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This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·9 (the reverse side of Chapter 9·) of Turning Signs, as of 2 September 2021. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere.
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… we perceive what we are adjusted for interpreting …— Peirce, EP2:229, CP 5.185
Perception is an act of imagination based upon the available information.— Frank H. Durgin (2002, 88)
The neural patterns and the corresponding mental images of the objects and events outside the brain are creations of the brain related to the reality that prompts their creation rather than passive mirror images reflecting that reality.— Damasio (2003, 198-9)
The world appears to us to contain objects and events. This way of looking at the world is so basic as to seem to be a consequence of the way the individual human central nervous system develops in its very early stages. Yet our stimulus world is not partitioned in this way, and certainly not uniquely partitioned in this way.— Mark Turner (1991, 60)
The simple fact is that no measurement, no experiment or observation is possible without a relevant theoretical framework.[next]— D.S. Kothari, cited in Prigogine and Stengers 1984, 293
You can't depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.[next]— Mark Twain
What if there were no hypothetical situations?[next]— gnox
The true insight in regard to the imagination— an insight that Kant and Schiller glimpse, an insight that Peirce begins to develop, an insight that Tucker unpacks to an impressive degree— is that the imagination is to be associated with a cognitive process laden with feeling and meaning. It is a process that at once reflects an activity and a genuine receptivity. This active receptivity develops over time in order to bring about a harmonious relation between a particular organism and the world. The process of the imagination is one that cannot be described exhaustively or determinately. It is embodied and develops spontaneously but, at the same time, is constrained and guided by past developments. It is a process that provides an effective bridge or interface between an organism, its embodied history, and novel environmental conditions. It is a process that “handles” the new possibilities that the world affords.[next]These points come to light in the details of Tucker’s account. Depending on environmental circumstances, the neural traffic flows predominantly in one of two directions. Tucker explains that when memory or habit dominates a situation, the activation pattern radiates from the limbic system toward the sensory modalities. When novel sensations occur, however, the activation patterns reverse, proceeding from the somatic-sensory shell toward the visceral core, where it acquires meaning and associations. This is a temporal process in which new environmental stimulation continually affects, adjusts, and renews the structured activation patterns that form the physiological basis of human habit and conceptualization. Tucker develops an interesting metaphor when he writes, “it is like the mind breathes. In then out— weaving a confluence of distributed representations, weaving visceral meaning with external reality.” This process of weaving generates new patterns by returning to the latent patterns in our neural architecture and re-turning these patterns in novel ways.— Kaag 2014, Kindle Locations 3268-3282; quote near the end is from p. 166 of Tucker, Mind from Body: Neural Structures of Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Bernard Baars uses the term imagery in reference to ‘internal’ images:
In this book we use the word ‘imagery’ very broadly, to mean all of those quasi-perceptual conscious experiences we can have in the absence of an external stimulus.These ‘experiences’ (we might call them ‘inner objects’) are ‘quasi-perceptual’ in that they typically resemble the objects of sense experience, but without the vivid quality which those objects have for us. (When they are as vivid as an external object would be, but we know by other means that there's no such object out there, we call them hallucinations or ‘visions.’) Some inner objects are imagined, some are remembered, some are ‘felt senses,’ some are logical possibilities. The ‘imagery’ representing these objects tends to be ‘quasi-perceptual’ due to the innate (or, if you prefer, developmental) bias of a brain which has evolved to guide a body through interactions with an environment external to it. We need the senses to deal with that world, so we can hardly help drawing upon them to shape or inform the experience of our inner being, or our interbeing, and the way we communicate such experience to others.— Baars (1997, 174)
When we use language to communicate, we do our best to choose terms whose reference is determined by prior consensus. The connection between a word like ‘door’ and a type of sense experience is made very early in language development and is confirmed so frequently in social interaction that it becomes automatic in every child's formative years. Consequently when we try to communicate experiences which cannot be pointed to (in the way we can point to an object in the visual field), we naturally draw upon the consensual language connected with our common grounding in sense experience. This motivates the way we direct attention, and therefore the way we frame and make sense of ‘inner’ experiences – including our ‘insights’ into the real relations between things. It takes imagination to develop a consensus on the form reality takes. [next]
The trick of reason is to get the imagination to seize the actual world— if only from time to time.— Annie Dillard (2009, 143)
What is usually called ‘circular reasoning’ is actually a short circuit: the process is confined inside the model and makes no contact with the world. There is no ‘load’ on the system; it's a case of information underload. [next]
The explanatory power of a model consists in discovering that a system whose workings are puzzling has the same structure as one whose workings are well understood. So far forth, models explain the same way metaphors do. More strongly still, explanation by model is explanation by metaphor, since explanation by models works by a process of ‘seeing as.’Distinguishing between ‘metaphoric’ and ‘literal’ statements is not always easy; consider for instance the great debate of 1829-30 between the biologists Geoffroy and Cuvier over whether ‘branchings’ in the taxonomic tree of life were analogies or homologies (Depew and Weber 1995, 48). [next]— Depew and Weber (1995, 29)
Rosen (2000) refers to ‘the intrinsic models which biological systems generate and utilize to modify their own behavior’ (249). ‘The existence of such internal models of self and/or environment is one of the essential differences between biological systems and nonbiological ones’ (253).
