Economy of Meaning: Mediating Physical Existence

Thu, Feb 24, 2011

Theory

In the article The Economy of Meaning, I argue that one of the two things meaning does is to mediate our existence in a physical world. So the question becomes, why is such mediation even necessary?

At a hundred billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses (1), the mind of a human being is capable of constructing a vast virtual world. Evidence for this is everywhere, from novels and movies to virtual reality games, and surprisingly, experiencing these virtual worlds comes naturally to almost every individual starting from children in their preschool years building virtual cities.

Why should this virtual existence be so natural? Because as human beings, we actually live in a virtual world of our own making –i.e. we live in our minds– and we have to go through a process to make this virtual world relevant to the real world.

This process I call mediating our physical existence, consisting of building billions of mental constructs, a process that is repeated again and again, and this process essentially consists of assigning meaning to multitude of data we are bombarded with every day. But more than this, meaning creation is layered, as in meanings are built on top of meanings, in a process akin to building towers.

The meanings at the top of these towers are the crucial meanings upon which we base our lives, our reasons to go on, that determine who we are. Yet these very same meanings are the most unstable. Any little change in the multitude of meanings lower down can lead to a tower to topple, resulting in depression, soul searching, anger, and violence as a person experiences a personal earthquake in their inner landscape.

That is why in the Economy of Meaning, one crucial activity is to enable individuals to construct and maintain their towers of meaning: a process I call mediating our physical existence.

(1) Williams RW, Herrup K (1988). “The control of neuron number”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 11: 423–53. doi:10.1146/annurev.ne.11.030188.002231. PMID 3284447. Referenced in Wikipedia Article Neuron.

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