Some questions about semantics
Professor Wagner posed some philosophical questions. He said, if he ordered a cappuccino from a coffee shop, he normally does not think how his language helped him communicate his need for that particular drink, but with this new research, they are looking at how people understand this very basic concept.
Their latest research work appears in an article in PNAS, a scientific journal. Collaborating with him on this research are Pierre Tarres, a mathematician from the University of Toulouse in France, and University of California-Irvine philosophers, Brian Skyrms and Simon Hutteggar.
What the researchers will be using are game theory models as they seek to understand how actions and words get their meaning, whether via some adaptive processes, social learning or biological evolution.
Game theory is defined as the study of strategic decision making and is a branch of mathematics. It can create mathematical generalizations of social communication and interactions. A sender and a receiver are required for communication, which is an interaction that is defined as a signaling game. This is what the researchers were using to study the flow of information. Examples of this include vocalizations, which monkeys use when they talk to fellow monkey. In peacocks, it is the size and beauty of their tails that they use to attract females while communication between people employ language and gestures.
Individual learning and evolution
Even if the game theory models have been existent since the 1970s, the researchers are more concerned with the signaling game dynamics. They have incorporated individual learning as well as evolution so that existing preconceived notions that came with the previous models will be overturned.
What they are doing now is to use the signaling game but they are doing it differently. In their research the sender’s message does not have any meaning pre-attached to it. What they are looking for is how the sender’s message will evolve, which may reflect the state of the world and the receiver’s reaction, which might be a response that is appropriate to the state of the world at that specific time. In that case, a signal that has no original meaning will finally have a meaning that will develop from a natural process.
And this is what the research is all about – to show that this process happens through several models, so that they can fully explain how an action or word acquires meaning.
The research of Professor Wagner and company is supported by the National Science Foundation. They scientists are planning several studies in other signaling games in the future.