In biological terms we can think of the genotype as a model, the phenotype as its implementation or realization. But the internal model of an organism is of a wholly different kind: it is a set of potential actions, modifications of the single stream of intent which is the agency of the organism.
The whole field of biology is itself only a small corner of the world as we know it. At the same time, our conscious life is only a small part of the vast range of biological phenomena, which in turn is only a part of the physical universe. The point here is that the scientific (third-person) description of life on the one hand, and the (first-person) utterance or testimony of lived experience on the other, are complementary, not contradictory. The apparent contradictions or paradoxes arise from the linguistic circumstance that mental spaces can mutually contain one another, something that physical spaces cannot do. Trying to picture this is like trying to blow a glass Klein bottle. [next]
(1a) The criterial mark of all life is semiosis; andAccording to Loewenstein (1999, 33), life began with ‘an information loop where the product promoted its own production,’ which led to a ‘circus’ of loops within loops and a segregation between the information-conserving realm of DNA and the actively-informing realm of RNA, proteins and so on; ‘the ultimate source of all biological information, we have seen, is the cosmos; the flows between the realms go in circles’ (Loewenstein 1999, 115, with diagram on 116).
(1b) Semiosis presupposes life.— Sebeok (2001b, 10)
DNA ‘conserves’ information in the sense that it normally replicates itself without being structurally affected by its environment. Gene expression, however, is a bidirectional process. ‘Genes express themselves appropriately only in responding to internally and externally generated stimulation’ (Gottlieb, in Oyama, Griffiths and Gray 2001, 47). For a typical organism, says Gottlieb, we can distinguish (by scale) four levels of stimulus generation: genetic activity, neural activity, behavior, and environment. Activity at each level directly affects, and is affected by, the adjacent levels (see Gottlieb's diagram, p. 50).
What really matters is the complex reciprocal dance in which the brain tailors its activity to a technological and sociocultural environment, which—in concert with other brains—it simultaneously alters and amends. Human intelligence owes just about everything to this looping process of mutual accommodation.— Clark (2003, 87)
Within the self-world or system/environment loop is the brain-body loop, and within that, other loops:
The proprioceptive and interoceptive loops are closed outside the brain but inside the body. The preafferent loops are within the brain, updating the sensory cortices to expect the consequences of incipient actions.These provide a preconscious form of anticipation which works faster than sensorimotor loops. The nervous system guides its body by implicitly comparing these expectations with the real consequences of action as they are sensed. In dreaming, the sensing of external reality is cut off from this loop, so the sensation of (for instance) flying is experienced as actual (Hobson 2002, 27-8). When reality checks are temporarily left out of the loop, fantasy and discovery alike find their way into the cultural universe, for some newly imagined forms later turn out to inform the external world. [next]— diagram in Freeman 2000, 222 (see also Clark 2003, 106)
even in bacteria, theories and hypotheses come before the signals, the ‘sensations.’ I need hardly stress that, especially in science, hypotheses come before what some scientists still call the ‘data’; misleadingly, because they are not given to us, but actively (and sometimes at great peril) sought and acquired by us.— Popper (1990, 48)
‘Perception,’ it has been recently said, ‘may be regarded as primarily the modification of an anticipation.’ It is always an active process, conditioned by our expectations and adapted to situations. Instead of talking of seeing and knowing, we might do a little better to talk of seeing and noticing. We notice only when we look for something, and we look when our attention is aroused by some disequilibrium, a difference between our expectation and the incoming message.— Gombrich (2002, 148)
The systematic testing of our hypotheses against experience is what we call science, aiming at a more reliable “map of the world” or set of expectations. But we don't really want our world to be too predictable. When the results of any activity are exactly what we expect, we lose interest. That's because our basic method of learning and navigating the world is trial and error, and trial without error is neither fun nor profitable. We all sense that behind the cocoon of our virtual world, and beyond the reach of present experience, lies the ultimate reality of the unknown. Now and then a bit of this vast unknown rises above my horizon, or maybe even crosses the border into the intimate realm of experience. Then my little world grows a little – and life is worth living.
Where there's no surprise, there's no learning. Confront a confabulator or anosognosiac with a reality which contradicts his belief, and he will typically ‘admit it for a moment with no sign of surprise’ – and will revert in the next moment to his original belief or story (Hirstein 2005, 125). [next]
The crucial difference between an organism and a machine, according to Rosen, is that any ‘machine’ has a largest model that can completely describe it, while a living system does not. This is a mathematical expression of the idea that an organism is constantly reinventing itself, and indeed is doing this by modifying its own internal models. Any external model would therefore have to leave room for that creativity by representing its own incompleteness. This could be taken as the point of Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature (see Chapter 10 and 11).
