|obverse Chapter 13·
|Turning Signs (Contents)
This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·13 (the reverse side of Chapter 13·) of Turning Signs, as of 19 July 2023. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere.
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The mind does not start out as a tabula rasa, but rather as a checklist with spaces allotted to particular types of incoming information.[next]— Frans de Waal (1996, 35-6)
Consciousness, thus conceived, is essentially personal: it is essentially connected to the actual living body, its location and positing of a personal space; and it is based on memory, as a remembering which continually reconstructs and recategorizes itself.The brain's construction of the body-image as a whole continues when some part of the body is cut off from the brain for some time by neurological damage. This results in the mental phenomenon called neglect, in which the person does not feel as if that part of the body is missing, but rather does not feel that any such thing exists or has ever existed. For instance, when Sacks saw his badly injured left leg (made visual contact with it), he did not feel that it belonged to his body. Brain damage can also cause such neglect of half of the visual field. When neglect of a body part collides with visual or tactile experience of it, this can lead to alienation, as when Sacks could see his leg but felt as if it belonged to somebody else, perhaps a corpse. A third-person neurological account of such phenomena can explain the experience but does not change how it feels. (Nevertheless, we sometimes resist or reject a theoretical explanation of a valued or “spiritual” feeling, as if the theory would “explain it away.”)— Sacks (1984/1993, 199-200)
If the wholeness or integrity of the body-image does ‘act as a model’ for one's mental construct or model of the whole world, it is the primary meaning space. No wonder then that we often neglect parts of the external world, or feel them to belong to somebody else's world, even when we know theoretically that their existence is connected with ours. Your world and my world are felt as wholes, even though “everybody knows” that some parts of your world are absent from mine and some parts of mine from yours. We can't help being partial to our own point of view, but we can allow for the reality and the felt integrity of other meaning spaces, just as each node in the net of Indra reflects all the others. [next]
Something forgets us perfectly[next]— Leonard Cohen, ‘For E.J.P.’
The Latin verb legere can be traced back to the Greek lego, which has (according to LSG) two distinct meanings: one is about speaking, conversing, meaning and so on, and comes into English in words like ‘dialect’; the other is about choosing (as in English ‘selection,’ ‘election’ and so on). What motivated the selection of a single verb for these two different families of concepts? Are they related in some hidden way? Or was it just an accident? And what about the connection between lego and logos, dialogue and dialectic?
The study of etymology, like any other, has its pitfalls. Some changes in the evolution of a linguistic form may have nothing to do with its meaning – for instance the historical accident by which the -leg- root changed to -lig- in some combinations (which is why you are intelligent rather than intellegent). A pun (such as litter the pages of Finnegans Wake) may be a revealer of hidden connections, or it may be phunny because a sound connection reveals a misdirection in meaning or makes an illusory sense. (The root of illusion is ‘play.’) [next]
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. Pragmatically, the dynamic objects of our attention must appear to be external objects (existing independently of our intentions), but as Dogen says, ‘you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach.’ You ‘reach’ and understand those objects by locating their qualities in the conceptual space afforded by your guidance system.
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])
It seems certainly the truest statement for most languages to say that a symbol is a conventional sign which being attached to an object signifies that that object has certain characters. But a symbol, in itself, is a mere dream; it does not show what it is talking about. It needs to be connected with its object. For that purpose, an index is indispensable. No other kind of sign will answer the purpose. That a word cannot in strictness of speech be an index is evident from this, that a word is general – it occurs often, and every time it occurs, it is the same word, and if it has any meaning as a word, it has the same meaning every time it occurs; while an index is essentially an affair of here and now, its office being to bring the thought to a particular experience, or series of experiences connected by dynamical relations. A meaning is the associations of a word with images, its dream exciting power. An index has nothing to do with meanings; it has to bring the hearer to share the experience of the speaker by showing what he is talking about. The words this and that are indicative words. They apply to different things every time they occur. It is the connection of an indicative word to a symbolic word which makes an assertion.In any given context, the set of “things” we can make assertions about is called the universe of discourse. Peirce explained this in his BD definition of ‘Universe (in logic)’:— Peirce, CP 4.56 (1893)
Universe of discourse, of a proposition, &c.: In every proposition the circumstances of its enunciation show that it refers to some collection of individuals or of possibilities, which cannot be adequately described, but can only be indicated as something familiar to both speaker and auditor. At one time it may be the physical universe … at another it may be the imaginary ‘world’ of some play or novel, at another a range of possibilities.… It does not seem to be absolutely necessary in all cases that there should be an index proper outside the symbolic terms of the proposition to show what it is that is referred to; but in general there is such an index in the environment common to speaker and auditor.
‘A common noun [such] as “man,” standing alone, is certainly an index, but not of the object it denotes. It is an index of the mental object which it calls up. It is the index of an icon; for it denotes whatever there may be which is like that image’ (Peirce, EP2:17-18). The noun points to an iconic feature of the Model (as explained in Chapter 9), not directly to something existing in the World external to the Model. The genuine Index represents a real duality or Secondness. ‘Genuine secondness is dynamical connection; degenerate secondness is a relation of reason, as a mere resemblance’ (EP1:280, W6:211).
