07
Dec
12

Meaning and Humor, Illusions and Games

Here are two connections I would like to explore. They are philosophical in nature. 

1. Visual experience contains optical illusions and hallucinations. It also has theory rich elements, like depth perception, which is imposed on visual data. I wonder if semantic meaning might be a theory rich aspect of perception. Just as a tool is seen as having a function, I think word inscriptions and utterances take on meaning in the same way a scene takes on depth perception, the mind PLACES the meaning there immediately and imperceptibly. My philosophy professor at Tufts had a great example. He said that if an ant walks on the sand and makes lines that look like “god,” one will automatically impute meaning to the inscription, even though one knows that there is no meaning there. Thus, meaning is like a sustained, predictable, hallucination. Words we know have no meaning take on meaning and seem to have it. There might be such things as semantic optical illusions. Take an ambiguous sentence like “Red tape holds up new bridge.” We see a meaning that isn’t there depending on how we “look” at the sentence, just like ambiguous figures. Sometimes a picture looks like two faces kissing or a candle depending. Same with ambiguous sentences. 

2. I’m also continually fascinated by humor. What is humor? In the past I’ve talked about seeing humor as a perceptual capability, and indeed that might be right. But what about the social practice of humor. The giving and taking of jokes. I think that humor is a game we play with words in which we try to represent things in provocative ways. I hate poetry, but grudgingly, I must admit that humor has similarities to poetry. A poem tries to play with words in order to express an emotion by playing with emotive and semantic modes. Humor tries to play with words to do…what exactly? Is a humor just one of the emotions that poems can try to evoke. What is a game? I need to learn more about games to understand how they work, but right now I’m flirting with the idea that games are necessary consequences of our ability to do things intentionally but without any reason. Games then evolve as arbitrary actions that we coordinate and build up with others. I also think games are a way that reason with each other. Just as sign language is a way of talking without words, I think games are a way of reasoning without explicit thoughts. 

I’ve been watching the office so much lately, all the old episodes. I really need to write a piece about the office as a piece of art. It’s very interesting in a lot of ways. 

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