Re: meaning / Gibson (Al Bregman )

Subject: Re: meaning / Gibson
From:    Al Bregman  <BREGMAN(at)HEBB.PSYCH.MCGILL.CA>
Date:    Fri, 2 Mar 2001 01:25:40 -0500

Paul Treffner wrote: > Meaning? Meaning is *not* in the head!! How could it be?! Simple argument: > The meaning is perceived when the information is detected. Since the > information specifies an event in the world, the "meaning" (consequences, > implications, etc) is at least in the dynamical interaction of speaker and > listener. But certainly they are not in representations inside > the listener's head alone. Surely the mental schemas (in Piaget's sense), linguistic or otherwise, in terms of which we assimilate any perceptual input, or by means of which we guide the actions that deal with the input, are the "meaning" of that input. Different people can have different meanings for the same event, because they assimilate it to different schemas. For example, a young woman is looking attentively at a boastful young man, Adam. An onlooker, Brad, sees her intent gaze as admiration. Another guy, Charles, realizes that she thinks Adam's a jerk, but that she should be polite and pay attention to what he's saying. The "dynamical interaction" for Brad and Charles is the same, if it refers to the world of observable action, but the meanings are very different. Another example: a poet reading a magazine article on quarks doesn't get the same meaning from it as a science graduate. How can meaning be *anything but* in the head -- even though it may often control interactions with the world. A meaning (or schema) is a control system, located in the brain (which, according to my physiologist friends, is in the head). Its location in the head doesn't prevent its guiding interactions with the world. No brain, no meanings. Different brains, different meanings. Can you have meanings without sensory inputs? Try dreams. Can you have meanings without brains? Ask a brick. Of course "meaning" is part of a dyadic relation involving (1) a temporarily assembled structure of meanings (or schemas), for dealing with a certain thing or situation, and (2) the thing or situation itself -- which, according to Kant, we can never know *directly*, but only through the meanings we use in interpreting it. Sometimes the second term (the thing or situation itself) is something in the external world, and sometimes not, as when I reflect on my own thought processes. Some time ago, I published a lengthy paper that described mental schemas as generators of underlying patterns that interacted to control perception, cognition, and action. It may be of interest as an alternative to the theory of direct perception. I debated the issue with Jimmy Gibson, but we couldn't convince one another. Bregman, A.S. Perception and behavior as compositions of ideals. Cognitive Psychology, 1977, 9, 250-292. - Al ------------------------------------------------- Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor Dept of Psychology, McGill University 1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1 Office: Phone: +1 (514) 398-6103 Fax: +1 (514) 398-4896 Home: Phone & Fax: +1 (514) 484-2592 Email: bregman(at) -------------------------------------------------

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