and you start conjuring up in your thoughts formulations with "id", "ego", and "super-ego", you are accessing a symbolic environment. What is the difference (for me) between them? Semantic environments are much more idiosyncratic. Each individual lives in his or her own semantic environment - constructed as a result of his exposure to symbolic environments and physical environments. Symbolic environments have a high degree of commonality for different persons; they can be shared. Multiple people can experience or share one symbolic environment. I have not attempted to define these terms more precisely than that at this time.

Ben: No, I do not think meanings exist only in people. However, the saying "Meaning lies in the person" is a clarification that meanings don't lie in words, not necessarily a forwarding that only people have meanings. I like this saying a little better: "Words don't mean; people mean."

There are techniques for measuring the "meanings" of words. Measurement techniques, which necessarily involve querying individuals, produce statistical samplings with a high degree of correlation, depicting commonly understood meanings. Think of the normal (bell) curve. Some curves are tall and narrow, indicating a very precise "meaning" depicting a high level of agreement among persons. Some curves are short and wide, indicating a low degree of correlation - showing a high level of variation among persons. People may have intentions and use words to communicate those intentions, but that communication is only possible to the degree that the words used have commonly understood meanings. We cannot ask a word what it's meaning is, but we can look it up in a dictionary and view a lexicographers studied abstraction condensing how that word had been used up until the time it had been put in the dictionary. As people do this, and they teach the young to do this, such recorded "meanings" tend to remain stable and repeatably measurable over extended periods of time. "Fad" language, of course, evolves very quickly, but the old standbys that form the core of our language remains significantly more stable. These are "meaning" in our symbolic environments that any person can access in a number of ways from looking up in dictionaries, reading articles, to asking other people, etc. It is a private "myth" in the "cult" of general semantics that thinks that words "don't have meaning, people do". The "science" of general semantics is aware of shared meanings as relative invariants in propositional functions that remain relatively stable over long periods of time with only minor variation, and how to scientifically measure the base meanings and how they vary from culture to culture and from time to time.

Ben: I think raccoons have meanings. I think babies have meanings. I think you have meanings, even though, to me, you are more like "person2," not equal to "people."

I would use the term "semantic reaction" in the above sentences. Each of the above "make sense of" their environments vis-a-vis their living process. Obviously, raccoons semantic reactions are non-lexical and non-symbolic, and babies' semantic reactions are simple and undeveloped.

Ben: And in some respect, I think ink on a page has meanings. The atoms are said to 'want' to fill their outer shells. That is, some of their motion can be described as meaning to fill their shells. But that's among my more out-there ideas and may not be an appropriate extension.

I don't see any way to make "meanings" apply to ink on a page, except in the eye of the beholder. This usage is anomalous to me, so I can only conclude that you are using it very differently - something my English teacher in high school would have marked as a "word choice" error. The charge on an atom is neutralized when the outer-shell is filled with electrons; the use of 'want' in this context is an unwarranted teleological perspective that I would never personally use. The use of 'meaning' in this context is another word-choice difference. Atoms don't "want" or "like" to fill their outer shells; a filled outer shell has a lower energy state than free electrons and unfilled shells or free atoms: for example, two hydrogen atoms, each with one electron in it's outer shell, a shell capable of holding two electrons, will exothermically react by "sharing" each other's single electron, creating a state in which each atom has a filled outer shell, giving off a photon of energy in the bonding process. The resulting hydrogen molecule consists of two protons bound together by a pair of electrons that fill the outer shell of both atoms: "o:o". There is no need to use words that contain strong connotations of teleological design, and "true" science does not.

Ben: The statement that "People and nature are intimately intertwined" sounds like an assumption not unlike any metaphysical statement off which any belief system is based.

This was not mine; I quoted it, and in its context it was even an opaque context. See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/quotation/ for more than you every wanted to know about quoting.