The same idea applies to what Peirce called ‘the necessary imperfection of a sign,’ its inability to explain how it means what it means. It would take at least a proposition to explain that, and the explaining proposition would have to take as its object the sign being explained; but
The sign is never the very object itself. It is, therefore a sign of its object only in some aspect, in some respect. Thus, a sign is something which brings another sign into objective relation to that sign which it represents itself, and brings it into that relation in some measure in the same respect or aspect in which it is itself a sign of the same sign. If we attempt to say what respect or aspect it is in which a sign is a sign of its object, that respect or aspect must then appear itself as a sign. Its own full aspect, the sign cannot evoke or endeavor to evoke. It is only some aspect of that aspect that it can aim to reproduce. Here again there will be an endless series. But this aspect is only a character of the necessary imperfection of a sign. A sign is something which in some measure and in some respect makes its interpretant the sign of that of which it is itself the sign. It is like a mean function in mathematics. We call φx,y a mean function of x and y, if it is such a function that when x and y are the same, it is itself that same. So a sign which merely represents itself to itself is nothing else but that thing itself. The two infinite series, the one back toward the object, the other forward toward the interpretant, in this case collapse into an immediate present. The type of a sign is memory, which takes up the deliverance of past memory and delivers a portion of it to future memory.This paragraph explains the sentence which immediately preceded it in Peirce's manuscript: ‘The immediate object which any sign seeks to represent is itself a sign.’ This was written before Peirce made the explicit distinction between the dynamic and the immediate object (1904), saying that the immediate object was internal to the sign and the dynamic external. The earlier passage above, with its references to ‘signs of signs,’ places more emphasis on the continuity of semiosis as a process. [next]— MS 599 (1902)
Firstness is that which is such as it is positively and regardless of anything else.‘Bringing about a secondness’ is equivalent to ‘consisting in the fact that future facts of Secondness will take on a determinate general character’ (CP 1.26). The ‘something’ or subject in the mode of being called Secondness is as it is in being Second to something else, an Other – and a significant Other when Thirdness brings about that secondness, determining its character. In our gnoxic diagram, W exists as such by virtue of its Secondness to the system or subject to whom it is external; and this Secondness or reactivity is mutual. On the other side of the diagram, M is a ‘model’ by virtue of its dyadic relation to W, a secondness ‘brought about’ by semiosis, the process represented by the arrows in the diagram. But within that process, M can be regarded as a sign which, in its Thirdness or mediation between the subject and its world, brings them into actual relation with each other by directing the actions and attention of the subject (upper arrow), while also being an interpretant of a perceptual sign-complex.
Secondness is that which is as it is in a second something's being as it is, regardless of any third.
Thirdness is that whose being consists in its bringing about a secondness.EP2:267
The lower arrow in our diagram represents the action of a ‘natural sign’ in bringing about a subject's experience of that other subject which is the object of that sign; the Secondness is the experiential relation or ‘reaction’ between those two subjects. The upper arrow represents the action of an intentionally ‘uttered sign’ (Peirce, CP 8.348, EP2:484), or an act of communication directed from one subject (the utterer) to another (the interpreter), which brings about in the latter subject the embodiment of a Form which was already embodied in the former. This ‘embodiment’ or alteration of bodymind is a Secondness brought about by the sign.
Another way of reading the diagram would see the lower arrow as representing the compulsiveness of W's effect on M in perception, while the upper arrow represents the effect of actual practice on W. Each of these is a Secondness brought about by the function of the guidance system (the modeling relation, the meaning cycle) which governs both ception and practice. In ception, ‘the third is thought in its role as governing Secondness. It brings the information into the mind, or determines the idea and gives it body. It is informing thought, or cognition’ (CP 1.537). In practice, the Thirdness is that of ‘a habit, which determines the suchness of that which may come into existence, when it does come into existence’ (Peirce, EP2:269). This is also the way laws of nature govern what happens in nature – which brings us round to W again.
The Thirdness of a sign determines what kind of relation, or ‘correspondence,’ two things will have:
I define a sign as something, A, which brings something, B, its interpretant, into the same sort of correspondence with something, C, its object, as that in which itself stands to C.Here B and C are the two things brought into relation by the mediating function of A, the sign. But this ‘bringing into correspondence’ is also a continuous process in which A, B and C are all signs. Within this process, the ‘immediate object which any sign seeks to represent is itself a sign,’ and so is its interpretant; we can analyze the process ad infinitum, giving us ‘two infinite series, the one back toward the object, the other forward toward the interpretant’ (see above). At the limits of these infinite series stand the dynamic object and the final interpretant. Within any instance (or moment) of semiosis, the object and interpretant are immediate. [next]— Peirce, MS L75.235 (1902)
By Phaneroscopy I mean the study of whatever consciousness puts into one's Immediate and Complete possession, or in other words, the study of whatever one becomes directly aware of in itself. For such Direct objects of Consciousness I venture to coin the term “Prebits.” Some may think this word would idly cumber the dictionary in the unlikely contingency of its ever coming into use. They will regard it as a superfluous synonym of “appearances,” or “phenomena,” “data,” etc., etc. I admit that “datum” might do. But then many other things are called “data”; as for the word “phenomenon,” I think that is better reserved to express those more special meanings to which it is usually restricted; as, for example, to denote any fact that consists in the uniformity with which something peculiar and perceptible to the senses (without or with instrumental aid) will result from the fulfillment of certain definite conditions, especially if it can be repeated indefinitely. Thus, the fact that small bits of paper or anything else that is light enough will be attracted to a rod of shellac, glass, vulcanite, etc. provided this has just before been briskly rubbed upon a soft surface of suitable material with a harder backing is one single phenomenon, while the fact that a rod of steel or of one of a few other substances will attract small filings or other bits of iron, as magnetite, etc. is a different single phenomenon. By a “Prebit” I do not mean anything of that nature, but a single Object of immediate consciousness, though usually indefinitely denoted. As for the word “Appearance,” it would be stretched in an inconvenient and quite unexpected way if it would be applied to some of the objects I call Prebits. Before he has read many pages the Reader will come upon an example that will bring the truth of this home to him. In the above Definition of “Prebit,” the adjective “Immediate” is not to be understood in a Properly Psychological sense, as if it were intended to exclude the case of my becoming aware of a Prebit in consequence of becoming aware of another thing, whether Prebit or not; but what I do mean is that once I do become aware of the Prebit, I am aware not merely before of a Sign Substitute for it, or any sort of proxy, vicar, attorney, succedaneum, dummy, or representative of it, but am put facie ad faciem before the very Prebit itself.[next]MS 645