It is desirable that you should understand the difference between the Genuine and the Degenerate Index. The Genuine Index represents the duality between the representamen and its object. As a whole it stands for the object; but a part or element of it represents [it] as being the Representamen, by being an Icon or analogue of the object in some way; and by virtue of that duality, it conveys information about the object. The simplest example of a genuine index would be, say, a telescopic image of a double star. This is not an icon simply, because an icon is a representamen which represents its object by virtue of its similarity to it, as a drawing of a triangle represents a mathematical triangle. But the mere appearance of the telescopic image of a double star does not proclaim itself to be similar to the star itself. It is because we have set the circles of the equatorial so that the field must by physical compulsion contain the image of that star that it represents that star, and by that means we know that the image must be an icon of the star, and information is conveyed. Such is the genuine or informational index.Thus a proper name is a degenerate index because knowing a person's name does not by itself provide you with any information about that person. A noun standing alone, whether common or proper, does not provide any information. A noun can function as a genuine index only when circumstances enable its interpreter to make a double connection, a factual or ‘real’ connection and a mental connection, with what it denotes.A Degenerate Index is a representamen which represents a single object because it is factually connected with it, but which conveys no information whatever. Such, for example, are the letters attached to a geometrical or other diagram. A proper name is substantially the same thing; for although in this case the connection of the sign with its object happens to be a purely mental association, yet that circumstance is of no importance in the functioning of the representamen.— Peirce, EP2:171-2
Of course ‘genuine, degenerate’ and ‘informational’ are relative terms; all signs function triadically in some sense or they couldn't be signs at all, yet in actual semiosis or communication, all signs are degenerate (or ‘incomplete’) to some degree. In systemic terms, we could say than an index is genuine to the extent that it Informs the system about the world external to it. Whatever is genuinely Second to a system is external to it; ‘degenerate seconds may be conveniently termed Internal, in contrast to External seconds, which are constituted by external fact, and are true actions of one thing upon another’ (EP1:254). External seconds enter into ‘real relations’ as opposed to what the medieval logicians called ‘relations of reason’ (EP1:253).
Logical necessity is the necessity that a sign should be true to a real object; and therefore there is logical reaction in every real dyadic relation.… There are, however, degenerate dyadic relations,— degenerate in the sense in which two coplanar lines form a degenerate conic,— where this is not true. Namely, they are individual relations of identity, such as the relation of A to A. All mere resemblances and relations of reason are of this sort.The Dynamical Object of a genuine sign, being ‘an object of actual Experience’ (SS 197), is always outside of the interpreting system in the sense of being beyond its control – and therefore able to make a real difference to its self-control, its habit-system, its ‘inner law.’ [next]— Peirce, EP2:306
There are different kinds of existence. There is the existence of physical actions, there is the existence of psychical volitions, there is the existence of all time, there is the existence of the present, there is the existence of material things, there is the existence of the creations of one of Shakespeare's plays, and, for aught we know, there may be another creation with a space and time of its own in which things may exist. Each kind of existence consists in having a place among the total collection of such a universe. It consists in being a second to any object in such universe taken as first. It is not time and space which produce this character. It is rather this character which for its realization calls for something like time and space.In this sense, Secondness as individual existence ‘calls for’ continuity as Thirdness, while on the other side of the coin of meaning, the niche in meaning space ‘calls for’ its inhabitation. Semiosic determination, like the ‘imprinting’ of a new hatchling on its parent, is reciprocal.— Peirce, CP 1.433 (c. 1896)
We know that the newborn chick looking for its mom actually relies on at least two different neural systems, one for orienting toward stimuli that are good candidates for being mom, and another for taking whatever it can get, for storing a memory of anything that the chick might be exposed to. The first system will choose an adult chick (or even a stuffed duck) over a box as its go-to-caregiver, but if there's nothing else around, the second system will lead the chick to settle for the box.The first system here would correspond to the top half of the meaning cycle, the second system to the bottom half. Likewise, a reader looking for guidance in a turning sign or “scripture” will ‘seek until he finds’ and then use whatever he finds to guide his practice (including any further seeking); the niche in meaning space that yearns for fulfillment will be filled for the time being regardless of which text the seeker ‘finds.’ The difference between a newborn chick and a true seeker of true guidance is that for the hatchling, ‘imprinting’ happens only once. The true seeker, on the other hand, will be “born again” any number of times in her quest for the Mother Book, and will not settle permanently for any fixed or established text as inhabitant of the Mother Meaning Space. [next]— Marcus (2004, 104)
The niche was filled by the word spam, which Jesper Hoffmeyer (2008, 137-8) traces back to a song in a Monty Python sketch (because its ‘endlessly repetitive lyrics suggest an endless repetition of worthless text, similar to what is contained within the e-mail variety of spam’). The word had been coined much earlier as a ‘telescope word’ for canned spiced ham (a disagreeable dish for many), but it must have been a memory of the Monty Python routine that triggered the association that plugged the word firmly into the niche it came to occupy. Certainly the original inventors of the word ‘Spam’ had no idea what it would later come to mean.
Many of our linguistic habits have similarly creative (spontaneous, accidental) origins, and this accounts for some of the polyversity we find in language. But Hoffmeyer's point is that the same sort of thing happens in the biological realm, when an opening suddenly appears for unused (or differently used) genetic material to be plugged into a new sequence which adds something significant to the genetic resources of the organism.
