Alliance for Mystical Pragmatics

Alliance for Mystical Pragmatics

Harmonizing Evolutionary Convergence

Glossary Menus

The meaning triangle

The meaning triangle is a construct that depicts the relationship between cognitive maps and their territories, noting that when we map the Totality of Existence with the Theory of Everything, the map is contained within the territory being mapped. It has two distinctive features.

First, maps take two forms: as conceptual models resident in the nonphysical Cosmic Psyche and expressions of such mental images in the physical universe, in natural and mathematical languages, pictures and diagrams, and other signs and symbols.

This is a distinction that Ferdinand de Saussure made in Cours de linguistique générale, which his students published posthumously in 1915. In this seminal book of structural semiology, as semiotics ‘science of signs’ was known in Europe at the time, de Saussure said: “I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified [signifié] and signifier [signifiant],” illustrated here.

Two-part linguistic sign

For instance, the concept of T, as a mental image, could be represented by tree, träd, arbre, or Baum in English, Swedish, French, and German, respectively. No matter which language we use to express our ideas, we all have much the same understanding of the concept of tree. Similarly, we could have the number three in our minds as the signified, where the signifier, such as 3 or III, is called a numeral. This distinction between numbers, as concepts, and numerals, as signifiers, is something that computers cannot make. Both concepts and the signifiers that represent them need strings of bits to denote them. This is the simplest way of proving that humans are not machines and hence that technological development cannot drive economic growth indefinitely, requiring a radical change in the work ethic that has driven human affairs for thousands of years.

However, what de Saussure omitted in his dyadic view of signs was a representation of the territory being mapped. To obtain a complete picture, we need to adapt the triadic view of logic and philosophy that Charles Sanders Peirce spent a lifetime developing. This is illustrated in what J. F. Sowa of IBM calls the ‘meaning triangle’ in Conceptual Structures, inspired to do so by The Meaning of Meaning by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards. What this diagram illustrates is that there is an indirect relationship between language and the territory that language describes, not generally recognized by modern philosophers, focusing more attention on language than on the conceptual structures underlying language.

Furthermore, to understand what is causing scientists and technologists to drive the pace of change in society to accelerate at unprecedented exponential rates of acceleration, we need to consider our cognitive maps as part of the territory being mapped. Thus, when evolution becomes fully conscious of itself, as Julian Huxley and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin foresaw, concepts and their signifiers are referents, as illustrated in the third diagram on the page Cosmic Foundation & framework.