Why Does Your Friend Understand What You Mean When You Refer to Your Dog as a, Well, Dog?

Have you ever said a word, then felt that it was wrong in your mouth?  Have you ever read a passage in a book and stumbled upon a common word that suddenly seemed foreign?

I'm not talking about developing dementia or reading things in a foreign language.  But think about it.  Hasn't there ever been a time when you were thinking about a word it suddenly seemed like one you've never seen before?

Now a philopsopher, through game theory, says he may know why, when we say "dog" to a friend, that person understands that we mean the animal panting beside us, according to newswise.com. 

Kansas State University philosopher Elliott Wagner aims to address these types of questions in his latest research, which focuses on long-standing philosophical questions about semantic meaning. Wagner, assistant professor of philosophy, and two other philosophers and a mathematician are collaborating to use game theory to analyze communication and how it acquires meaning, the Web site reports.
"If I order a cappuccino at a coffee shop, I usually don't think about why it is that my language can help me communicate my desire for a cappuccino," it quotes Wagner. "This sort of research allows us to understand a very basic aspect of the world."
The researchers are using evolutionary game theory models to understand how words and actions acquire meaning through natural processes, whether through biological evolution, social learning or other adaptive processes.
"Game theory is a branch of mathematics that creates mathematical abstractions of social interactions and communication. Communication involves two agents — a sender and a receiver. The sender shares a message with the receiver through a sign or signal and the receiver uses the signal to act in the world. This interaction is called a signaling game," newswise points out.
The researchers used signaling games to study information flow in the natural world. 
Newswise notes that monkeys use vocalization to talk with each other. A peacock uses the size of his tail to signal his attractiveness to a female. People use gestures and language to communicate.
While these types of models have existed since the 1970s, Wagner and collaborators studied the dynamics of signaling games. The researchers incorporated evolution and individual learning to overturn other preconceived notions from previous models.
"Through this process an arbitrary signal with no pre-built meaning has come to mean something," Wagner said. "It appears that the meaning of a word has almost magically arisen out of this natural process. I think it's important for us to think carefully about features of our lives that we take for granted," Wagner said. "This research is one way for us to think carefully about why it is that words have meaning and how it is that words can acquire meaning through a natural process."


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