Where perception of objects is concerned, Edelman likes to say, the world is not “labeled”; it does not come “already parsed into objects.” We must make our perceptions through our own categorizations. “Every perception is an act of creation,” as Edelman says. As we move about, our sense organs take samplings of the world, and from these, maps are created in the brain. There then occurs with experience a selective strengthening of those mappings that correspond to successful perceptions— successful in that they prove the most useful and powerful for the building of “reality.”[next]Edelman speaks here of a further, integrative activity peculiar to more complex nervous systems; this he calls “reentrant signaling.” In his terms, the perception of a chair, for example, depends first on the synchronization of activated neuronal groups to form a “map,” then a further synchronization of a number of scattered mappings throughout the visual cortex— mappings relating to many different perceptual aspects of the chair (its size, its shape, its color, its “leggedness,” its relation to other sorts of chairs— armchairs, rocking chairs, baby chairs, etc.). In this way, a rich and flexible percept of “chairhood” is achieved, which allows the instant recognition of innumerable sorts of chairs as chairs. This perceptual generalization is dynamic, so it can be continually updated, and it depends on the active and incessant orchestration of countless details.Sacks 2015 (Kindle Locations 5028-5039)
[next]During perceptual experience, association areas in the brain capture bottom-up patterns of activation in sensory-motor areas. Later, in a top-down manner, association areas partially reactivate sensory-motor areas to implement perceptual symbols. The storage and reactivation of perceptual symbols operates at the level of perceptual components – not at the level of holistic perceptual experiences. Through the use of selective attention, schematic representations of perceptual components are extracted from experience and stored in memory (e.g., individual memories of green, purr, hot). As memories of the same component become organized around a common frame, they implement a simulator that produces limitless simulations of the component (e.g., simulations of purr). Not only do such simulators develop for aspects of sensory experience, they also develop for aspects of proprioception (e.g., lift, run) and for introspection (e.g., compare, memory, happy, hungry).The idea behind Barsalou’s ‘simulators’ and ‘simulations’ here is that the brain, having learned from perceptual and/or proprioceptive experiences, is able to recreate or rehearse versions of those experiences in the absence of the original perceptual or proprioceptive stimulus. In emphasizing the perceptual basis of conceptual systems, Barsalou does not dissolve the distinction between perception and cognition. Perceptual symbols are the permanent cognitive traces (in the form of activation potentials) of fleeting perceptual experiences. Barsalou emphasizes the continuity between non-human and human conceptual representational systems, implicitly granting (and I agree) that non-human animals have conceptual systems. It is known that many animals have attention and both working and long-term memory, and it seems likely that they can apply these to the formation of Barsalovian perceptual symbols to ‘produce useful inferences about what is likely to occur at a given place and time, and about what actions will be effective’ (Barsalou 1999, pp. 606–607).(Barsalou 1999, p. 577)— James R. Hurford (2007, 55-6)
‘Language, strictly speaking, is identified with a certain way of modeling the world in cognition’ (Deely 2001, 5). While ‘every animal formulates its own model of the world,’ language is unique to humans, enabling them to distinguish between things and objects and thus to become aware of semiosis (Deely 2001, 11). Once established as a primary means of human modeling, language was ‘exapted’ to (i.e. applied for purposes of) communication, which (like modeling) is something all animals do. ‘Exaptation’ is a term used by S.J. Gould to indicate that some feature of a system which evolved because it served some useful purpose turns out, in some new circumstance, to be useful for some other purpose.
However, if language evolved, it seems highly implausible that it evolved independently of communication before being ‘exapted to’ it. I've seen no evidence that human children learn to use language without communicating; why then would we think that human language and modeling evolved separately from communication, instead of co-evolving like everything else in human nature? Perhaps Sebeok believed, like the early Chomsky, that language did not evolve at all, but suddenly appeared like a random genetic mutation – a break in the continuity of evolution (and Deely followed in this belief). But to me it seems a very strange doctrine. [next]
How do I know that I have found that which I was looking for? (That what I expected has occurred, etc.)Here the relationship between expectation and event (other than its otherness or Secondness) is a kind of dialogue rather than a comparison. The correspondence between a sign and its object can only be ‘coded,’ i.e. represented by another (interpretant) sign which mediates between the two by triadic action. [next]
I cannot confront the previous expectation with what happens.
The event that replaces the expectation, is a reply to it.— Wittgenstein (1930, III.28)
… once it has achieved the status of a paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place. No process yet disclosed by the historical study of scientific development at all resembles the methodological stereotype of falsification by direct comparison with nature.… The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another, and the judgment leading to that decision involves the comparison of both paradigms with nature and with each other.A paradigm or theory can be ‘compared with nature’ only in the sense that the success of its applications can be repeatedly assessed by inductive reasoning based on many observations. Such a ‘comparison’ is indirect, while the comparison of paradigms with each other can be made directly when they are represented iconically.— Kuhn (1969, 77)
Likewise, on the individual level, we cannot compare the memory of an event with the event's occurrence in real time.
