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Meta (from the
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
μετά, ''
meta Meta (from the Ancient Greek, Greek μετά, ''wikt:meta-, meta'', meaning "after" or "beyond") is a prefix meaning "more comprehensive" or "transcending". In modern nomenclature, ''meta''- can also serve as a prefix meaning self-referential, a ...
'', meaning "after" or "beyond") is a prefix meaning "more comprehensive" or "transcending". In modern nomenclature, ''meta''- can also serve as a prefix meaning self-referential, as a field of study or endeavor (
metatheory A metatheory or meta-theory is a theory A theory is a rational type of abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with such processes as obse ...
: theory about a theory, metamathematics: mathematical theories about mathematics, meta-axiomatics or meta-axiomaticity: axioms about axiomatic systems, metahumor: joking about the ways humor is expressed, etc.).


Original Greek meaning

In
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
, the prefix ''meta-'' is generally less esoteric than in
English
English
; Greek ''meta-'' is equivalent to the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
words ''post-'' or ''ad-''. The use of the prefix in this sense occurs occasionally in
scientific English
scientific English
terms derived from
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
. For example: the term ''
Metatheria Metatheria is a mammalian clade that includes all mammals more closely related to marsupials than to placentals. First proposed by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1880, it is a more inclusive group than the marsupials; it contains all marsupials as well ...
'' (the name for the
clade A clade (), also known as a monophyletic group or natural group, is a group of organisms that are monophyly, monophyletic – that is, composed of a common ancestor and all its lineage (evolution), lineal descendants – on a phylogenetic tree. ...

clade
of
marsupial Marsupials are any members of the mammalian infraclass Marsupialia. All extant marsupials are endemic to Australasia, Wallacea and the Americas. A distinctive characteristic common to most of these species is that the young are carried in a pou ...
mammals Mammals () are a group of vertebrate animals constituting the class (biology), class Mammalia (), characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in Female#Mammalian female, females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a ...
) uses the prefix ''meta-'' in the sense that the ''
Metatheria Metatheria is a mammalian clade that includes all mammals more closely related to marsupials than to placentals. First proposed by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1880, it is a more inclusive group than the marsupials; it contains all marsupials as well ...
'' occur on the tree of life adjacent to the ''
Theria Theria (; Greek language, Greek: , wild beast) is a Scientific classification, subclass of Mammal, mammals amongst the Theriiformes. Theria includes the Eutheria, eutherians (including the Placentalia, placental mammals) and the Metatheria, me ...
'' (the placental mammals).


Epistemology

In
epistemology Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Epis ...

epistemology
, and often in common use, the prefix ''meta-'' is used to mean ''about (its own category)''. For example,
metadata Metadata is "data that provides information about other data", but not the content of the data, such as the text of a message or the image itself. There are many distinct types of metadata, including: * Descriptive metadata – the descriptive ...

metadata
are data about data (who has produced them, when, what format the data are in and so on). In a database, metadata are also data about data stored in a data dictionary and describe information (data) about database tables such as the table name, table owner, details about columns, etc. – essentially describing the table. In psychology, metamemory refers to an individual's
knowledge Knowledge can be defined as Descriptive knowledge, awareness of facts or as Procedural knowledge, practical skills, and may also refer to Knowledge by acquaintance, familiarity with objects or situations. Knowledge of facts, also called pro ...
about whether or not they would remember something if they concentrated on recalling it. The modern sense of "an X about X" has given rise to concepts like "
meta-cognition Metacognition is an awareness of one's thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them. The term comes from the root word ''meta'', meaning "beyond", or "on top of".Metcalfe, J., & Shimamura, A. P. (1994). ''Metacognition: knowin ...
" (cognition about cognition), " meta-emotion" (emotion about emotion), " meta-discussion" (discussion about discussion), " meta-joke" (joke about jokes) and "
metaprogramming Metaprogramming is a programming technique in which computer programs have the ability to treat other programs as their data. It means that a program can be designed to read, generate, analyze or transform other programs, and even modify itself ...
" (writing programs that write programs). In a
rule-based system In computer science, a rule-based system is used to store and manipulate knowledge to interpret information in a useful way. It is often used in artificial intelligence applications and research. Normally, the term ''rule-based system'' is appli ...
, a
metarule Meta (from the Ancient Greek, Greek μετά, ''wikt:meta-, meta'', meaning "after" or "beyond") is a prefix meaning "more comprehensive" or "transcending". In modern nomenclature, ''meta''- can also serve as a prefix meaning self-referential, a ...
is a rule governing the application of other rules. "Metagaming" accordingly, means games about games. However, it has a different meaning depending on the type of game. In role-playing games, this means that someone with a higher level of knowledge is playing, i.e. that the player incorporates factors that are outside the actual framework of the game. The player has knowledge that was not acquired through the play and experience in the game, but was obtained from external sources. This type of metagaming is often frowned upon in many role-playing game communities because it impairs game balance and equality of opportunity. Metagaming can also refer to a game that is used to create or change the rules while playing a game. One can play this kind of metagame and choose which rules apply during the game itself. Therefore one has the possibility, among other things, to adjust or increase the level of difficulty. Such metagame include campaign role-playing games like
Halo 3 ''Halo 3'' is a 2007 first-person shooter video game developed by Bungie for the Xbox 360 console. The third installment in the Halo (series), ''Halo'' franchise, the game concludes the story arc begun in 2001's ''Halo: Combat Evolved'' and c ...
. Complex card or board games, e.g.
poker Poker is a family of comparing card games in which players wager over which hand is best according to that specific game's rules. It is played worldwide, however in some places the rules may vary. While the earliest known form of the game ...