Ben: In g.s, we might call this one "a revised metaphysics" if the statement is placed with respect to statements made by Aristotle and put in light of current, dominant scientific theories. This particular statement is an attempt similar to Korzybskian attempts to describe reality as a physical continuum rather than something as fragmented, as our having s e p a r a t e d words-in-sentences tends to make us believe. The statement "People and nature are intimately intertwined" is ultimately an argument, a conjecture, etc., perhaps one that will exist as such until there is some way to prove it as correct ...

A simple assertion, such as the statement you are commenting on, is not an argument, even ultimately. An "argument" requires multiple statements including at least one premise and at least one conclusion. The statement represents, at best, an abstraction that stands as a conclusion statement to unspecified prior premises and observations.

Ben: The film I Heart Huckabees addresses the problem of proving this argument by showing characters in metaphysical crises, seeking out the assistance of metaphysical detectives of different, arguing camps--one camp believing everything's connected, the other believing nothing's connected. To date, we have no proof of either perspective; instead, we rely on mounting and mounting evidence.

I have not seen the film. Be that as it may, no "proof" or "argument" was even presented. The statement was identified as something "many people have said". The URL for the source of the quotation was provided, and a quick look at that showed that it was a "perspective" that some people are choosing, "We're now beginning to look at the history of the biophysical system and the social system as one of a coupled system. And that could be anything from the convolution of landscapes to the degree to which humans have transformed the biosphere." I searched out quite a few of the google references before selecting that one as a "representative" example.

Ben: "Coupled human-environment system" seems to me like a term that is aimed at getting people to see that they are not separate from nature but among nature, have effects on nature, etc. It seems different from "organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole" in that that term (as you use it, Ralph) seems more aimed at getting people to see a continuity between the 'world' outside their skins and the 'world' inside their skins; the 'world' is not "out there" per se but more "throughout."

I don't know where you got your interpretation of how I'm using the phrase. You seem to have abstracted my quotes of Korzybski and how general semantics uses the phrase "organism-as-a-whole-in-its-environment" rather than how I use my phrase. Look at my article more carefully, please, and you will see that I am specifically speaking of "[organism-in-its-environment]-as-a-whole". Read the section beginning with "My focus" in my article, and you will see that what I have been talking about is structurally similar to "human-environment coupling".

Ben: The phrase "coupled human-environment system" seems a little scary to me because it 'engenders' a duality to nature a two-valued orientation in using the word "coupled"--that it's humans and it's everything else, signifying humanity's placement in that nature as something important.

The "coupled human-environment system" is strongly emphasizing that we NOT look at humans and environments as somehow separate (your word duality). It is treating "humans" and "environment", used alone, as "elementalistically" splitting what we should treat as inseparable, the word "coupled" emphasizes the connectedness, and the word "system" says to treat the combination as a "whole".

Ben: That's a whole other argument on a whole other meaning of "meaning."

Sorry, but this makes no sense to me, even in the above context.

Ben: Myself, I disagree by a space-time argument that commonly shared meanings exist, IF you mean that people can mean THE EXACT SAME THING. I do not believe people can do that. However, I do believe that people can have structurally similar meanings, and it is by this structural similarity between meanings enough that we are able to 'advance' in a conversation. I don't have to know exactly what you mean to talk to you and understand you--I can have jists of variable precision of your meanings in listening to you.

If you accept my measurement of meaning, using physical methods, as producing normal curves, where the mean / mode / median, within a deviation, represents the "common" shared meaning" then you get my point. I nigh ever consider the formulation "exact same thing" useful or viable, and it's a red flag among general semanticists. I am not sure I would allow using the continuum as the proper metric with which to coordinatize symbolic environments, even multi-dimensionally, as formulations are essentially composed of discrete elements. With the continuum and uncertainty in measurement, infinitesimal differences constitute a denial of "exact same", but when the metric is discrete, then differences are binary in the sense of "in the same category or not". Plotting the normal curve would be only an approximation for use among related items that can be classified along dimensions. Others would lend themselves to being mapped using graphs involving lines connected to nodes. Perhaps you might find Myron Wish's research of interest.

