(A short and ironic journey into why it’s biologically impossible to get on with anyone)
If I told you that I loved your neurons what would you do? Run? Glaze over? Melt with desire? Have me arrested or sectioned?
Well it would most likely depend on your knowledge of what I meant together with (perhaps) your knowledge of neurons and (probably) your understanding of the meaning of neurons and that’s ultimately (using our planets language anyway) the biological meaning of meaning.
Lost you right? Exactly. My point exactly. I should stop now.
I normally want to really like the way your neurons fire. Yes.
In actual fact the chances are I probably wouldn’t like you if they fired in a way that showed up in ways that demonstrated that you indeed are a complete idiot. That would suggest – that your own lifetime’s training of how these neurons reacted to my stimulus – (face, gestures, speech and general presence) was utterly incompatible to me and my neurons. Yes – I would definitely hate you then.
And it works both ways most of the time. Your neurons will never mirror precisely mine because that’s impossible by an incredible magnitude – lots of really long numbers. A heck of a lot.
Well this means that my understanding of you and your meaning is either broadly compatible or not with your understanding of me and my meaning. I know, you are now asking yourself just how is meaning expressed in neural terms? And how does this expression of meaning arise?
“Meaning derives both from the correlated firing of neurons (or sets of) and from the linkages they in turn make to related representations.”*
For example, neurons related to a certain face might be connected to ones expressing the name of the person whose face it is, and to others for her voice, memories involving her and so on, in a vast associational network, similar to a dictionary or a relational database.
And exactly how this works in detail is unclear. Holy Fuck!
*Biological source: Francis Crick/Christof Koch The Salk Institute, Computation and Neural Systems Program. California Institute of Technology