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Society of Mind

23.4 the meanings of more

Let's return just one time more to all the things that More can mean. Each usage has a different sense — more powerful; more meaningful — and each such meaning must be learned. In other words, each use of More involves a connection with an agent for some adjective. But More must also engage some systematic use of isonomes, since all the different meanings share a certain common character.

When we hear the word more, we become disposed to make comparisons.

This suggests that More engages both an accumulation of different meanings and also some systematic, isonomelike effect. Indeed, More could exploit our time-blinking mechanism, which already uses isonomes to make comparisons. To do that, More would have to activate a memory-control process that blinks whichever pronomes have been assigned to the things to be compared. Then their differences would be computed automatically.

More needs two additional ingredients. We'd never ask, all by itself, Which one is more, an apple or a pear? — because our general- purpose comparison script would generate difference-descriptions in too many agencies. We also need to know which kind of difference is of concern at the moment. So we scarcely ever say more by itself but usually attach some modifier — more red, say, or more expensive. Of course, if our focus of concern is already clear from the context — for example, if it is clear that we want to know whether apples or pears are more expensive — then we need not express this explicitly.

Finally, it is one thing to find a difference, but another to know whether to call it more or less. It may seem self-evident that Taller corresponds to more, and Thinner corresponds to less — yet that is something we once had to learn. This is the other ingredient of More: we need another polyneme to say which sorts of differences should be considered positive. In English we sometimes encode such preferences as choices between pairs of adjectives like large and

small, but we do not have pairs of words for concepts such as triangular or red, presumably because we do not think of them as having natural opposites. Instead, we can use word-pairs like more red and less triangular. We can even modify the words themselves; we often say redder or rounder — but for some reason we never say triangularer.

How does one answer a question like Which is bigger, a large mouse or a small elephant? We can't compare two descriptions until we engage enough knowledge to construct suitable representations of them. One way to compare mouse and elephant would be to envision another entity of intermediate size. A suitcase would be suitable for this, since it could hold the largest mouse but not the smallest elephant. How do you find such standards for comparison? That can take considerable time, during which you have to search your memories for structures that can serve as links for longer chains of comparisons. As life proceeds, each person's concept of More grows more and more elaborate. When it comes to notions like more similar, more interesting, or more difficult, there seems no limit to the complexity of what a word like more can represent.