Sorry about reproducing the vast majority of your post, but I wanted to make sure my comments were properly connected to yours.

Best regards,

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, December 6, 2005 - 12:41 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The "hard" sciences "ask" "mother nature" questions by conducting experiments. With the answers scientists construct theories to explain the results of the experiments. These theories postulate the "existence" of "entities".

Research in the "soft" sciences involves much more "subjective-objective" measurement techniques. One examples is presenting subjects with lists of paired terms and asking the subjects to rate whether the terms are more or less similar on a numerical scale, perhaps -5 to +5 or something like that. To explain the analyzed results, social scientists develop theories. These theories postulate the existence of "entities". Words are examples of such entities. Dictionary definitions are also examples.

What are these marks on paper ('two')? 99 and 44/100 percent of literate English reading adults report that it is a word, and the meaning of that word is the number "2". (made up statistics, but you get the gist.) Lexicographers, linguists, philosophers, and many others, attribute existence to words, and to this word in particular. General semanticists want to say that neither the word 'two' nor its meaning "2" "exist". As I explained in my description of symbolic environment, they exist, but in symbolic environments, not in physical environments. The "marks on paper" exist there. Can I measure the marks on paper? Yes. Can I measure the perception that the marks are a "word"? Yes. Can I measure the "meaning" of that word? Yes. The techniques use instruments. Physical instruments for the physical environment, and symbolic instruments for the symbolic environments. In all cases the cooperation of different human beings using the "same" sounds and gestures to perform the "same" indications forms the basis of the measurement process. Your "nitpicking" seems to involve trying to give less credibility to anything we can't put our hand on and pick up. All "words" have physical embodiments that can be pointed to as instances of their use. The same holds true of non-words. "Material objects" have individual physical embodiments as instances. You pick up a pear. You pick up a written word. Both present visual experiences. Words can be made of many things. Pears can not. What difference does this make to existence of the physical instantiations?

I can eat and digest a pear, and I have a physical reaction to the process.
I can hear and digest a word, and I have a semantic reaction to the process.

You will have to do better with your "nitpicking".

Each of us has to learn the associated meaning of a word while growing up, and we then choose to use that word when we want to communicate that meaning to others.

The symbolic environment can be thought of as a supervenient layer on top of people, supported by people, and accessible through people. Every person who learns "the meaning" of a word, is "hooking into" the symbolic environment. When a person encounters a word for the first time, he learns from others the common standard meaning of the word. Thereafter he contributes to passing that meaning on by teaching it to others. The meaning "resides in" the persons who have learned it, and whenever the marks are seen, the person seeing them "identifies" them as the "meaning" he has learned, bringing the meaning to the marks. But the marks are not "words".

If we are really precise about what's going on, then we can't use terms such as 'words'. We must describe a communication situation in terms of physical behaviors of the talker and listener thus.

Certain bounded regions of activity, which we call neurons, fire, causing chemical reactions in certain other bounded regions of activity, which we call vocal chords, creating vibrations with certain frequency distributions. These are observed to travel in air, and certain bounded regions of activity, respond, which we call an ear-drum. That in turn through a cause-effect chain of events eventually causes activity in another bounded region which we call neurons.

What does not make sense is to mix levels of abstracting by insisting on low level physical descriptions, such as "marks on paper" with other levels. You must describe the entire process at a single level of abstraction. Once you add a second or third level of abstraction, such as describing certain marks as a word, you must allow that level to be added everywhere in the process. If "meaning" is to be given at the level of the person - and brain, it's corresponding level of abstraction - symbolic environment must also be allowed in the external description. Simply put, if you allow meaning in people, you must also allow meaning in words. To fail to do so is to be inconsistent - "un-sane".

The only way we communicate meanings is by using words - (including sign language). We create the new instantiation of the meaning of a word in a new learner, and we evoke instances of that instantiation in listeners who have already learned the word.

