Posted on July 24, 2009 by Peter Turney
There are dozens of theories about meaning, but they share a common element: meaning (semantics) is about mapping. We understand a thing, we give it meaning, by mapping it to another thing. Furthermore, and this is a crucial point, one mapping is not enough. The more mappings we make, the better we understand. A single mapping only gives us part of the truth.
We understand things (words, events, perceptions, people, signs) by relating (connecting, mapping) them to other things. This analogy-making is how we understand both high-level ideas and concepts and low-level perceptions:
But one analogy is not enough. No analogy is perfect, and we compensate for their imperfections by using multiple analogies, and by blending analogies together. Marvin Minsky calls this panalogy (parallel analogy):
If you want to learn more about how we blend analogies, I highly recommend The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities, by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner.
Perhaps the most important lesson from the Netflix Prize has been that many models are better than one:
I view this as confirmation of the Panalogy Principle: we don’t understand anything until we understand it many ways. There are no whole-truths, but we can get by reasonably well with a large number of half-truths.