The decisive cause of the birth of a new functional gene would be a lucky conjunction of two events: 1) an already existing nonfunctional gene might acquire a new meaning through integration into a functional (transcribed) part of the genome, and 2) the gene product would hit an unfilled gap in the semiotic needs of the cell or the embryo. In this way, a new gene becomes a scaffolding mechanism, supporting a new kind of interaction imbuing some kind of semiotic advantage upon its bearer.The somatic interpretant of the new gene may turn out to be a structural or behavioral change that confers some kind of pragmatic advantage upon the organism, filling a niche in practical meaning space: genetic polyversity pays off.— Hoffmeyer (2008, 138)
Morowitz (2002, Chapter 22) discusses several variations on the niche concept in biology. In cultural meaning spaces, niches are typically occupied by what Eco (1976) calls ‘cultural units.’ These should not be confused with the memes or ‘units of cultural transmission’ postulated by Richard Dawkins (1989). Since memes are units of transmission, they are inherently public like Eco's ‘units’ (or Shannon's ‘information’); but their connection with meaning is incidental. For Dawkins, they are the cultural analogue to his ‘selfish genes’ – inert, context-independent particles which use bodies and brains as vehicles for their own replication, but are neither integrated with nor affected by the host system. Like a word (or a lexeme), a meme can occupy a niche in meaning space, but that is not its definitive function. [next]
How do I know that stones are part of the environment of thrushes? Because thrushes break snails on them. Those same stones are not part of the environment of juncos who will pass by them in their search for dry grass with which to make their nests. Organisms do not adapt to their environments; they construct them out of the bits and pieces of the external world. This construction process has a number of features:[next](1) Organisms determine what is relevant. While stones are part of a thrush's environment, tree bark is part of a woodpecker's, and the undersides of leaves part of a warbler's. It is the life activities of these birds that determine which parts of the world, physically accessible to all of them, are actually parts of their environments. Moreover, as organisms evolve, their environments, perforce, change.— (Oyama, Griffiths and Gray 2001, 64)
It is disease that makes health sweet and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest.— Heraclitus (D.111, Kahn LXVII)
It is upon misfortune that good fortune leans,[next]
It is within good fortune itself that misfortune crouches in ambush,
And where does it all end?— Daodejing 58 (Ames/Hall)
Thus it is not surprising that what kind of sense the universe makes to you depends on what kind of system you are. And if you belong to a symbolic species, it depends on the dynamics of the symbol system (the language) which is integrated with your guidance system. As Terrence Deacon points out, these dynamics are shaped by the ‘semantic topology that determines the way symbols modify each other's referential functions in different combinations.’
In the study of complex systems, many researchers have recognized the critical formative influence of what might be described as topological universals. Boundary conditions of various sorts – spatial constraints, temporal parameters, connectedness of graphs and networks, recursive or re-entrant, causal or representational geometries, and mere finiteness of systems – can determine the characteristic patterns and stable attractor configurations of dynamical systems. Semiotic constraints affect the evolution of language in much the same way that boundary conditions affect the dynamics of physical systems.— Deacon 2003, 103
This system of relationships between symbols determines a definite and distinctive topology that all operations involving those symbols must respect in order to retain referential power. The structure implicit in the symbol-symbol mapping is not present before symbolic reference, but comes into being and affects symbol combinations from the moment it is first constructed. The rules of combination that are implicit in this structure are discovered as novel combinations are progressively sampled. As a result, new rules may be discovered to be emergent requirements of encountering novel combinatorial problems, in much the same way as new mathematical laws are discovered to be implicit in novel manipulations of known operations.[next]Symbols do not, then, get accumulated into unstructured collections that can be arbitrarily shuffled into different combinations. The system of representational relationships, which develops between symbols as symbol systems grow, comprises an ever more complex matrix. In abstract terms, this is a kind of tangled hierarchic network of nodes and connections that defines a vast and constantly changing semantic space. … Whatever the logic of this network of symbol-symbol relationships, it is inevitable that it will be reflected in the patterns of symbol-symbol combinations in communication.… the symbolic use of tokens is constrained both by each token's use and by the use of other tokens with respect to which it is defined. Strings of symbols used to communicate and to accomplish certain ends must inherit both the intrinsic constraints of symbol-symbol reference and the constraints imposed by external reference.… Because symbolic reference is inherently systemic, there can be no symbolization without systematic relationships.— Deacon (1997, 99-100)
When in a rare moment I manage painfully to rise above a petty individualism by knowing my true nature, I perceive that I dwell in the wondrous net of Indra, and in this incredible network of interdependence, the career of the Bodhisattva must begin. It is not just that ‘we are all in it’ together. We all are it, rising or falling as one living body.Austin (1998, 499) identifies this experience with the absorption of samadhi. But something very much like the net of Indra appears to Christian visionaries as well.— Cook (1977, 122)
Every nature, every modeled form, every creature, exists in and with each other. They will dissolve again into their own proper root. For the nature of matter is dissolved into what belongs to its nature. Anyone with two ears able to hear should listen!— Gospel of Mary 2 (King 2003b, 13)
Blake's vision of eternal meaning space – ‘Mutual each within others bosom in Visions of Regeneration’ (Jerusalem 21:45) – is based on Ezekiel but also features the mutually reflecting nodes of the Net of Indra:
the Four Faces of Humanity fronting the Four Cardinal PointsOf Heaven going forward forward irresistible from Eternity to Eternity
And they conversed together in Visionary forms dramatic …
& they walkedTo & fro in Eternity as One Man reflecting each in each & clearly seenAnd seeing: according to fitness & order.Jerusalem 98
Even in Peirce's late definitions of ‘Sign’ emerges something very like the net of Indra, as a semiotic network in which the whole Sign is both context and object of each part, so that each part is a sign of itself as part of its own object.