The difference between information and energy is that information can be replicated using new energy. Words are the level of abstraction corresponding to information. The physical marks on paper are the level of abstraction corresponding to energy. Meaning is a higher level of information associated with words.

You can describe the process of communication in two contrasting ways.

1. Information is transmitted.
2. Meaning is encoded into energy, and the energy causes a reaction in the listener. That reaction is then interpreted as new meaning.

In case 1 we have "same meaning" capable of being understood by the sender and receiver. "Communication" is possible.

In case 2 we have no such "same meaning" involved. There is no way to determine any such "sameness". There is only stimulus and response.
No "communication" is possible.

Which do you lean towards?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, December 7, 2005 - 12:10 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben, your "semantic environment : symbolic environment :: reality : virtual reality is far afield from what I intended to communicate.

Symbolic environments contain dictionary definitions - formulations people agree to.
Semantic environments contain dictionary definitions as interpreted by different brains.

In a physical environment we take actions and experience feedback on the success of our actions. We look around, pick up things, taste them, go back for more if they taste sweet, avoid them if we taste bitter. Learn not to put our hands in fire, etc. We build a map (of our physical environment) that includes theories about what happens when we take actions.

In a symbolic environment, we also take actions and experience feedback on the success of our actions, but with a difference. We don't deal with physical things directly, we deal with symbols that represent them, and symbols that represent other symbols. The actions that we take in this regard are communication actions. We speak, and we listen. We also read and write. As we do this we build a map (of our symbolic environment) that includes theories about what happens when we take action using symbols.

The symbolic environment interacts with the physical environment in that actions taken using symbols can have physical consequences. Calling somebody a name can result in getting punched (non-verbally) in addition to getting some verbal reaction back.

We can ask questions of others about our physical environment. "Where is ...", "what is ...", "how do I ...", etc., and we often get additional information added to our map of "physical reality".

We can ask questions of others about our symbolic environment. "What does this word mean.", "what is ...", "how do I ...", etc., and we often get additional information added to our map of "our symbolic environment" as well as connections to the physical environment.

The relation between "reality" and "virtual reality" is that one is hypothetical, and the other is "fictitious", but we can interact with both through the same means - our senses and the actions we take. A virtual reality tool has been talked about that uses detailed scans of a human heart and allows a surgeon to "practice" an operation before doing the real one, because the computer can manipulate the view of the physician in response to his input actions.

Our symbolic environment consists of the accumulated time-bound records in the form of documents and other stored information as well as that information which we can obtain by oral methods - the verbal teachings at our mother's knee, the secret society teachings we learn when we join, for example: the Masons. Not all people have access to all the information, so I speak of symbolic environments in the sense that each of us has exposure to parts of the total - just like each of us experiences a different physical environment due to our travels, that we are not identical, etc.

I explore my physical environment by moving around. I explore my symbolic environment by reading and listening.

Just as each of us sees the physical environment slightly differently, each of us "sees" the symbolic environment slightly differently. But just as we can both go to the same place and talk about what we see until we reach a qualified agreement about what we are looking at, we can both access the "same" piece of information in our symbolic environments and talk about what we see until we reach a qualified agreement about what we are looking at.

What that common understanding "means" to each of us, however, will vary according to our individual perspective. We will likely develop semantic reactions - make sense of - evaluate, orient towards or away from the piece differently. These are our idiosyncratic differences. We build that up in the manner of our own personal associations - the "dictionary definition in different brains". Put those together and we have our semantic environment. My semantic environment contains an extensive experience with mathematic, nuclear physics, logic, and philosophy, so any "common symbolic formulation" will be "understood" by me in the terms of my experiences. It will "mean" something to me in the total context of my experiences. My twenty year Naval career influences the symbols. "Go Navy" has a pretty common meaning, so it's shared in the symbolic environment, but it means so much more to me, in my semantic environment - the environment of my meanings.

