Iíve been wrestling again, for the umpteenth time, with Kant. Itís a worthy struggle, I think, and I do believe Iím making slow progress over the decades. But this time as I worked my way through his notions of self-awareness and perceiving I substituted reading a book for the usual examples philosophy teachers use of individual minds confronting objects in the surrounding world. That is, how do we know what a text is saying?

Iíve always been sympathetic to Reader Response notions; that, in many ways, a text is only created when it is apprehended Ė filtered, pondered -- by the mind of the reader. Extreme versions of this quickly lead to silliness, with an idiosyncratic mind twisting the text into what it clearly is not. But how do we arrive at a kind of consensus view of textual meaning?

Since I spent the middle decades of my career as a research scientist in cell biology it occurred to me that reading a text is a bit like a scientific experiment conducted on a complex system Ė the human mind. Physicists and other more pure scientists isolate their experimental systems down to the simplest possible to control for variables. Life scientists try to do that as well, but are ultimately stuck with the irreducible complexity of biological systems.

Anyway, think of reading a book as a standard stimulus, analogous to adding a drug or otherwise physically perturbing the complex system Ė in this case our conscious brains. One then measures the results Ė in this case readersí perceptions of what the text means. More readers will increase the accuracy, and probable ďtrue meaning,Ē of the text. Statistically speaking, the confidence interval, the size of the error bars around the hypothetical true meaning, will nearly always narrow, and the probability of the true meaning being that value gets better and better, although it never will be identical. So outlier readings are still allowed.

Even if you're a person who rejects the whole notion of "true meaning," I suppose all this is a fancy way of saying that if 1,000 persons say a book stinks, itís far more likely truly to stink than if 10 people say it. But Iím fond of Theory.