poker
or
chess Chess is a board game between two Player (game), players. It is sometimes called international chess or Western chess to distinguish it from chess variant, related games, such as xiangqi (Chinese chess) and shogi (Japanese chess). The current ...

chess
, are also referred to as metagames.  According to Nigel Howard, this kind of metagame is defined as a decision-making process that is derived from the analysis of possible outcomes in relation to external variables that change a problem.


Abstraction and self-reference

Any subject can be said to have a ''
metatheory A metatheory or meta-theory is a theory A theory is a rational type of abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with such processes as obse ...
'', a theoretical consideration of its properties – such as its foundations,
method Method ( grc, μέθοδος, methodos) literally means a pursuit of knowledge, investigation, mode of prosecuting such inquiry, or system. In recent centuries it more often means a prescribed process for completing a task. It may refer to: *Scien ...
s, form, and
utility As a topic of economics Economics () is the social science that studies the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods and services. Economics focuses ...

utility
– on a higher level of abstraction. In linguistics, a grammar is considered as being expressed in a
metalanguage In logic and linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly it ...
: language operating on a higher level to describe properties of the plain language (and not itself).


Etymology

The prefix comes from the
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
preposition Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in traditional grammar, simply prepositions), are a part of speech, class of words used to express spatial or temporal relations (''in'', ''under'', ''towards'', ''before'') ...
and
prefix A prefix is an affix which is placed before the Word stem, stem of a word. Adding it to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. For example, when the prefix ''un-'' is added to the word ''happy'', it creates the word ''unhappy'' ...
''meta-'' (μετα-), from μετά, which meant "after", "beside", "with", "among" Other meanings include "beyond", "adjacent" and "self", and it is also used in the forms μετ- before vowels and μεθ- "meth-" before aspirated vowels. The earliest form of the word "meta" is the
Mycenaean Greek Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient attested form of the Greek language, on the Greek mainland and Crete in Mycenaean Greece (16th to 12th centuries BC), before the hypothesised Dorian invasion, often cited as the ''terminus post quem, terminus ...
''me-ta'', written in
Linear B Linear B was a syllabary, syllabic script used for writing in Mycenaean Greek, the earliest Attested language, attested form of Greek language, Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest Mycenaean writing ...
syllabic script. The Greek preposition is
cognate In historical linguistics, cognates or lexical cognates are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. Because language change can have radical ...
with the
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
preposition ''mid'' "with", still found as a prefix in ''midwife''. Its use in English is the result of
back-formation In etymology, back-formation is the process or result of creating a neologism, new word via inflection, typically by removing or substituting actual or supposed affixes from a lexical item, in a way that expands the number of lexemes associated w ...
from the word "metaphysics". In origin ''
Metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of conscio ...
'' was just the title of one of the principal works of
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatet ...