The word Sign will be used to denote an Object perceptible, or only imaginable, or even unimaginable in one sense—for the word “fast,” which is a Sign, is not imaginable, since it is not this word itself that can be set down on paper or pronounced, but only an instance of it, and since it is the very same word when it is written as it is when it is pronounced, but is one word when it means “rapidly” and quite another when it means “immovable,” and a third when it refers to abstinence. But in order that anything should be a Sign, it must “represent,” as we say, something else, called its Object, although the condition that a Sign must be other than its Object is perhaps arbitrary, since, if we insist upon it we must at least make an exception in the case of a Sign that is a part of a Sign. Thus nothing prevents the actor who acts a character in an historical drama from carrying as a theatrical “property” the very relic that that article is supposed merely to represent, such as the crucifix that Bulwer's Richelieu holds up with such effect in his defiance. On a map of an island laid down upon the soil of that island there must, under all ordinary circumstances, be some position, some point, marked or not, that represents qua place on the map, the very same point qua place on the island.[next]A sign may have more than one Object. Thus, the sentence “Cain killed Abel,” which is a Sign, refers at least as much to Abel as to Cain, even if it be not regarded as it should, as having “a killing” as a third Object. But the set of objects may be regarded as making up one complex Object. In what follows and often elsewhere Signs will be treated as having but one object each for the sake of dividing difficulties of the study. If a Sign is other than its Object, there must exist, either in thought or in expression, some explanation or argument or other context, showing how—upon what system or for what reason the Sign represents the Object or set of Objects that it does. Now the Sign and the Explanation together make up another Sign, and since the explanation will be a Sign, it will probably require an additional explanation, which taken together with the already enlarged Sign will make up a still larger Sign; and proceeding in the same way, we shall, or should, ultimately reach a Sign of itself, containing its own explanation and those of all its significant parts; and according to this explanation each such part has some other part as its Object. According to this every Sign has, actually or virtually, what we may call a Precept of explanation according to which it is to be understood as a sort of emanation, so to speak, of its Object. (If the Sign be an Icon, a scholastic might say that the “species” of the Object emanating from it found its matter in the Icon. If the Sign be an Index, we may think of it as a fragment torn away from the Object, the two in their Existence being one whole or a part of such whole. If the Sign is a Symbol, we may think of it as embodying the “ratio,” or reason, of the Object that has emanated from it. These, of course, are mere figures of speech; but that does not render them useless.)CP 2.230 (1910)
Researchers in cognitive semantics try to map the meaning spaces which make communication possible. The structure of a meaning space can be thought of as the structure of a lexicon – but not necessarily a verbal one; it could be a lexicon of feelings, or a ‘vocabulary for nonverbal affective signals such as facial expressions, gestures, and prosody’ (Schore, in Lewis and Granic 2000, 177).
Besides this open class of symbols, formation of sentences as meaningful utterances also requires a closed syntactic system using a relatively small set of words to indicate the relations between terms. The set of phonemes (elementary sound-structures) used to form words is also closed, although pronunciation varies from time to time and place to place. A spoken language does not normally add new phonemes to the relatively small set that the language allows; a phonetic writing system does not add new letters to its closed alphabet with a fixed number of letters.
Once language has formed it is amazingly conservative. An infinite variety of sounds that are not language is possible, yet these are no longer drawn in to add to language. At some critical point the basic stock of linguistically used sounds is closed, and what is thereafter added must always consist of already meaningful sounds.[next]— Gendlin (1998, 7.b.g)
A Symbol is a law, or regularity of the indefinite future. Its Interpretant must be of the same description; and so must be also the complete immediate Object, or meaning. But a law necessarily governs, or “is embodied in” individuals, and prescribes some of their qualities. Consequently, a constituent of a Symbol may be an Index, and a constituent may be an Icon. A man walking with a child points his arm up into the air and says, “There is a balloon.” The pointing arm is an essential part of the Symbol without which the latter would convey no information. But if the child asks, “What is a balloon,” and the man replies, “It is something like a great big soap bubble,” he makes the image a part of the Symbol. Thus, while the complete Object of a Symbol, that is to say, its meaning, is of the nature of a law, it must denote an individual, and must signify a character. A genuine Symbol is a Symbol that has a general meaning. There are two kinds of degenerate Symbols, the Singular Symbol whose Object is an existent individual, and which signifies only such characters as that individual may realize; and the Abstract Symbol, whose only Object is a character.[next]— Peirce (EP2:274-5)
I have maintained since 1867 that there is but one primary and fundamental logical relation, that of illation, expressed by ergo. A proposition, for me, is but an argumentation divested of the assertoriness of its premiss and conclusion. This makes every proposition a conditional proposition at bottom. In like manner a “term,” or class-name, is for me nothing but a proposition with its indices or subjects left blank, or indefinite. The common noun happens to have a very distinctive character in the Indo-European languages. In most other tongues it is not sharply discriminated from a verb or participle. “Man,” if it can be said to mean anything by itself, means “what I am thinking of is a man.”Peirce in 1880 (W4:170) identified illation as the basic or ‘primitive’ logical relation, and in his 1906 ‘PAP’ (MS 293) he identified it with ‘the form of the relation of two instants of time, or what is the same thing as the relation between a logical antecedent and consequent.’ Even the idea of negation, of “not,” which seems psychologically simple, is a later development from that relation, as Peirce explains:— Peirce, CP 3.440 (1896); see also CP 3.459.