… memory is a system property reflecting the effects of context and the associations of the various degenerate circuits capable of yielding a similar output. Thus, each event of memory is dynamic and context-sensitive—it yields a repetition of a mental or physical act that is similar but not identical to previous acts. It is recategorical: it does not replicate an original experience exactly. There is no reason to assume that such a memory is representational in the sense that it stores a static registered code for some act. Instead, it is more fruitfully looked on as a property of degenerate nonlinear interactions in a multidimensional network of neuronal groups. Such interactions allow a non-identical ‘reliving’ of a set of prior acts and events, yet there is often the illusion that one is recalling an event exactly as it happened.— Edelman (2004, 52)
But such a memory is representational in the semiotic sense; it is even a paradigm of semiosis, as Peirce said: ‘The type of a sign is memory, which takes up the deliverance of past memory and delivers a portion of it to future memory.’ [next]
A figure of speech which designates something by the name of something associated with it: the Crown substituting for monarchy, the stage for the theatre, the bottle for alcoholic drink, … the White House for the US President. A word used metonymically (crown or bottle, as above) is a metonym. Metonymy is closely related to and sometimes hard to distinguish from metaphor. It has sometimes been seen as a kind of synechdoche and sometimes as containing synechdoche.Synechdoche is a figure of speech described as ‘part for the whole,’ or sometimes ‘whole for the part’ (as when ‘France’ is said to win the World Cup). As McArthur's final sentence above shows, the order of levels in such a hierarchy may be hard to discern.— McArthur 1992, 656
Something very like a specification hierarchy is referred to as a ‘particularity cline’ by Leonard Talmy.
In a given context, linguistic specifications made at either end of the particularity cline are often effectively equivalent in the information they convey, since more abstract structure is generally implicit in a detailed reference, while details can be inferred in context from a more generic reference.… There appear to be no grammatical forms whose function is solely to indicate that a referent is to be conceptualized at one or another level of particularity …[next]— Talmy 2000, I.82-3
No man can recall the time when he had not yet begun a theory of the universe, when any particular course of things was so little expected that nothing could surprise him, even though it startled him. The first surprise would naturally be the first thing that would offer sufficient handle for memory to draw it forth from the general background. It was something new. Of course, nothing can appear as definitely new without being contrasted with a background of the old. At this, the infantile scientific impulse,— what becomes developed later into various kinds of intelligence, but we will call it the scientific impulse because it is science that we are now endeavoring to get a general notion of,— this infantile scientific impulse must strive to reconcile the new to the old. The first new feature of this first surprise is, for example, that it is a surprise; and the only way of accounting for that is that there had been before an expectation. Thus it is that all knowledge begins by the discovery that there has been an erroneous expectation of which we had before hardly been conscious. Each branch of science begins with a new phenomenon which violates a sort of negative subconscious expectation, like the frog's legs of Signore Galvani.Later on the same page, Peirce integrated emotion into this cognitive picture by observing that ‘the emotion of surprise’ which triggers inquiry ‘is merely the instinctive indication of the logical situation. It is evolution (φύσις) that has provided us with the emotion. The situation is what we have to study.’ But the impulse to do so is provided by the emotion. [next]— EP2:87-8
The scientific man is eager to submit himself, his ideas, and his purpose, to the Great Power which, no doubt, penetrates his own being, but is yet all but wholly external to him and beyond anything that his poor present notion could ever, of itself, develope unfructified. The Absolute Knowledge of Hegel is nothing but G.W.F. Hegel's idea of himself; and it has not taught him the very first true lesson in philosophy, that “whoever shall choose to seek his own purpose and idea shall miss it, and whoever shall abandon his own purpose and idea to adopt the purpose and idea of the Author of nature shall accomplish that, and his own long-abandoned purpose and idea along with it.”Einstein remarked that ‘the true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.’ According to Gadamer (1960, 124), to abandon of one's own purpose in contemplation is to participate in that ‘sacral communion that lies behind the original Greek concept of theoria.’— Peirce, CP 8.118 (1902)
Greek metaphysics still conceives the essence of theoria and of nous as being purely present to what is truly real, and for us too the ability to act theoretically is defined by the fact that in attending to something one is able to forget one's own purposes.Like Peirce (and the Gospel), Gadamer affirms that losing oneself in this way, either in theoretical concemplation or in the theater, leads to a higher self-development. ‘A spectator's ecstatic self-forgetfulness corresponds to his continuity with himself’ (Gadamer 1960, 128). [next]
The method of trial and error is applied not only by Einstein but, in a more dogmatic fashion, by the amœba also.— Popper (1968, 68)
For Popper (1968), ‘the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability’ (48) by means of observations. ‘Thus science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths’ (66); ‘we may point out that every statement involves interpretation in the light of theories, and that it is therefore uncertain’ (55n.). ‘To put it more concisely, similarity-for-us is the product of a response involving interpretations (which may be inadequate) and anticipations or expectations (which may never be fulfilled)’ (59). Thus ‘repetition-for-us’ is ‘the result of our propensity to expect regularities and to search for them’ (60).
Observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem. And its description presupposes a descriptive language, with property words; it presupposes similarity and classification, which in their turn presuppose interests, points of view, and problems.‘There is no measurement without a theory and no operation which can be satisfactorily described in non-theoretical terms’ (82).— Popper (1968, 61)
Most of the beliefs which actually guide practice, or determine one's path, are not falsifiable in the way that would qualify them for ‘scientific status.’ Indeed it is doubtful whether any theory outside of the special sciences is falsifiable in that way. For Popper, such enterprises as Freudian psychoanalysis or Marxist dialectical materialism were not sciences but quasi-religions. Peirce had much the same attitude toward the kind of ‘psychical research’ current in his day. Philosophy, though, he considered to be a science, at least potentially, and did his best to make it so. [next]
Logic, in its general sense, is, as I believe I have shown, only another name for semiotic (σημειωτική), the quasi-necessary, or formal, doctrine of signs. By describing the doctrine as “quasi-necessary,” or formal, I mean that we observe the characters of such signs as we know, and from such an observation, by a process which I will not object to naming Abstraction, we are led to statements, eminently fallible, and therefore in one sense by no means necessary, as to what must be the characters of all signs used by a “scientific” intelligence, that is to say, by an intelligence capable of learning by experience. As to that process of abstraction, it is itself a sort of observation. The faculty which I call abstractive observation is one which ordinary people perfectly recognize, but for which the theories of philosophers sometimes hardly leave room. It is a familiar experience to every human being to wish for something quite beyond his present means, and to follow that wish by the question, “Should I wish for that thing just the same, if I had ample means to gratify it?” To answer that question, he searches his heart, and in doing so makes what I term an abstractive observation. He makes in his imagination a sort of skeleton diagram, or outline sketch, of himself, considers what modifications the hypothetical state of things would require to be made in that picture, and then examines it, that is, observes what he has imagined, to see whether the same ardent desire is there to be discerned. By such a process, which is at bottom very much like mathematical reasoning, we can reach conclusions as to what would be true of signs in all cases, so long as the intelligence using them was scientific. The modes of thought of a God, who should possess an intuitive omniscience superseding reason, are put out of the question. Now the whole process of development among the community of students of those formulations by abstractive observation and reasoning of the truths which must hold good of all signs used by a scientific intelligence is an observational science, like any other positive science, notwithstanding its strong contrast to all the special sciences which arises from its aiming to find out what must be and not merely what is in the actual world.
A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea, which I have sometimes called the ground of the representamen. “Idea” is here to be understood in a sort of Platonic sense, very familiar in everyday talk; I mean in that sense in which we say that one man catches another man's idea, in which we say that when a man recalls what he was thinking of at some previous time, he recalls the same idea, and in which when a man continues to think anything, say for a tenth of a second, in so far as the thought continues to agree with itself during that time, that is to have a like content, it is the same idea, and is not at each instant of the interval a new idea.
In consequence of every representamen being thus connected with three things, the ground, the object, and the interpretant, the science of semiotic has three branches. The first is called by Duns Scotus grammatica speculativa. We may term it pure grammar. It has for its task to ascertain what must be true of the representamen used by every scientific intelligence in order that they may embody any meaning. The second is logic proper. It is the science of what is quasi-necessarily true of the representamina of any scientific intelligence in order that they may hold good of any object, that is, may be true. Or say, logic proper is the formal science of the conditions of the truth of representations. The third, in imitation of Kant's fashion of preserving old associations of words in finding nomenclature for new conceptions, I call pure rhetoric. Its task is to ascertain the laws by which in every scientific intelligence one sign gives birth to another, and especially one thought brings forth another.
The term ‘speculative’ was traditionally used by logicians for ‘theoretical’ (as opposed to ‘practical’). According to Peirce (CP 2.333, c. 1895), speculative rhetoric is ‘the highest and most living branch of logic.’ [next]
Our models of the world develop through a recursive trial-and-error process, so naturally no step in the process starts “from scratch,” although the whole process must have had a beginning. Each step in the development of a theory involves an experiment on a diagram. Any such process requires continuity with variation: variation without continuity is chaos, and continuity without variation is inertia.
Continuity is also … the basis for Peirce’s ‘medieval’ realism with regard to the existence of real universals which refer to natural habits and the continuity of their possible instantiations. But diagrams are intimately connected to symbols, as we have seen, in the diagrammatic reasoning process. Concepts are ‘the living influence upon us of a diagram’ – this should be compared with Peirce’s basic pragmatist meaning maxim, according to which the meaning of a concept is equal to its behavioral consequences in conceivable settings. This implies that signification of a symbol is defined conditionally: ‘Something is x, if that thing behaves in such and such a way under such and such conditions’ – ‘Something is hard, if it is not scratched by a diamond.’ But this maxim, developed on the basis of a conception of scientific experimenting, is formally equal to the idea of diagrammatic experiments: the signification of the concept is the diagram of the experiment. The aim of science is to try to make such conditional definitions as diagrammatic as possible. This is the diagrammatic component in Peirce’s laconic enlightenment maxim, ‘symbols grow’: new symbols arise through diagrammatic experimentation.[next]— Stjernfelt 2007, 115
Spoken words are symbols (σύμβολα) of the affections or impressions of the soul, and written words of the spoken. And just as writing systems are not the same for all, neither are spoken languages. But those things of which they are signs (σημεῖα) in the first place, the psychical impressions (παθήματα τῆς ψυχῆς), are the same for all, as also are those objects (πράγματα) of which our impressions are likenesses.— Aristotle, On Interpretation (16a)
How do we ‘know’ that the experiences symbolized in speech are ‘the same for all,’ despite linguistic differences? For instance, how do we know that ‘psychical impressions’ (or ‘experiences,’ or ‘affections of the soul,’ or .....) refer to the same ‘thing’ as Aristotle's ‘παθήματα τῆς ψυχῆς’? The simple answer is that we ‘know’ it by default, i.e. by taking it for granted until some cause for doubt occurs. All attempts to communicate with symbols have to assume a commens or ‘common world’ that the communicants are acquainted with. This common world is populated by the common objects, the pragmata, of the signs which constitute our knowledge.
