Methods on Meaning: Cybersemiotics and Evolutionary Continuity

February 8, 2009

Some thoughts on Cybersemiotics:

“Peirce operates with a triad composed of a sign vehicle (the Representamen), an Object (a certain aspect of reality), and an Interpretant that is a more developed sign in the mind of the perceiver/observer/communicator. These three categories were so basic that he called them Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness… In the sign process, Representamen is first,
Object is second, and Interpretant is third. In Cosmogony, mind is first, matter is second, and evolution is third. In cognitive psychology, perception is first, experience is second, and understanding is third. Ontologically, chance is first, mechanical law is second, and the tendency to make habits is third. Peirce defines his Firstness as a chaos of living feeling with the tendency to assume habits.”

– Soren Brier, Cybersemiotics: Why Information Is not Enough

In Pierces semiotic Triad, the symbol is Primary – the representaion of an object. As one assumes this primacy, the open ontological chaotic “system” becomes a closed system upon evaluative parameters. Within this closed system, a triad can be developed between the representation, what it represents, and the interpretation. Although, the object it represents is in many ways outside of the triad. I think the object must take on a purely denotative (“topographical”) role, and not an ontological role. So, most of the object becomes lost in the system. Also, at another corner, the interpreter takes on another role where certain aspects of it become lost in the evaluative importance of the symbol. The symbol becomes full, where the others become partial. The system already has within it possibilities of other systems, as well as the possibility of merging these systems through cybersemiotics.

The interesting thing about systems, I’ve found, is that they are analagous to different types of lenses – The lense of our eye to the “lense” of an electron microscope.  As with our eyes, when we focus on a single point in space, the point is of primacy as everything else becomes peripheral. Focul Points and periphery seem to be the general problem of all human enterprises. The steroscopic vision is unnatainable. It can only be attained through transrational means, where the focul points merge with the periphery in equilibrium. The only way to eliminate evaluations, isolated systems, high and low probability, plausibility and implausibility is to eliminate the current paradigm of rationality and go beyond it, but not without it. That is, if you’re not shooting at pragmatic targets, but at a chaotic ontological “totality”.

Though, ontology will never be total as it will always be reduced to mnemonic metaphors.

Sub-symbolic and pre-logical neural networks – the organic matter of the brain, in other words – in a few fancy terms is, what I think our linguistic and logical (meaningful) faculties emerge from. These neural networks are physical structures in a (cybernetic) autopoietic (automatically produced) feedback loop with perception. They are considered foundational to perception, even. For instance, the nerve endings in the eye (the retina) process light into perceptual information by transforming light into a digestable nerve-compatible material, that the optic nerve sends to nine nuclei that relay this information into the visual cortex which actually makes the initial signals from the optic nerve more complex. This example, I think illustrates how nerve digestion and processing of light is an increasingly complex process that is a pre-logical, sub-symbolic material process. After the additive complexity within the primary visual cortex, it becomes even more complex as the brain, through neural communication and organic mutation, processes the perception with hyper-complex (cannot predict it mathematically) logical and symbolic faculties. This hyper-complex structure of “buzzing” neural networks become meaningful only to the extent that “difference makes a difference”. What this means, I think, is that meaning is not something that nerologists will find in the brain. It is emergent from neural networks – but these neural networks are a historically continual process; meaning that there is never a physical gap in the evolution of bodies (and brains).

Evolution is a continuity that never ceases, in other words. Neg-entropy is an explanatory tool that combines thermodynamic entropy with informational entropy in hopes of creating a new evolutionary theory that combines matter, energy, and information. (Soren Brier) Meaning, then, under this theory is understood to be a methodological combination of Cybernetics, Neurology, thermodynamics, linguistics (particularly Wittegenstein’s language games), and semiotics in a field called, Cybersemiotics.

So where, how, and when perception becomes meaning, can only be answered partially right now, I think.


2 Responses to “Methods on Meaning: Cybersemiotics and Evolutionary Continuity”

  1. restingtransparently said

    I wouldn’t say the symbol is primary for Peirce. The symbol is the third of three kinds of sign. The icon, which signifies on the basis of resemblance, is first. The index, which signifies on the basis of cause-effect relationships, is second. The symbol, which signifies on the basis of imputation (and, although Peirce may not have been clear on this, not all symbols require language—cf. the dance of bees to symbolize the presence of food). All signs represent an object. I’m not quite sure what you mean by the systemic closure upon objective primacy. How does this fit with Peirce’s notion that in semiosis the interpretant (the habit of meaning, the third term of the sign-relation) is itself a sign that terminates in yet another object, and so on, ad infinitum? And how is the topology of the object signified capable of divorce from the object’s ontology? And what is this about ontology being reduced to mnemonic metaphors?

  2. RiseInRuin said

    Thanks for writing. Sorry it took me a while to respond to your post, but I have taken a long break from thinking to pursue art and music and have left this blog almost entirely.

    I think you make a good point about Pierce’s hierarchy of signs. To try to answer your questions though, when a triadic dynamic is created between object, sign and interpretant, the system becomes closed off, meaning that the sign takes on primacy over the object and even peripheral objects. It is now an isolated triad because of the normative evaluations made by the interpretor. Evaluations cannot be avoided. When the interpretant becomes a sign himself, another triadic system is created through the evaluations of another interpretant ad infinitum. The closed systems of signs, objects and interpretants are closed off from one another. It becomes an array of triangles. Looking back on this, “an object’s ontology” seems to me a contradiction of terms. Where does an object begin and end? Before the evaluation of the sign is even made, the interpretor has already made evaluative ontological judgments about where the object begins and ends. I’m under the impression now that ontology (even the set theory ontology) is reduced to mnemonic metaphors and as such, impossible. The expression of objects (signs) are not the objects, but an aural reduction of the sign. If the object is a rock, the sign is either some letters on a page or acoustic vibrations in the air. Normative, rational means have no way to express an ontology because of the necessary transformation from one sensation to another – because of the sign.

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