Aristotle
; it was so named (by Andronicus of Rhodes) because in the customary ordering of the works of Aristotle it was the book following ''
Physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical science is that depar ...
''; it thus meant nothing more than " he book that comesafter he book entitled''Physics''". However, even Latin writers misinterpreted this as entailing metaphysics constituted "the science of what is beyond the physical". Nonetheless, Aristotle's ''Metaphysics'' enunciates considerations of natures above physical realities, which one can examine through this particular part of philosophy – for example, the existence of God. The use of the prefix was later extended to other contexts, based on the understanding of metaphysics as meaning "the science of what is beyond the physical".


Early use in English

The ''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a com ...
'' cites uses of the ''meta-'' prefix as "beyond, about" (such as meta-economics and meta-philosophy) going back to 1917. However, these formations are parallel to the original "metaphysics" and "metaphysical", that is, as a prefix to general nouns (fields of study) or adjectives. Going by the ''OED'' citations, it began being used with specific nouns in connection with mathematical logic sometime before 1929. (In 1920
David Hilbert David Hilbert (; ; 23 January 1862 – 14 February 1943) was a German mathematician, one of the most influential mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilbert discovered and developed a broad range of fundamental ideas in many a ...
proposed a research project in what was called " metamathematics.") A notable early citation is W. V. O. Quine's 1937 use of the word "metatheorem", where meta- has the modern meaning of "an X about X".
Douglas Hofstadter Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945) is an American scholar of cognitive science, physics, and comparative literature whose research includes concepts such as the sense of self in relation to the external world, consciousness, ...
, in his 1979 book '' Gödel, Escher, Bach'' (and in the 1985 sequel, '' Metamagical Themas''), popularized this meaning of the term. The book, which deals with
self-reference Self-reference occurs in natural or formal language In logic, mathematics, computer science, and linguistics, a formal language consists of string (computer science), words whose symbol (formal), letters are taken from an alphabet (formal ...
and
strange loop A strange loop is a cyclic structure that goes through several levels in a hierarchical A hierarchy (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) that ar ...
s, and touches on Quine and his work, was influential in many computer-related subcultures and may be responsible for the popularity of the prefix, for its use as a solo term, and for the many recent coinages which use it. Hofstadter uses meta as a stand-alone word, as an adjective and as a directional preposition ("going meta," a term he coins for the old rhetorical trick of taking a debate or analysis to another level of abstraction, as when somebody says "This debate isn't going anywhere"). This book may also be responsible for the association of "meta" with strange loops, as opposed to just abstraction. According to Hofstadter, it is about
self-reference Self-reference occurs in natural or formal language In logic, mathematics, computer science, and linguistics, a formal language consists of string (computer science), words whose symbol (formal), letters are taken from an alphabet (formal ...
, which means a sentence, idea or formula refers to itself. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes it as "showing or suggesting an explicit awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category: cleverly self-referential". The sentence "This sentence contains thirty-six letters," and the sentence which embeds it, are examples of "metasentences" referencing themselves in this way. As maintained in the book, Gödel, Escher, Bach a strange loop is given if different logical statements or theories are put together in contradiction and thus distorted in meaning and generate logical paradoxes. One example is the
liar paradox
liar paradox
. A liar's paradox is a paradox in philosophy or logic that arises when a sentence claims its own falsehood (or untruth), for instance: "This sentence is not true." Until the beginning of the 20th century, this kind of paradoxes were a considerable problem for a philosophical theory of truth.
Alfred Tarski Alfred Tarski (, born Alfred Teitelbaum;School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews ''School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews''. January 14, 1901 – October 26, 1983) was a Polish-American logician a ...
solved this difficulty by proving that such paradoxes do not exist with a consistent separation of object language and metalanguage. "For every formalized language, a formally correct and factually applicable definition of the true statement can be constructed in the metalanguage with the sole help of expressions of a general-logical character, expressions of the language itself and of terms from the morphology of the language, but on the condition that the metalanguage is of a higher order than the language that is the subject of the investigation."Alfred Tarski: ''Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen'', in: Studia Philosophica emberg1 (1936), S. 261–40
pdf
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Metagaming


See also

* *
Fourth wall The fourth wall is a performance dramatic convention, convention in which an invisible, imaginary wall separates actors from the audience. While the audience can see through this ''wall'', the convention assumes the actors act as if they canno ...
* Metaverse


References


External links


List of ancient Greek words starting with ''meta-''
on Perseus {{Meta-prefix Abstraction Concepts in epistemology Philosophical methodology Prefixes