Peter Gärdenfors describes conceptual space in geometrical/topological terms:
A point in a space represents a possible object …. The properties of the object are determined by its location in the space.… properties are represented by regions of a domain.… what is important is not the form of the representation but rather the relations between different areas of a conceptual space.[next]— Gärdenfors (2000, 26 [typo corrected])
The same is true of anyone's internal model of the bodymind's interactions with its world. When we said in Chapter 3 that ‘map’ is a misleading word because the world in which an animal moves is multidimensional, even that was a gross understatement; see Llinás (2001, Chapter 2) on the ‘dimensionality of the problem of motor control’ (26). In the same chapter, Llinás explains guidance systems in a way quite similar to Varela's ‘enactive’ model (as outlined in the Chapter 9). ‘The brain's control of organized movement gave birth to the generation and nature of the mind’ (50); ‘that which we call thinking is the evolutionary internalization of movement’ (35). In the Llinás model, the ‘8-12 Hz rhythmicity of physiological tremor’ (31) acts as the ‘clock’ which enables synchronization of movement. All movement is a modulation of this ever-present ‘tremor,’ which is its material cause; when the organism reacts to external events, sensory input is the efficient cause. But an organism can also initiate movement proactively.
As emphasized in Chapter 10, it should be clear in our reading of the meaning-cycle diagram ‘that the flow from M to W is simultaneous with the flow from W to M. There is only one flow, not two taking turns.’ Within the brain, the functional unity of action and perception is embodied in ‘mirror neurons’ and in the
class of neurons in the frontal lobes called canonical neurons.… Like mirror neurons, each canonical neuron fires during the performance of a specific action such as reaching for a vertical twig or an apple. But the same neuron will also fire at the mere sight of a twig or an apple. In other words, it is as though the abstract property of graspability were being encoded as an intrinsic aspect of the object’s visual shape. The distinction between perception and action exists in our ordinary language, but it is one that the brain evidently doesn’t always respect.— Ramachandran 2011 (Kindle Locations 938-943)
Perhaps the deepest and most innately ‘given’ nodes of a meaning space are represented in the brain by the ‘canonical neurons’ which provide it with a ‘motor vocabulary’ by coding perceived objects according to their ‘affordances’ – ‘that is, in relation to the effect of interaction with an agent’ (Metzinger 2003, 366). (You might think of this as the preconscious, neural basis of pragmatism.) Language is intertwined with bodily movement; in the brain, ‘Broca's area in humans … not only relates to speech but is also involved in mental imagery of hand grasping movements’ – a connection also reflected in the etymology of the word concept, which is also rooted in ‘grasping’ (Metzinger 2003, 379). [next]
For example, after a thorough explanation of the design principles involved in the model, the authors interpret their own work as follows:
The moral of all this is that in a complex world (even one with the limited complexity of Copycat's microworld), one never knows in advance what concepts may turn out to be relevant in a given situation. The dilemma underscores the point made earlier: it is important not only to avoid dogmatically open-minded search strategies, which entertain all possibilities equally seriously, but also to avoid dogmatically close-minded search strategies, which in an ironclad way rule out certain possibilities a priori. Copycat opts for a middle way, in which it quite literally takes calculated risks all the time—but the degree of risk-taking is carefully controlled. Of course, taking risks by definition opens up the potential for disaster … But this is the price that must be paid for flexibility and the potential for creativity.The implications for human creativity and decision-making (i.e. guidance systems) should be obvious. Principles along these lines could be applied in the realms of communication (see e.g. Sperber and Wilson 1995) and interpretation of texts (see Eco 1990), as well as the ‘economy of research’ (Peirce). Of course, our guidance systems have to guide us through a macroworld, not a microworld, and therefore any models incorporated into them can't be easily tested in isolation from other components of the system. But such models can certainly simplify the challenge of living and thus reduce the risk of information overload.— Hofstadter and FARG (1995, 256)
Computer models of game theory have also been used to investigate the evolution of moral principles and precepts. A famous example is Axelrod's computer tournament which modelled the ‘prisoner's dilemma’ situation, in which the player has to decide (at each point in a series of interactions with another player) whether to ‘cooperate’ or ‘defect.’ Various algorithms were submitted and interacted with each other; then the scores were totalled up, and the strategy which scored highest in the long run was declared the winner. One outcome of this modeling process was a set of four precepts generally followed by the strategies that performed best in the tournament (Barlow 1991, 132):
These resemble some familiar religious precepts, although the third contradicts the Christian injunction to ‘turn the other cheek’ and Chapter 49 of the Tao Te Ching:
- Don't be envious.