It was forced upon the logician’s attention that a certain development of reasoning was possible before, or as if before, the concept of falsity had ever been framed, or any recognition of such a thing as a false assertion had ever taken place. Probably every human being passes through such a grade of intellectual life, which may be called the state of paradisaical logic, when reasoning takes place but when the idea of falsity, whether in assertion or in inference, has never been recognized. But it will soon be recognized that not every assertion is true; and that once recognized, as soon as one notices that if a certain thing were true, every assertion would be true, one at once rejects the antecedent that leads to that absurd consequence.Anticipatory systems whose anticipations develop into predictions, or assertions about what will happen, are bound to be surprised by something happening that differs from what they expected, and thus to recognize that not all such assertions are borne out in real time. Thus is born the idea of falsity or “not” from the matrix of illation, according to Peirce. [next]R 669:18-19[16-17] (31 May 1911)
Vygotsky (1934) realized that the conceptual structures which inhabit meaning spaces must form an organic system from the beginning:
Concepts do not lie in the child's mind like peas in a bag, without any bonds between them. If that were the case, no intellectual operation requiring coordination of thoughts would be possible, nor any general conception of the world. Not even separate concepts as such could exist: their very nature presupposes a system.— Vygotsky (1934, 110-11)
Popper (1968) confirms this with respect to science, which builds consensus by means of repeated observations: ‘for logical reasons, there must always be a point of view – such as a system of expectations, anticipations, assumptions, or interests – before there can be any repetition’ (59). Without such a system of anticipations, no act or observation could be recognized as ‘the same.’ This ‘repetition-for-us’ is ‘the result of our propensity to expect regularities and to search for them’ (60).
This system of anticipations is inhabited by concepts, each of which can be regarded as an iconic map of the relationships among interconnected feelings, ideas and intentions.
A concept is not a mere jumble of particulars,— that is only its crudest species. A concept is the living influence upon us of a diagram, or icon, with whose several parts are connected in thought an equal number of feelings or ideas. The law of mind is that feelings and ideas attach themselves in thought so as to form systems. But the icon is not always clearly apprehended. We may not know at all what it is; or we may have learned it by the observation of nature.We are often guided by these ‘diagrams’ without being conscious of them, and usually without visualizing them; they function implicitly. Semiotically, though, we can learn to contemplate them. [next]— Peirce, CP 7.467 (1893)
Cognition begins with perception, and perception begins by foregrounding something against what thereby becomes its background. Then it is identified by its difference from something else. In a cultural meaning space, ‘each unit acquires a semantic value only insofar as it is inserted into a semantic axis, and thus opposed to another unit’ (Eco 1976, §2.12.1). In a logical meaning space, ‘assertion always implies a denial of something else’ (Peirce, CP 1.357). The ‘opposition’ can be symmetric in a binary way, as between a pair of opposites, or multilateral as in the radial symmetry of a starfish, or asymmetric like figure against ground or text against context.
A unit, once distinguished within a universe of discourse, can be designated – not only with nouns but also with verbs, adjectives and so forth; a cultural unit is not necessarily a ‘thing.’ Once the name exists, it can be applied either to the node in the network of meaning space – the type – or to an individual instance of the type – a token. But the relationship between word (lexeme) and concept (node) becomes increasingly complex when we take intersemiotic relations into account. As Eco (1976, 122) points out, in reference to ‘Model Q’,
… this model anticipates the definition of every sign, thanks to the interconnection of the universe of all other signs that function as interpretants, each of these ready to become the sign interpreted by all the others; the model, in all its complexity, is based on a process of unlimited semiosis. From a sign which is taken as a type, it is possible to penetrate, from the center to the furthest periphery, the whole universe of cultural units, each of which can in turn become the center and create infinite peripheries.This depiction of ‘the whole universe of cultural units’ approaches the image of a sphere the center of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere – an image with a history traced by Borges (1952) from the pre-Socratic philosophers to Pascal. This sphere was identified with being, the universe, or God, while here it appears as the structure of meaning space: another clue that the world is inside out (Chapter 5).
This model helps to explain why communication problems arise within a linguistic community: the repertoire (the lexicon) is in the public domain, while the meaning space internal to the individual is private. Eco, by designating the nodes as ‘cultural units,’ is clearly referring to a public meaning space (or semantic space, Eco's own term). As he says, ‘we are looking for a semiotic model which justifies the conventional denotations and connotations attributed to a sign-vehicle.’ And indeed, symbolic communication generally requires language users to conform their usage to those conventions, even when trying to say something “original.” Psychobiologically, though, this ideal can never be fully realized, since it is always the individual first person speaking, and her utterance can only be shaped by her internal models (of the ideal public meaning space and of the world), constructed through her own personal history and adapted to her present intentions. [next]
In an illuminating metaphor, social scientist Otto Neurath compares humans as knowers to “sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials.”Can any guidance system be perfected? Can a life reach a state of fulfillment so that no niche in meaning space is left unoccupied?— Martin Benjamin, Philosophy & This Actual World, 59
There is no conceivable fulfillment of any rational life except progress towards further fulfillment.— Peirce, CN 3:124 (quoted in Cobley 2010, 90)
When the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated body and mind, one thinks one is already filled with it. When the Dharma fills body and mind, one thinks something is [still] lacking. For example, when we sail a boat into the ocean beyond sight of land and our eyes scan [the horizon in] the four directions, it simply looks like a circle. No other shape appears. This great ocean, however, is neither round nor square. It has inexhaustible characteristics. [To a fish] it looks like a palace; [to a heavenly being] a jeweled necklace. [To us] as far as our eyes can see, it looks like a circle. All the myriad things are like this. Within the dusty world and beyond, there are innumerable aspects and characteristics; we only see or grasp as far as the power of our eye of study and practice can see. When we listen to the reality of myriad things, we must know that there are inexhaustible characteristics in both ocean and mountains, and there are many other worlds in the four directions. This is true not only in the external world, but also right under our feet or within a single drop of water.[next]— Dogen, ‘Genjokoan’ (tr. Okumura 2010, 3)
This principle applies not only psychologically but also biologically, down to the cellular level. For instance, a neuron cannot “fire” continuously; indeed it has to spend much of its time “resting” in order to be ready to fire again when it is prompted to do so. At the neural population scale, inhibition is as necessary as excitation for the propagation of the signal along a nerve. A similar cyclic pattern applies to complex chemical reactions and to the self-organization process in cellular slime molds.