Ah, yes. I do not use the word "meaning" in the sense of "intend", except in very loose cases. I'll use the word "intend" instead. My bias for the word "meaning" is in the sense of definition or description, or explanation. "Significance" becomes "semantic reaction", because the word "significance" suggests something "out there" whereas "semantic reaction" suggests something "in here".

The "meaning" of a word or phrase should be something from the symbolic environment that can be substituted - something that many or most people would agree to, (since the symbolic environment is a convention). An individual interpretation is a person's semantic reaction, and that becomes part of or comes from the person's semantic environment.

Regarding the "scarlet letter" example, yes, it is through the interactions of people that the symbolic environment is learned and accessed.

To the extent that the majority of people react to that "mark" of distinction in roughly similar ways, the mark "has" that meaning. It does so independently of any one individual, but not independently of all individuals. It is the shared convention that determines its "meaning", which gets expressed by a formulation. If there were no people, there would be no conventional meanings.

If we saw squiggly marks that we DID NOT RECOGNIZE as a word, such as in a foreign language, and we saw people processing those mark, then we could "infer" that they constituted a "word", but not from the marks alone. It depends on our symbolic experience - our cultural experience - whether we infer some mark constitute a "word" or not.

"Meaning" (significance if you prefer) exists in an abstraction relation to events or things. A person abstracts meaning from the events. As such it is a distinct level of abstraction from the physical processes that constitute the person. Similarly the symbolic environment "exists" in an abstraction relation to the marks on paper. If I want to say that the marks on paper are "nothing but" marks on paper, that there is no "meaning" to the marks themselves, then I am committing "extreme reductionism". To be consistent, then you must say that a person is, in an analogous manner, "nothing but" chemical reactions. Consistency demands that you apply extreme reductionism on both sides. Nothing but chemical reactions react to nothing but marks on paper. But people have semantic reactions by responding to conventional meanings of "words".

I prefer multi-level abstractions be applied consistently to people and the physical environments, so that I can create and appreciate significances to/of both people and words.


Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, December 7, 2005 - 09:34 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thank you for that perspective!
You won't find "symbolic environments" in Korzybski. It comes from follow-on work done in the '70's. I take symbolic environments from the work that Neil Postman built on Korzybski in the discipline known as "Media Ecology" at New York University. A "medium" is treated like a living entity. They extend the senses of human beings, but, because humans have a limited ability to respond to inputs, media "entities" "compete" for human attention. Radio competes with TV. Plays compete with movies. Books compete with magazines. Magazines compete with each other. Time competes with Newsweek. The whole class of printed media compete with the whole class of electronic media. A medium is any means by which a person can get or send information, including whole classes of media, so the word has a multi-ordinal sense. Marshall McLuhan is known for saying, "The medium is the message", and media ecology studies the effect on people of the shape or form of the medium as much or more than its information content. They study "the structure of the communications environment". Media evolve just like organisms. They form hybrids and create new "species". There are "individuals" within "species". (Time and Newsweek, Channel 7 and channel 8, "The Hot L Baltimore" and "The Tempest", etc., etc.) It does not matter that humans create and change the media, the metaphor corresponds information media to species and populations of organisms. I've been using this metaphor since Neil Postman was the Korzybski lecturer, and I subsequently attended the following Media Ecology conference, in 1975, I think. So, symbolic environments are where media "live". Organisms compete for physical food; media compete for human attention. The "food" of media is the information produced and consumed by people. Do a google search for "media ecology" "general semantics" (with the quotes).

I can see how your method of acting, looking for "motive" in everything, "spills over" into understanding the physical universe, and your expression "an atom 'wants' to fill the outer shell" makes perfect sense in that context and from that perspective, but it imbues, "projects", the Aristotelian teleological metaphysical perspective into the physical world. Recall that Aristotle's metaphysics - the belief common at the time - explained "gravity" as matter "wanting" to be at the lowest level; it is "internally motivated" to "move" to the lowest position."

["Aristotle's metaphysics consisted of Teleological matter influenced by formal cause (form [essence]), efficient or moving cause (means), material cause (matter), and final cause (purpose or agent) ..."]