- Don't be the first to defect.
- Reciprocate both cooperation and defection.
- Don't be too clever.
To the good I act with goodness;But then these guidance systems would probably define ‘winning’ differently from the rules of Axelrod's tournament. Besides, subsequent tournaments made it clear that which strategy wins depends on what other strategies are in the game, which ones are dominant and which marginal. The implication is that reducing your strategy to an algorithm is not in itself a viable strategy, though it might be useful for modeling how strategies evolve. [next]
To the bad I also act with goodness:
Thus goodness is attained.
To the faithful I act with faith;
To the faithless I also act with faith:
Thus faith is attained.— tr. Ch‘u Ta-Kao
Core consciousness is generated in pulselike fashion, for each content of which we are to be conscious. It is the knowledge that materializes when you confront an object [W], construct a neural pattern for it [ception], and discover automatically that the now-salient image of the object is formed in your perspective [M], belongs to you, and that you can even act on it [practice]. You come by this knowledge, this discovery as I prefer to call it, instantly: there is no noticeable process of inference, no out-in-the-daylight logical process that leads you there, and no words at all—there is the image of the thing and, right next to it, is the sensing of its possession by you.By the time you are conscious of a phenomenon, its Firstness (quality), Secondness (actuality) and Thirdness (mediation by your ‘perspective’) are already intrinsic to the experience, and only a later abstractive process can distinguish among them as elements of it. Damasio goes on to explain that the time scale of brain events makes them invisible to us. If it takes half a second for the brain to generate a ‘pulse’ of consciousness, then we can't be immediately conscious of events happening faster than that; we can only model the process and then analyze it as a train of events. The same is true of processes – such as evolution – going on at higher time scales than the human focal level; we can be conscious of them only by theoretical means. [next]— Damasio (1999, 126)
For humans, the attributes of God can only be idealized human attributes. For instance, we take the human experience of knowing, make it absolute and all-encompassing, and call it omniscience. If we didn't start from human experience, we would have no idea what these attributes could refer to; but with it, we can imagine a kind of knowing that we know to be far beyond human capacity. We arrive at the concept of omnipotence in a similar way.
We make our God in our own image, then idealize the image by saying that God made us in His image. Our theories about the realm of the divine are likewise maps of our mystical journeys in those realms. Moshe Idel (1988, 29) makes this observation about ‘the theoretical element in Kabbalistic literature’:
Being for the most part a topography of the divine realm, this theoretical literature served more as a map than as speculative description. Maps, as we know, are intended to enable a person to fulfill a journey; for the Kabbalists, the mystical experience was such a journey. Though I cannot assert that every ‘theoretical’ work indeed served such a use, this seems to have been the main purpose of the greatest part of this literature.[next]
The Tripartite Tractate in the Nag Hammadi library tells us that the primordial ‘Father’ is indescribable and self-subsisting, and that there is
neither a place in which he dwells, from which he has gone forth, or to which he will return; nor an original form that he used as a model for his work; nor fatigue that came over him as a result of what he did; nor matter that lay before him and from which he made the things that he made …This negative description works by contrasting the ‘Father’ with beings like ourselves who are subject to Peirce's ‘secondness,’ which we experience as the resistance offered by reality to our projects. We are semiotic agents, autopoiesis in action, but we are not self-subsisting. That is why we have a will. An omnipotent being would have no will, because there could be no resistance or opposition to it. [next]— (NHS, 63)
Social roles, in a complex society, can only be defined with reference to an implicit model of the larger society.… Human children can ‘model’ an interchange between parents, for example, taking either role, or play-act a game with friends, taking various sides. This is clear evidence that they are implicitly modeling the larger social structure (173-4).Such a model requires a ‘conscious modeling of the self in action’ (190), which in Donald's view developed from an evolutionary innovation that was uniquely human. ‘The major break with primate capabilities would have been in the way the individual's own body, and its movement in space, was represented in the brain’ (189). But it is questionable that this development was a complete ‘break’ with the evolution of other social primates.
Damasio's (1999) model of consciousness and selfhood is grounded on the ‘model of the body-in-the-brain … a collection of brain devices whose main job is the automated management of the organism's life’ (23). The brain maps not the external world but changes in the body, which (to an external observer) may or may not be triggered by interaction with the external world. Damasio's model of consciousness includes a hierarchy of models (maps, representations) of body/object interactions. These models take the form of cycles. One cycle, for instance, consists of ‘proto-self at the inaugural instant; object coming into sensory representation; changing of inaugural proto-self into proto-self modified by object’ (Damasio 1999, 177). Proto-self here corresponds to M in the meaning cycle, object to W.
On a higher time scale, an individual life is itself a cycle within a cycle. According to dynamic systems theory as espoused by Paul Griffiths and Russell Gray, ‘an evolutionary individual is one cycle of a complete developmental process—a life cycle’ (Oyama, Griffiths and Gray 2001, 209).
Donald (1991) argues that language, although it was ‘first and foremost a social device,’ was initially used ‘to construct conceptual models of the human universe.’ These first models in the development of human culture were mythic, and provided a context in which the objects, events and structures of daily life could have meaning. Thus the ‘myth is the prototypal, fundamental, integrative mind tool’ (Donald 1991, 217).
In what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the cosmogonic cycle’ – ‘the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the successful hero’ (Campbell 1949, 38) – myth represents the meaning cycle.
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