The slime mold is not a real mold at all but a single-cell amœba that feeds on bacteria. When there is a scarcity of food, the individuals aggregate, forming colonies of thousands of cells. These colonies can migrate as a unit over relatively large distances. Over time, the homogeneous assemblage of cells differentiates in such a way that part of it becomes a base rich in cellulose, while the other part becomes a “fruiting body” rich in polysaccharides. The fruiting body then bursts, scattering spores, which yield mobile cells when food is again available. The cycle thereupon starts over again with the individual amœba.The gathering of individual amœbas into a multicellular organism is triggered by a chemical signal which spreads from cell to cell, each being stimulated by the chemical (cAMP) to release a burst of it.— Depew and Weber 1995, 419
But this is not enough to ensure an effective signal: it must also be destroyed, otherwise the whole dish of amœbas would become a sea of cAMP, and no signals would be visible. The amœbas secrete an enzyme, phosphodiesterase, which destroys cAMP. So the substance has a brief lifetime, and the diffusion profile of the signal from a stimulated amœba has a steep gradient, generating an effective directional signal that allows other amœbas to use it for chemotaxis (directed movement in response to a chemical). However, there is a problem here: cAMP released from an amœba diffuses symmetrically in all directions away from the source, so amœbas anywhere within the effective range of the signal could respond. This means that each stimulated amœba could become the center of the propagating wave. The result would be total chaos. This does not happen … The reason is beautifully simple and natural: after an amœba has released a burst of cAMP, it cannot immediately respond to another signal and release another burst. It goes into a refractory state during which it is unresponsive, recovering from the previous stimulus and returning to its ‘excitable’ condition. Therefore, the wave cannot travel backward, and the signal travels one way.This sort of thing ‘shows that spatial order arises with temporal order’ (Goodwin 1994, 76). Even at the microscopic level, meaning takes time and moves in cycles.— Brian Goodwin (1994, 50)
Biological time and space defined by Hans Jonas:
The internal direction towards the next impending phase of a being that has to continue itself constitutes biological time; the external direction toward the co-present not-itself constitutes biological space. As the here expands into the there, so the now expands into the future.[next](Thompson 2007, 155)
The hearing of a melody is hearing with the melody.… It is even a condition of hearing melody that the tone present at the moment should fill consciousness entirely, that nothing should be remembered, nothing except it or beside it be present in consciousness.… Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once. Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown.Every moment of experiencing is like the hearing of a melody in this respect. This may be another way of saying that a moment is the continuity of past-present-future, i.e. of memory-presence-anticipation.— Victor Zuckerkandl in Sound and Symbol, as quoted by Oliver Sacks (2008, 213)
Try to attend long and hard to a single word on this page. The experience, or so it seems to me, is initially one of increased local clarity, closely followed by a state of decaying clarity while remaining alert. There is at that point a tendency to entrain action, perhaps using shifts of covert attending or micro-saccades to further explore the fixated word. The longer all this goes on without the emergence of any new, different, or clearer information the harder it becomes to sustain the process of attending. Attention thus presents itself as bound up, experientially, with both the expectation of and the search for new and better information.[next]— Andy Clark (2015, 63-4)
Rodolfo Llinás (2001) elucidates the evolution of the nervous system as the development of a functional construct inhabiting a meaning space:
Because the brain operates for the most part as a closed system, it must be regarded as a reality emulator rather than a simple translator.… the intrinsic electrical activity of the brain's elements (its neurons and their complex connectivity) must form an entity, or a functional construct. Furthermore, this entity must efficiently handle the transformation of sensory input arising from the external world into its motor counterpart.[next]
… the electrical activity patterns that each neuron generates in the formation of a motor pattern, or any other internal pattern in the brain, must be represented in an abstract geometrical space. This is the vectorial coordinate space where sensory input and its transformation into a motor output take place.— Llinás (2001, 13)
The general idea of the distinction between global and local attention is given by Treisman (2004, p. 541): ‘An initial rapid pass through the visual hierarchy provides the global framework and gist of the scene and primes competing identities through the features that are detected. Attention is then focused back to early areas to allow a serial check of the initial rough bindings and to form the representations of objects and events that are consciously experienced.’ The theory was pioneered by Navon (1977), whose title, ‘Forest before the trees,’ expresses the phenomenon vividly. He summarizes: ‘global structuring of a visual scene precedes analysis of local features’ (p. 353) and ‘global processing is a necessary stage of perception prior to more fine-grained analysis’ (p. 371).[next]— Hurford (2007, 104)
that in thought, in being, and in development the indefinite is due to a degeneration from a primary state of perfect definiteness. The truth is rather on the side of the scholastic realists that the unsettled is the primal state, and that definiteness and determinateness, the two poles of settledness, are, in the large, approximations, developmentally, epistemologically, and metaphysically.(CP 6.348, 1907)
This pattern also appears in studies of how a meaning space is embodied in a developing brain (Chapter 13). In Walter Freeman's ‘circular causality’ model, ‘the patterns of neural activity are self-organized by chaotic dynamics’ (Freeman 1995). But the circularity of the process implies that as meaning spaces and habits take on form, they tend to impose a more definite and determinate order on those chaotic dynamics. Thomas Metzinger (2003) offers a model which places more emphasis on the ‘top-down’ aspects of the process.
