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There exists a category of syntactically valid declarative statements which appear intuitively like they are descriptions of reality - but which no possible measurement could distinguish from their negation, or indeed from any other claim.

It is clear enough that such statements are not viable scientific hypotheses.

It is clear enough that the statements contain various sentence fragments with meanings and clauses with meanings, and that the sum of the parts is, at least, the sum of the parts plus the fact of the parts being summed in that particular way, plus any associated feelings such a summation might impart.

However, if such a statement itself has any meaning more than that - a meaning which maps to the intuition of there being something that the statement means as a statement - I'm unable to determine what it might be.

I would like to know if there are any noteworthy positions on whether or not such statements can, in the sense described, mean anything at all. If they aren't meaningless, what sort of meaning can they have? I think it is the same question in other words to ask: are such statements propositions in the sense at SEP: Meaning?


Some possible examples follow. I think the first two might be syntactically meaningless for appropriately defined universe, but I'm including them because they also feel like they ought to mean something. I'm pretty confident that the last four aren't syntactically meaningless but are empirically indistinguishable from their negation.

A thousand light-years beyond the particle horizon of the universe, there is (is not) a man named Bob.

There exists (does not exist) another universe in which everyone is named Bob.

After the last conscious being dies, all matter in the universe will (will not) spontaneously coalesce into men named Bob.

Bob created the universe last Tuesday in exactly the configuration necessary to look as it does, fake memories and all. (The universe was not created thus.)

Bob has (doesn't have) free will.

Bob is a conscious being. (He is a philosophical zombie.)

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  • Do you think these statements are different in kind from unresolvable statements like "Shakespeare did (did not) write the plays attributed to him" or "There are (are not) exactly N neutron starts in the universe." or "There are exactly N one-celled organisms currently living"? The last two use some N that is in the possible range. Aug 10, 2023 at 6:42
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    On various theories, meanings are compositional or inferential or operational, and ultimately there is nothing beyond "sum of the parts in a particular way with associated feelings" (motivations, implications, "practical bearings") for any statement. So I wonder what sort of "meaning which maps to the intuition of there being something that the statement means as a statement" you think ordinary statements have that these don't? Perhaps, your intuition is close to Carnap's verificationism, but that idea had hard time as a theory of meaning.
    – Conifold
    Aug 10, 2023 at 10:03
  • @Conifold Verificationism and critique of it seems potentially useful, thanks.
    – g s
    Aug 10, 2023 at 15:27
  • @DavidGudeman Yes, I think they're different in kind. The Shakespeare one is at least in principle distinguishable by measurement. The others might be syntactically meaningless (everywhere and now interact messily with to be), but if they aren't, they should also be in principle distinguishable by an arbitrarily long, arbitrarily expensive, arbitrarily sophisticated measurement.
    – g s
    Aug 10, 2023 at 15:33
  • @Conifold Rather than a definition, maybe an example: I have one bucket for statements like "Before the beginning of time, diagonalization preferred round triangles to orange sounds," and one bucket for statements like "Conifold has a cat." By meaningless I mean the kind of characteristic that statements that belong in the first bucket have.
    – g s
    Aug 10, 2023 at 15:46

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Yes, there is one example: they are not really meaningless, but at least, dialectic in the Kantian sense.

Differently to Hegel, Marx, Socrates, Plato, etc., Kantian dialectics are contradictions that have no solution. Your examples resemble the contradictory form of Kant's rational judgements, which are illusory and can be contradictory when logical rules are extrapolated to experience.

See Kant's Antinomies.

See Kantian Dialectic vs Analytic.

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