ISBN: 9780262347198 | 376 pp. | June 2018

Meaning in the Brain


When we read a text or listen to speech, meaning seems to be given to us instantaneously, as if it were part of the input. In Meaning in the Brain, Giosuè Baggio explains that this is an illusion created by the tremendous speed at which sensory systems and systems for meaning and grammar operate in the brain. Meaning, Baggio argues, is not derived from input but results from the brain’s internal construction process. With this book, Baggio offers the first integrated, multilevel theory of semantics in the brain, describing how meaning is generated during language comprehension, production, and acquisition.

Baggio’s theory draws on recent advances in formal semantics and pragmatics, including vector-space semantics, discourse representation theory, and signaling game theory. It is designed to explain a growing body of experimental results on semantic processing that have accumulated in the absence of a unifying theory since the introduction of electrophysiology and neuroimaging methods.

Baggio argues that there is evidence for the existence of three semantic systems in the brain—relational semantics, interpretive semantics, and evolutionary semantics—and he discusses each in turn, developing neural theories of meaning for all three. Moreover, in the course of his argument, Baggio addresses several  long-standing issues in the neuroscience of language, including the role of compositionality as a principle of meaning construction in the brain, the role of sensory-motor processes in language comprehension, and the neural and evolutionary links among meaning, consciousness, sociality, and action.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Introduction
  3. 1. The Binding Problem in Semantics
  4. 2. Neural Bases of Relational Semantics
  5. 3. A Dynamic Theory of Semantic Binding
  6. 4. From Binding to Interpretation and Back
  7. 5. Brain Systems for Discourse and Logic
  8. 6. Discourse Models as Cortical Stable States
  9. 7. Signaling and the Evolution of Meaning
  10. 8. Plasticity in the Brain's Semantic System
  11. 9. Brains as Meaning Transmission Machines
  12. 10. Meaning in the Brain
  13. Bibliography
  14. Index