Sunday, January 31, 2021

Lambent Meaning

Meaning can only mean in brains,
Must mean in brains one at a time,
But needs communities of brains
Evolving sign populations
Between them to mean anything,
Which means that no brain means alone
And no sign means outside of brains,
But meanings are born between them,
Meaning no good analogy
Exists for the life history
Of communities of meaning,
Life-history analogies
Included. Think of another
Phenomenon that starts in lives,
In the social interactions
Of a particular species,
Cannot emerge from any one
Isolated organism,
Is an emergent property
Literally existing in air
But nonexistent, or latent,
Unless it’s substantiated
Inside the heads of that species.
Birdsong seems the most similar,
Along with the singing of whales
And perhaps the making of tools.
But while songs and tools effect things,
As do meanings (aids to actions,
Coordinated behaviors,
Matings, and efficient feedings)
Do they mean things? What would it mean
If they did or if they didn’t?
Think again. It only really
Gets weird with static, enduring
Signs that stand alone and outside
Of the bodies creating them—
That half-hitch in time’s giddy-up
Caught in ochre daubs, rock carvings,
Notches on antlers, scrapes in clay.
Now where is the meaning? It’s still
Dependent on living neurons
To encounter, reinterpret,
And share the meanings amongst them,
But some information is stored,
And how is that different from genes
Or the inevitable scars
Of change in dental enamel,
Annual growth rings, sediments,
Reef growth, crater impacts, any
Accumulated, similar,
Informative, repetitive
Near-repetitions? Intentions
Must be latent in all things, else
Intention emerged from nothing.
But do genes, reefs, or words’ meanings
Actually intend anything?
The circle turns to ask its tail,
What does intention even mean?

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