As a matter of fact some of the best current work in neuroscience … suggests a view of the human brain as a system that constantly simulates possible realities, generates internal expectations and hypotheses in a top-down fashion, while being constrained in this activity by what I have called mental presentation, constituting a constant stimulus-correlated bottom-up stream of information, which then finally helps the system to select one of an almost infinitely large number of internal possibilities and turning it into phenomenal reality, now explicitly expressed as the content of a conscious representation.… Recent evidence points to the fact that background fluctuations in the gamma frequency range are not only chaotic fluctuations but contain information – philosophically speaking, information about what is possible. This information – for example, certain grouping rules, residing in fixed network properties like the functional architecture of corticocortical connections – is structurally laid-down information about what was possible and likely in the past of the system and its ancestors. Certain types of ongoing background activity could therefore just be the continuous process of hypothesis generation mentioned above. Not being chaotic at all, it might be an important step in translating structurally laid-down information about what was possible in the past history of the organism into those transient, dynamical elements of the processing that are right now actually contributing to the content of conscious experience.… Not only fixed network properties could in this indirect way shape what in the end we actually see and consciously experience, but if the autonomous background process of thousands of hypotheses continuously chattering away can be modulated by true top-down processing, then even specific expectations and focal attention could generate precise correlational patterns in peripheral processing structures, patterns serving to compare and match actually incoming sensory signals. That is, in the terminology here proposed, not only unconscious mental simulation but also deliberately intended high-level phenomenal simulations, conscious thoughts, personal-level memories, and so on can modulate unconscious, subpersonal matching processes.The ‘predictive processing’ model described by Andy Clark (2015) updates our understanding of how the brain manages this modulation at the microscopic time scale of practiception.— Metzinger (2003, 51-2)
The emerging picture is one in which perception, cognition, and action are manifesations of a single adaptive regime geared to the reduction of organism-salient prediction error. Once-crisp boundaries between sensory and motor processing now dissolve: actions flow from percepts that predict sensory signals some of which entrain actions that recruit new percepts. As we engage the world with our senses, percepts and action recipes now co-emerge, combining motor prescriptions with rolling efforts at knowing and understanding. Action, cognition, and perception are thus continuously co-constructed, simultaneously rooted in the cascading predictions that constitute, test, and maintain our grip upon the world.What Metzinger (above) calls ‘fixed network properties like the functional architecture of corticocortical connections’ could be the biological substrate of meaning space, the essential structure whose finer details are determined in ‘real time’ by processes— Clark 2015, 138
in which the flow of influence between brain areas is dynamically alterable, and in which the relative influence of top-down and bottom-up information may be constantly varied according to estimations of our own sensory uncertainty. The result is an architecture able to combine functionally differentiated circuits with highly context-sensitive (and ‘interaction-dominated’) modes of processing and response.— Clark 2015, 167
We might say that the top-down and bottom-up streams take turns modulating each other (compare the mutual determination which Peirce finds in the ‘Composition of Concepts’). Below the surface of consciousness, it's all happening simultaneously in the brain:
the PP architecture supports an ongoing, concurrent two-way flow of information. This means that processing at any given higher level is not “waiting” for processing at the level below to finish before beginning to exert its influence.This simultaneous two-way flow probably applies as much to bigger currents as to brain processes, so we should take this into account in our readings of the meaning cycle diagram. [next]— Clark 2015, 145
The discreteness and articulation of phonemes is crucial to the functioning of spoken language as a symbol system, and we humans must learn to hear discreteness (as “articulated sound”) even when the stream of sound is actually continuous. Recordings of normal spoken language, displayed on an oscilloscope or otherwise “objectively” observed, do not contain gaps of silence between phonemes. This is why “motherese,” the peculiar style of articulation that adults use in speaking to very young children, exaggerates the discreteness of phonemes (see Kuhl et al. in Damasio et al. 2001): in order to acquire language, children have to grasp this discreteness before they can begin to combine the elements of language into words and sentences and thus comprehend (or produce) them.
The discreteness of speech sounds does not contradict the continuity of the soundscape. Likewise there is no contradiction between gradual development and ‘punctuated equilibrium,’ between creation and evolution, or between “sudden” and “gradual” enlightenment.
