Meaning

Information, experience and intent only potentially contribute to the soul. The common factor that is required in order to achieve this is meaning. New information, for example, is not attractive if not perceived as meaningful (e.g. reading a phone book). Three dimensions of meaning corresponding to information, experience and intent can be discerned.

The informational or the horizontal dimension of meaning, arises from the recognition of relations between sensations, between words (and other symbols), between sensations and words, and between the ways words or sensations are organised (e.g. the sentence ‘sound is bigger than colour' is linguistically correct, but still does not make sense). Recognition, for example, requires making a connection between the immediate perception and previous experience or knowledge (that contain similarities). Sensations and words, in themselves, are meaningless. This means that the significance of any material arises not from its elements, but the way they are connected:

When we become conscious of the meaning of a word and understand it, our understanding of the word, our subjective sense of it, is of the relations that constitute its meaning. (Rosenfield, 1992, p.99)

 

The experiential or ‘in-depth' dimension of meaning arises from a connection between the subject and object, recognising the effects that a sensation has on oneself (what it means to oneself). If an experience does not mean anything to the one who is experiencing, it is not really an experience at all. Seeing a frog, for example, induces experience only if the event has any meaning for that person. This is often, although not always, based on previous experiences (the context of which may even be forgotten).

The intentional or vertical dimension is related to action that is deemed meaningful (not every intention or action is meaningful, but those that are not are usually short-lived). To be meaningful, an action has to be constructive, progressive. Destructive actions are difficult to perceive as meaningful, which is why even the most horrendous crimes in history have always been accompanied with an ideological  justification (e.g. future or greater good; protecting a true faith, etc.). Therefore this dimension is essentially anti-entropic. However, considering that meaning has a subjective element, even those actions that may seem meaningful are not necessarily constructive from a larger perspective.

All these dimensions are contained in the soul, although certain mental structures that lead to them are usually constructed with the help of the brain and the rings.

 

Awareness plays an essential role regarding meaning. It is not enough that there is a relation, it needs to be recognised, which requires awareness. The constitutive elements of an image, for example, and some ways that they get linked can be a product of brain activity, but awareness is necessary to make a meaningful whole from them. Therefore, meaning always requires a subject (even if only the horizontal dimension is involved), as the following observation exemplifies:

Considered in themselves, [words on paper], are just patches of ink. As such, they are not intrinsically meaningful, but are meaningful only in virtue of the relations in which they stand, directly or indirectly, to things that have gone on in certain conscious minds. (Lockwood, 1998, p.86).

 

So, conceptualisation is only contingently related to meaning. Words can be compared with a train, and the meaning with passengers. Words serve as a scaffolding for meaning, but meaning is elusive and can never be fully conceptualised. The meaning of representations rarely has precise boundaries and is implicit rather than explicit (even the meaning of a simple word such as ‘table' is notoriously difficult to capture fully by a definition). Meaning is felt, sensed, intuited. In some cases conceptualisation is not present at all (e.g. of the term space). The meaning of a dream or story could be perhaps only felt, or the meaning of an event can be experienced without being able to put it into words. This is not to say that the meaning of a sentence, poem, dream or an event escape any formulation, but such attempts are never complete. Psychologist Macnamara (1972) points out that children have a world of meanings before words are produced or even understood. The infant has been categorising the environment and discovering the purpose of objects well before learning language. So, there is no reason why even animals cannot have an (albeit limited) sense of meaning, including all three dimensions, although they cannot formulate it.

Meaning is what bonds together the elements of mental structures. If relations are deemed meaningful, they are preserved, which enables the creation of constructs. If information is not considered meaningful, it is either rejected or an attempt is made to discover its meaning[5]. This search for meaning is an expression of the interplay between the static and dynamic principles and can contribute to both harmonisation and development of the soul.

  • [5]. Sometimes it is very hard to find meaning in an event though (e.g. the accidental death of somebody close), which can result in restlessness and difficulties to come to terms with the event.