Physicists have not held that theory in a long time. This illustrates the limited overlap between our symbolic environments: your acting, my nuclear power physics. It shows the different in our semantic environment as we each "see" (understand) the world around us with very different metaphors.

By the way, I think Korzybski would not fault you for having a different metaphysics at work and outside of work; he reserved that fault for scientists, mathematicians, logicians, etc., the professions that are "supposed" to reason precisely using math and logic. His balking would be if you used "correct" reasoning at work and "fallacious" reasoning outside of work.

Hope this helps,

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, December 8, 2005 - 10:29 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Dear Milton,

Please understand the word "means" as drawing one's attention to a characteristic, not as an identity or allness expression. If I had said "the meaning of time-binding is ...", then it would be an identity statement. You may interpret the sentence as, "Time binding implies that words tend to be used consistently by different individuals." See: The Impossibility of Non-Identity Languages, General Semantics Bulletin No. 55, 1990, for a detailed discussion of how and why words must be used consistently for communication to be possible.

An "environment" is what we can sense around us. Gee, Milton, I put the word in "scare" quotes, and I spent the rest of the paragraph qualifying and indexing how I was using the term. How would you use "internal environment" in the context of my discussion? I suppose, to the extent that reactions occur in brains, and the physical "environment", the symbolic "environment", and the semantic "environment" (of any given brain) "is" a projection external to the brain. ("The brain is an organ that locates its experiences elsewhere.") Recall that the notion of "internal" contrasts in a two-valued way with external; where are you drawing a boundary between "internal" and "external"? I was drawing the boundary between the first person perspective of seeing and constructs projected by the person doing the seeing. Where do you want to draw the boundary?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, December 8, 2005 - 11:16 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


What do you mean by "internal environment"?

Normally "environment" indicates a surrounding distinct from something which is an object of focus, as in the gestalt notion of figure and background. I placed that in the context of a human, distinguished the human from its environment (organism-as-a-whole-in-its-environment), and indicated the abstraction process (sensing) by which humans respond to that which we distinguished from the human - its environment. I did this because we can sense - abstract from - more than just our physical "environment" - my topic, so I needed to draw attention to the person, the sensing process, and the distinction. My "defining" introductory sentence using the "is", that you responded to like bull to a red flag, picked out very cogently, efficiently, and concisely just what I needed the reader to focus on - a person ("we"), the process of sensing, and the distinguishing of that person from what the person senses. It was not my purpose to write a definitive dissertation covering all aspects of how the term "environment" might be used, nor was it my purpose to "distract" the reader from my target notions by introducing or drawing attention to alternatives. I provided a brief dictionary definition limited to the current context adjusted for the sense I had in my brain.

How would you rephrase the sentence and still meet all my criteria for leading to the topic of my discussion?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, December 10, 2005 - 02:25 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Hi Ben,
Your interpretation, as I understand it, seems consistent with my meaning. I don't think I would limit "semantic environment" to intention. Our symbolic environment is what we understand symbols to mean at the level at which there is general agreement among people as to substitute formulations. That's why I use dictionary definition in association with it. It's what we know in terms of information that has not taken on a strong special or idiosyncratic meaning. This includes what Edward T. Hall characterized under the "technical" rubric. Take that level and now add to it idiosyncratic special personal meanings and you get the semantic environment, which becomes much more specific to the individual, or in some special cases, some small groups. Symbolic environments vary with universes of discourse, but semantic environments vary with individuals.