oh bless the continuous stutter[next]
of the word being made into flesh.— Leonard Cohen, ‘The Window’ (1993, 299)
We are going to shock the physiological psychologists, for once, by attempting, not an account of a hypothesis about the brain, but a description of an image which shall correspond, point by point, to the different features of the phenomena of consciousness. Consciousness is like a bottomless lake in which ideas are suspended at different depths. Indeed, these ideas themselves constitute the very medium of consciousness itself.This fluid model of meaning space definitely involves meaning time as well as energy. It is remarkably similar to Peirce's account of the ‘perfect sign’ or ‘quasi-mind’, which might be called ‘the very medium of thought,’ just as ‘ideas’ are ‘the very medium of consciousness.’[marginal note by Peirce:] An idea is nothing but a portion of consciousness having in itself no definite boundaries, except so far as it may be of a different quality from contiguous ideas.Percepts alone are uncovered by the medium. We must imagine that there is a continual fall of rain upon the lake; which images the constant inflow of percepts in experience. All ideas other than percepts are more or less deep, and we may conceive that there is a force of gravitation, so that the deeper ideas are, the more work will be required to bring them to the surface. This virtual work, which the mathematicians call the ‘potentials’ of the particles, is the negative of the ‘potential energy’; and the potential energy is that feature of the image which corresponds to the degree of vividness of the idea. Or we may see that the potential, or depth, represents the degree of energy of attention that is requisite to discern the idea at that depth. But it must not be thought that an idea actually has to be brought to the surface of consciousness before it can be discerned. To bring it to the surface of consciousness would be to produce a hallucination. Not only do all ideas tend to gravitate toward oblivion, but we are to imagine that various ideas react upon one another by selective attractions. This images the associations between ideas which tend to agglomerate them into single ideas. Just as our idea of spatial distance consists in the sense of time that it would take with a given effort to pass from one object to another, so the distance between ideas is measured by the time it will take to unite them. One tries to think of the French for shark or for linchpin. The time that it will take to recover the forgotten word depends upon the force of association between the ideas of the English and French words and upon circumstances which we image by their distance. This, it must be confessed, is exceedingly vague; as vague as would be our notion of spatial distance if we lived in the body of an ocean, and were destitute of anything rigid to measure with, being ourselves mere portions of fluid.— Peirce, CP 7.553 (undated)
Any symbol which is relevant in the current situation implies, in a sense, the whole of its native meaning space; but its relevance at the moment consists in its focusing on the few ‘ideas’ that matter, and its leaving the rest in the background, in the deeper reaches of the ‘lake.’ Of the infinite number of statements which could be made at the moment, the symbol in question leaves many unsaid because they are too obvious to be worth saying, and many others unsaid because they would distract attention from the dialogic argument. The viable path of discourse or dialog avoids both the obvious and the irrelevant. But then, the various participants in the dialog may differ in their judgments of obviousness and relevance, and no one who has ears to hear will consider his own implicit judgments infallible. [next]
Before the mind's eye, whether in sleep or waking, came images that one was to discover presently in some book one had never read, and after looking in vain for explanation to the current theory of forgotten personal memory, I came to believe in a great memory passing on from generation to generation.… Our daily thought was certainly but the line of foam at the shallow edge of a vast luminous sea.Yeats called this ‘great memory’ anima mundi; but these images are phenomena of the human world, the world of the human imagination, passing on from generation to generation of humans. When they are meaningful, they are iconic signs occurring in various contexts and occupying human meaning spaces. Who knows what they would mean to other imaginations, to other animals? Yet we can't help believing that they arise from much deeper in the bottomless lake of consciousness than the ephemeral chatter of ‘our daily thought’ – perhaps even from the deeper-than-human. [next]— W. B. Yeats, Mythologies, 346 (1917)
Humanity, immersed in its cultural space, always creates around itself an organized spatial sphere. This sphere includes both ideas and semiotic models and people's recreative activity, since the world which people artificially create (agricultural, architectural and technological) correlates with their semiotic models. There is a two-way connection: on the one hand, architectural buildings copy the spatial image of the universe and, on the other hand, this image of the universe is constructed on an analogy with the world of cultural constructs which mankind creates.— Lotman (1990, 203)
Jesper Hoffmeyer extended the term ‘semiosphere’ to show that human culture is only one level of semiosis, grounded in much broader biological phenomena:
I have defined the semiosphere as ‘a sphere like the atmosphere, hydrosphere, or biosphere that permeates these spheres from their innermost to outermost reaches and consists of communication: sound, scent, movement, colours, forms, electrical fields, various waves, chemical signals, touch, and so forth – in short, the signs of life’ (Hoffmeyer 1996:46). The concept was originally introduced by the Russian-Estonian semiotician Yuri Lotman, who explicitly used it in comparison to Vernadsky's idea of the biosphere. For Lotman (2000 : 125), the semiosphere remained a cultural concept: ‘The unit of semiosis, the smallest functioning mechanism, is not the separate language but the whole semiotic space in question. This is the space we term the semiosphere. The semiosphere is the result and the condition for the development of culture; we justify our term by analogy with the biosphere, as Vernadsky defined it.’ For more details about the origin of these terms, see Sebeok (1999). John Deely accepts my use of the word semiosphere and suggests ‘signosphere as a term more appropriate for the narrower designation of semiosphere in Lotman's sense, leaving the broader coinage and usage to Hoffmeyer's credit’ (Deely 2001a: 629).[next]— Hoffmeyer, endnote 10 to ‘Semiotics of Nature’ (in Cobley 2010)
A newly acquired meaning is forced upon everything that does not obviously resist its application, as a child uses a new word whenever he gets a chance or as he plays with a new toy. Meanings are self-moving to new cases. In the end, conditions force a chastening of this spontaneous tendency. The scope and limits of application are ascertained experimentally in the process of application. The history of science, to say nothing of popular beliefs, is sufficient indication of the difficulty found in submitting this irrational generalizing tendency to the discipline of experience. To call it a priori is to express a fact; but to impute the a priori character of the generalizing force of meanings to reason is to invert the facts. Rationality is acquired when the tendency becomes circumspect, based upon observation and tested by deliberate experiment.Rationality then is a symptom of semiotic self-control, the key to learning from experience. [next]— John Dewey, 1925 (ED2:59)
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