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For primitive cybernetic systems which have no model of the world, the command language is the only language that can be received. If a system has a model of the world, as in the case of a human being or a robot, the message received may not restrict the actions of the system directly, but change the model of the wrld used by it. This will, obviously, influence its actions in an indirect way, and, possibly, not immediately. We call such messages statements. The content and the meaning of a statement is in the knowledge it passes to the receiver. It must be noted that when we simply say 'knowledge' we mean only its impact on the genration of predictions and do not distinguish between true knowledge and false (erroneous) knowledge.

Thus to be meaningful, a sentence must meet the same requirement as a piece of knowledge: we must know how to be able to produce predictions from it, or produce tools which will produce predictions, or produce tools to produce such tools, etc. If we can characterize the path from the statement to predictions in exact terms, the meaning of the statement is exact. If we visualize this path only vaguely, the meaning is vague. If we can see no path from a statement to predictions, this statement is meaningless.

We do not identify meaningless with worthless. Since our criterion of the meaningful includes a reference to the process of deriving predictions, the meaning is to some extent subjective, and what is meaningless for one person may be meaningful for another. Furthermore, seemingly meaningless statements may lead to -- through some mysterious processes in our brain -- new ideas and discoveries.

Our criterion of the meaningful should be used as a guide for making our ideas more clear and precise, not as a reason for categorical rejections.

Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

V. Turchin,

Oct 6, 1997 (modified)
Sep 1991 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory





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