If I say the term "environment" usually means the surroundings and is generally distinguished from something "in" the environment, as in the gestalt figure and background distinction, I'm describing something in the symbolic environment, something that a great many other people can describe in very similar ways. But if someone comes in as says that "The Environment" is a (hypothetical) pub in New York City, this is a highly idiosyncratic "meaning" that only a few patrons would know about. For those people, their semantic reaction to the word "environment" includes a highly idiosyncratic response. The private experience of a bi-polar individual cannot be communicated with symbols to a person without the experiences. For that manner "qualia" or what it's like to see "white", is a purely personal experience that we cannot share. The "unspeakable" level of our experiences, over the years builds up as a "picture" unique to each one of us. Any new stimulus is colored by the total of our experiences. This is what I mean by semantic environment. Each of us has one. What is the semantic environment like for someone with synesthesia, where the senses get "cross wired", so that the person smells music, hears colors, sees odors, or other various combinations? We can only imagine it, we cannot experience it unless we've been there. I can swim so my semantic environment doesn't include fear of water. I have residual arachnaphobia. You know what it means, but you cannot experience the shiver that involuntarily goes through my body if a spider suddenly appears to close or moving too fast.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, December 10, 2005 - 10:29 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton wrote: "Ralph asked: How would you rephrase the sentence and still meet all my criteria for leading to the topic of my discussion?

I would apply indexing, qualifiers such as "to me, in my opinion", etc.
and My concern involves writing in a manner that reflects our present understanding of the discipline. (I have responded to this is a new topic. )

Milton: How about " An "environment" is usually defined as what we can sense around us." This to emphasize "Not what it is, but how we define what we can sense around us". From the statement "An environment "is" what we can sense around us", one might infer that what we can't sense does not constitute our environment. I have not yet been able to sense the radio waves, microwaves, etc., which surrounds me. I consider those part of my external environment. On the other side, I consider a mother's psychophysiological organismic state an environment for the developing baby. (Hence pregnant women 'shouldn't' smoke or take harmful drugs.)

It seems clear to me that you are reporting on how you understand "normal" or "customary" uses of the word 'environment'. Ok, that's fair, because I did ask what you meant by the phrase "internal environment". This discussion, however, does not address the fact that I put the word 'environment' in quotes, and that I was using the "is of definition" in a simple introductory sentence, not for the word 'environment' unqualified, but for the word '"environment"' - the word 'environment' with "scare quotes" to indicate that it is to be understood in the current context in a special way, and I followed that with a full paragraph using that sense that I was giving it.

What an environment is usually defined as is not what I intend for the reader to think about. Using "usually defined as" makes the sentence incorrect, because, environments are usually defined in terms of a distinction, as I already discussed in my previous answer. I am not interested in using the conventional term environment in its standard dictionary definition. That is precisely why I put it in quotes. I am presenting a model which focuses on what we can sense, not what we cannot sense. I don't want to confuse the listener by including stuff that is not relevant to the model I'm presenting. In this regard, your suggestion does not meet my criteria. I am "defining" a specific and restricted use of the term, and that's why I put it in quotation marks. You are fond of putting the word 'calculus' in your discussions. The mathematical representation for my defining sentence is "Let "environment" be what we can sense around us. This is an imperative, a command, "Thou shalt use this term (in this context) ONLY as I say here." Is there no place for this form in general semantics? This usage gets classified as "the 'is' of definition".

Are you objecting to what you perceive to be the "is" of identity (without regard for the context)? We have had lots of discussion in general semantics venues on that topic, including two books and many articles on "E-prime". See my article, E-Prime: The Spirit and the Letter for a discussion of the abuse of identity with and without 'is'.

I could have said, "for the purpose of this discussion, "environment" is to be defined as ..." or "in this context "environment" shall mean ..." I did not say "Every environment is ..."; I did not say "All environments are ...", I said, using the "is of definition", "An 'environment' is ...".

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, December 16, 2005 - 02:27 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

As this thread evolved, my differentiation between "semantic environment" and "symbolic environment" matured. My initial posting used "semantic environment" in the way that I subsequently "defined" as "symbolic environment".

In a much more recent post in this topic I said, "Each individual lives in his or her own semantic environment - constructed as a result of his exposure to symbolic environments and physical environments. Symbolic environments have a high degree of commonality for different persons; they can be shared. Multiple people can experience or share one symbolic environment. I have not attempted to define these terms more precisely than that at this time.

