MANHATTAN, KANSAS -- Why does the word "dog" have meaning? If you say "dog" to a friend, why does your friend understand you?
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.
"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," Wagner said. "This sort of research allows us to understand a very basic aspect of the world."
The researchers' latest work appears in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, or PNAS, in the article "Some dynamics of signaling games." It is rare for philosophy research to appear in the scientific journal, Wagner said. Collaborators include two other philosophers Simon Hutteggar and Brian Skyrms from the University of California, Irvine, as well as mathematician Pierre Tarres of the University of Toulouse in France.
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.
The researchers used signaling games to study information flow in the natural world, which happens at all levels of
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Kansas State University