Every now and then you find something that is, on the one hand, unexpected. The thought of it hadn't occurred to you, neither as a fact found through the memes of popular culture nor as an extrapolation from your current knowledge. On the other hand, the discovery isn't so much a surprise as simply new information that really just fits in with all the rest. My most recent such moment happened at a local used book store, The Frugal Muse, while I was looking for a decent translation of Neitzsche's "On Truth and Lies in the Non-Moral Sense" for an upcoming podcast. Browsing the spines of philosophy tomes that had fallen from other people's shelves, and having truth and meaning on my mind, I picked up a volume of essays titled Meaning and Mental Representations and edited by, among others, Umberto Eco. My limited knowledge of him stems solely from his best-selling work of fiction The Name of the Rosewhich includes a murder that turns on the hunt for the sole copy of the second portion Aristotle's book on poetics concerning comedy. It turns out (likely as no surprise to most PEL listeners) that Eco is also an academic specializing in semiotics. This new-found fact (for me) fit in just fine with my memories of the novel.
In addition to co-editing the collection I stumbled upon, Eco also contributes an essay called "On Truth. A Fiction." which is a wry, delightful story/dialogue in which a Terrestrial comes in contact with an alien civilization called Antipodeans who only speak in terms of the "state of their nerves". The prologue lays out an example conversation with an Antipodean:
Instead of saying It looked like and elephant, but then it struck me that elephants don't occur on this continent, so I realized that it must be a mastodon, they used to say: I had G-412 together with F-11, but then I had S-147.
Following the prologue which sets up the problems of interacting with the brain-state driven Antipodeans, a Terrestrial, Dr. Smith of the Department of Cognitive Sciences of Svalbards University, has a conversation with Charles Sanders Personal, the Antipodean Computer (whose name is abbreviated CSP) since the Antipodean need a place where they actually store propositions, inferences and such. The subsequent conversation begins:
Smith -- Do you understand the sentence every Antipodean has two legs?
CSP -- I can interpret it. I can provide you with analytical paraphrases of it, translations in other languages, equivalent expressions in other sign-systems (I also have a graphics program), examples of other discourses that start from the background assumptions that Antipodeans are two-legged, et cetera. I call all these alternative expressions interpretants. A machine able to furnish inpretants for every expression it receives is an intelligent machine, that is, a machine able to understand expressions.
And so on. I found the whole piece quite delightful, along with the new, if not surprising, discovery that a novelist that I've enjoyed is also a philosopher.
As a complement (fictional or not), you might also enjoy Stanford Encyclopedia's article on mental representation in computational theory of mind.