The aliens would be trying to construct a map that translates from the human symbolic environment, now a dead carcass, to the alien symbolic environment, still living. See Strange Rites for an illustration.

And, "Ralph" will be quit satisfactory rather than "Dr. Kenyon", thanks.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, July 23, 2006 - 09:12 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Nora said, But I don't think that's the only level of meaning for "words don't mean, people do".

I never said nor implied that the shared virtual meaning of "dictionary definitions" is the only sense. When many novice initiates of general semantics quote the saying, they seem to be discounting the first two levels of meaning. I provide an explanation using a virtual reality perspective.

It's also a misnomer to say "the word only has meaning as long as people assign it. This perspective works rigorously in mathematics, as Lewis Carroll humoursly illustrated. But in a social context, Alice is more accurate, at least, if you want to communicate with the population where the cultural (virtual) meaning is "fixed". Assign your own meaning only at the peril of not communicating.

Generally our semantic reaction to a word has a strong learned component in which, for the majority of terms, we can quote the dictionary definition or a close paraphrase of it, so we grow up learning the cultural standard meaning, and we most often use the vast majority of our words in extremely close conformity to that "standard" cultural (dictionary definition) meaning.

Thomas said If one wants to be precise one would probably say words don't have meaning BY THEMSELVES, the meanings are ascribed to them by people?

My comments included To the extent that the majority of people react to that "mark" of distinction in roughly similar ways, the mark "has" that meaning. It does so independently of any one individual, but not independently of all individuals. It is the shared convention that determines its "meaning", which gets expressed by a formulation. If there were no people, there would be no conventional meanings.

What this means is that people don't have the freedom to ascribe meaning to words, as they can only recall their prior learning, experiences, and use of the word, because the virtual cultural "meaning" of the word is relatively fixed (though evolving). Mathematicians, scientists, and other technical disciplines can "prescribe" a definition for a new term or a new definition for an old term, so as to specify the use of that term in the context in which is is being defined. This does not apply for the general usage of common words in our culture. Lexicographers are sometimes granted the status of this authority, but to quote my high school English teacher, "usage is correct", and we must learn the current usage of a term in order to use it correctly. Ascribe? No. Learn? Yes. (Not always correctly.) We then bring our learned response to the word whenever we heard or read it.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 11:28 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Let's not forget the three levels of multi-meaning that general semantics accepts.

1. Different Dictionary definitions. (Evolves with usage.)
2. Same Dictionary definition in different contexts. (Extensionally particularized for a given circumstance - varies with circumstance.)
3. Same Dictionary definition in the same context as understood by different brains (persons) - adds or modifies 2 with nuances and individual experiences.

Personally, I like semantic reaction and formulation, with repeated give and take in the form of a discussion that eventually results in agreement on a formulation. Unfortunately, some people stop talking rather than put a little effort into coming to a formulation that both can agree to. I prefer including extensional, lower level abstraction examples to go along with any abstract formulations classified as descriptions, definitions, or theories, but some people seem unable or unwilling to provide such extensional examples. They stop talking before a formulation can be agreed on. What happens to time-binding when something like that happens? Is something that the person who stops talking meant or understood lost? Is time-binding "broken" in these instances? What are we to conclude about that person "meaning" something they refuse to reformulate?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 09:20 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

"Semantic environment" . . . Hmmm . . . I think I've heard that term somewhere before. I wonder where?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 01:40 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

In this post I suggest that the semantic environment is basically the individual's "meaning space" from which a person forms his semantic reaction to symbols, events, his or her own condition at the time, etc. Symbolic environments are shared. Many prior uses of 'semantic environment', including some of my own, did not distinguish between semantic and symbolic environments.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 01:49 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Doing a google search for "semantic environment" and "general semantics" can be infomative.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 01:58 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

"Organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole" includes the notion of a multi-level or multi-dimensional environment for the organism - specifically including its physical and symbolic environments as well as its own unique semantic environment.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, July 28, 2006 - 12:02 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail