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Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds
Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds

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5.4 The meaning of meaning

I've spoken above as if the whole question of meaning was a simple one. I've used the word itself as if it presented no problems. This certainly isn't true. The whole issue of semantics is a matter of fierce debate among computer scientists and philosophers. What is meaning anyway? How is it possible for anything inside a computer to mean something? Exactly where does meaning return as we go back across the boundary – at the output device or in the human mind? Is the meaning of a picture somehow different from that of a line of text, and if so how?

Fortunately for me (and for you), there's no need for us to get involved in this brawl. What I've said about the issue of meaning – that digital representations mean nothing in themselves – will do for now. Let's end the section on a less contentious note and look quickly at some output devices.