Genetic semantics

Empirically studying the way in which people connect all kind of impressions is one way of reaching a framework for a semantic design science. Statistical research is elementary in this endeavor, but it is not enough. We also need a mathematical logic that forms the basis of the “thinking-language” (read An abstract framework). With the publication of his work The Mental Graphics Space (1982), semanticist Ferre Alpaerts proposes the theory of genetic semantics as a method for getting insight in how meaning is established in the human mind. He states that imagining is a natural ability to process certain images according to certain methods. This is technically realized in the nervous system and brain and can thus be understood.

The starting point of genetic semantics is that meaning derives from innate structures of information processing. The way in which higher organisms process information is, according to Alpaerts: “derived from the methods used in the cell. The nervous system and the brain are built up of cells, and it seems logic that the way cells exchange signals relies on the genetic code they possess. From this proposition emerges the idea that the human signalling system can be traced back to the codons of the DNA. The human ability to use signs is thus based on applications of genetic encoding”.

Genetic Semantics considers the semantic markers (= semantic features) introduced by J. Katz as ‘letters’ of DNA and combines them in groups of 2*3 codon ‘words’ of hereditary script (= componential definitions). The semantic words refer to the key-images of the mental graphics system. The thinking, i.e. the processing of these systems concepts, is a creative matter, namely the imagination.

Semantic switch: two static (0 and 1) and two dynamic (0>1 and 1>0) semantic markers, may correspond with the letters T, A, C and G of the DNA.

The DNA structure can be presented as a spatial classification system, a system with three axes on which static opposites (0 and 1) are placed and movements (0>1, 1>0) are coded.

Drie dimensies met semantische merkers 0 en 1
Three axes of meaning: depth, height and breadth, with opposing poles 0 and 1 in every dimension.

Ideas are given a coordinate formula containing static or dynamic letters in depth, height and breadth, thus forming a codon, with which they get a place in the space and can orient themselves. (Fig.4) Some examples of genetic semantic ‘words’ or codons: 001, 00>10, 110>1.

The genetic semantic space, with 8 codons on each corner of the cube.

The spatial framework of the model allows abstract representation of meaning through 3D-coding. The signs and keywords it classifies not only refer to the outside world and to the specific, but at the same time obtain an abstract meaning within a logical organised system, wherein semantic associations, hierarchical levels, orientational meaning and synaesthetic links are part of the equipment. As such, this Semantic Space meets the requirements for a valid semantic structure. It is an approximation of the innate “language of thought” or “inner language” as described by Fodor (1983) and Pinker (1994).

Pinker’s mental dictionary (read An abstract framework) is viewed as a filled up 3D spreadsheet, an active matrix of which not only the cells are numbered but also provided with formulae that are formed by codon code signs. This space forms thus a connected database, a huge network of concepts and ideas that are placed into coded cells.

A striking similarity with Alpaerts’ theory, is Osgood’s (1964) Semantic differential technique that focuses on three affective dimensions of Evaluation, Potency, and Activity (E-P-A) to evaluate social and cultural related concepts in a valid and reliable way.

DepthEvaluation: bad-good, unpleasant-pleasantDirection of focus: internal-external, unpleasant-pleasant
HeightPotency: strong-weakPower: strong-weak
BreadthActivity: passive-activeActivity: passive-active
Comparison of the three affective factors from Osgood and Alpaerts’ semantic DHB-theory

“The Evaluation, Potency, and Activity dimensions which have reappeared in analysis after analysis are clearly response-like in character rather than sensory. But these factors are more than simply reactive; they have an affective character. The similarity of these factors to Wundt’s three dimensions of feeling – pleasantness, strain, and excitement – has been suggested by others. The highly generalized nature of the affective reaction system-the fact that it is independent of any particular sensory modality and yet participates with all of them-appears to be the psychological basis for the universality of three factors of Evaluation, Potency, and Activity, as well as the basis for Synaesthesia and metaphor. That is, it appears to be because such diverse sensory experiences as a white circle (rather than black), a straight line (rather than crooked), a rising melody (rather than a falling one), a sweet taste (rather than a sour one), a caressing touch (rather than an irritating scratch) can all share a common affective meaning that one can easily and lawfully translate from one modality into another in synaesthesia and metaphor. The labelling of this shared affective response is apparently uncovered in the factor analysis of adjectives. Speculating still further, I would suggest that this affective meaning system is intimately related to the non-specific projection mechanisms from the hypothalamic, reticular, or limbic systems and their cortical connections in the frontal lobes. Both are gross, non-discriminative, but highly generalized systems, and both are associated with the emotional purposive and motivational dynamics of the organism.” (Osgood, 1964)

The practice of the semantic differential technique is being used broadly in social and behavioural science studies. (Tzeng, Oliver C.S.; Landis, Dan; Tzeng, Diana Y. (2012). “Charles E. Osgood’s continuing contributions to intercultural communication and far beyond!”. International Journal of Intercultural Relations36 (6): 832–842. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2012.08.011ISSN 0147-1767.)

Another interesting similarity with Alpaerts’ cube-within-cube structure of the genetic semantics theory reveals a striking similarity to the computer model of the human brain developed by American A.I. scientist and mathematician Marvin Minsky. His “society of mind” theory (1986) regards every naturally evolved cognitive system such as our brain as a society of simple individual processes built by genes. These fundamental entities or “agents” enable us to represent emotional and other states of mind. A likening of these agents to the eight codons from the Semantic Space is obvious. The logical 3-D architecture neatly fits in with the functioning of our cognitive system and our emotions. In that sense the Semantic Space can be a natural source of information, bringing intuition to the surface and sharpening it.