The late 19th / early 20th century philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege famously came up with the Sense and Reference distinction in order to clarify issues in his logical system. Briefly put, the reference of a word (I’ll use my favorite example of “table”) is the actual object that the word signifies: the referent of the word “table” is the actual, physical table existing out there in the real world. The sense of a word is the way in which it exists as a psychological representation: the sense of “table” is how I conceive the table in my mind. This was important to Frege because examples where we have two (or more) words that signify a single referent can have a different sense, and therefore lead to different inferences, even if the referent is the same. How, though, might we relate these ideas?
When someone utters a word that reaches your ear, the sound gets broken down into component waves via Fourier transform which vibrate within cochlear fluid and cause the movement of mechanoreceptor hair cells at the organ of Corti to produce electrochemical signals in the form of neurotransmitter release whereby the movement of the fluid stimulates the filaments of individual cells receptor cells to become open to receive the potassium-rich endolymph, causing the cell to produce an action potential which is transmitted through the spiral ganglion to the auditory portion of the vestibulo-cochlear nerve to the the brain, which signals to the cortex with new information that is then compared to predictions based on prior experience in a Bayesian fashion to produce the phenomenology of the experience of hearing, interpreting, and understanding the word. But where (and how), in all this, does the phenomenology of meaning arise?
For those who may be paying attention to my recent posts, I am currently reading the collection of essays Metametaphysics, which talks about how metaphysics ought to be done. There is a lot of discussion about whether problems in ontology, such as mereological sums (if there is a tablewise arrangement of atoms, does some “new” object that we call a table come into existence, or is that just a shorthand way we talk about such tablewise arrangements of atoms?), are just semantic. In other words, when I say that a table is nothing more than a tablewise arrangement of atoms, and you say that a table is something above and beyond the tablewise arrangement of atoms, are we simply just using the word “table” in different ways, thus resulting in the differences in how we conceptualize what a table is? Here I am going to discuss (more so than review) the first three essays in this collection.
Metametaphysics, edited by David J. Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman, Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press, 540 pages
Essay 1: “Composition, Colocations, and Metaontology” by Karen Bennett
Essay 2: “Ontological Anti-Realism” by David J. Chalmers
Essay 3: “Carnap and Ontological Pluralism” by Matti Eklund
This is a sort of half-baked theory I was playing around with in my head. Maybe someone else will know where to take it from here?