The meaning of words

Posted on September 28, 2016

I just randomly noticed something curious…

The advantage of literary language, we are told, is that one can write down things and they are passed on to future generations without any unintentional alterations. You can copy written words, keep the order, and thus duplicate written works without any loss of information. Indeed, these days we can even calculate hashes (albeit probably not manually) and use these to verify the integrity of texts. (And not only texts, of course)

However, it recently occurred to me that while we can indeed copy and keep words without loss of information or bit decay, the meaning of the words must still be passed on by word of mouth. Thus, we have actually not solved the problem of keeping exact meaning intact, we have just elevated it one level, or made the problem more abstract, if you will. Fascinating.

Only slightly related thought: Will we some day have the same problem with instructions intended for turing machines?