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In epistemology the prefix meta- is used to mean about. It is derived from the Ancient Greek meta, which is a preposition and prefix having several meanings. One of those, meta as preposition taking the genitive case, translates as the English with; but there are others, and the verb prefix meta- in Greek, seen in metamorphosis, connotes change.

The current English usage is accidental, deriving from the classification of Aristotle's works to include the category of metaphysics. This was not initially more than extras left over from the physics category.

For example, metadata is data about data (who has produced it, when, what format the data is in and so on). Similarly, meta-memory in psychology means an individual's intuition about whether or not she would remember something if she concentrated on recalling it. Any subject can be said to have a meta-theory, which is the theoretical consideration of its foundations and methods. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta- [Dec 2004]


The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value. --American Heritage Dictionary

Etymological evolution of meta-

And so to Aristotle. Some 250 years after his death, Aristotle's manuscripts came into the hands of Andronicus of Rhodes, who edited them. Andronicus called one set of papers The Physics ( ), dealing as they did with natural science. Then he published a set of papers that he called The Metaphysics ( ), simply because it came after The Physics. However, because The Metaphysics dealt with what Aristotle called "primary philosophy," or ontology, metaphysics came to be misunderstood as "the science of that which transcends the physical."

As a result, the prefix meta- was then used to designate any higher science (actual or hypothetical) that dealt with more fundamental problems than the original science itself. This use first appeared in the early 17th century (John Donne, for example, writes about metatheology) but did not become really popular until the middle of the 19th century. Examples include metaethics (the study of the foundations of ethics, especially the nature of ethical statements) and metahistory (an inquiry into the principles that govern historical events).

Then, from about 1940, it became commonplace to prefix meta- to designate concern with basic principles. A metacriterion is a criterion that defines criteria. A metatheorem is a theorem about theorems. A metalanguage is a language that supplies terms for analysing a language; a metametalanguage does the same for a metalanguage. And Jean Tinguely described his machine-like sculptures as "metamechanical." (But a metaphysician is not a doctor's doctor.)

In these poststructuralist times we recognise many metaforms. Mantissa, a medical novel by John Fowles, is metafiction; Francois Truffaut's film La Nuit Amercaine is metacinema; several paintings by Magritte, notably La Condition Humaine, are meta-art; and John Cage's piano piece 4'33" is metamusic. --Jeff Aronson via http://www.imb-jena.de/jcb/bayat.pdf [Dec 2004]


One of my early nicks, someone registered it June 2004.


In Search of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality () - John Gribbin
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Gribbin opens with the subjects that most physics professors have just started to examine at the end of the semester: The mysterious character of light, the valence concept in Nils Bohr's atomic model, radioactive decay, and the physics of life-defining DNA all get clear, comprehensive, and witty coverage. This book reveals the beauty and mystery that underlies everything in the universe.
Does this book claim to explain quantum physics without math? No. Math is too central to physics to be bypassed. But if you can do basic algebra, you can understand the equations in In Search of Schrödinger's Cat. Gribbin is the physics teacher everyone should have in high school or college: kind without being a pushover, knowledgeable without being condescending, and clearly expressive without being boring. Gribbin's book belongs on the shelf of every pre-calculus student. It also deserves a place in the library of everyone who was scared away from advanced physics prematurely.

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