Cybersemiotics According to Søren Brier

“Cybersemiotics constructs a non-reductionist framework in order to integrate third person knowledge from the exact sciences and the life sciences with first person knowledge described as the qualities of feeling in humanities and second person intersubjective knowledge of the partly linguistic communicative interactions, on which the social and cultural aspects of reality are based. The modern view of the universe as made through evolution in irreversible time, forces us to view man as a product of evolution and therefore an observer from inside the universe. This changes the way we conceptualize the problem and the role of consciousness in nature and culture. The theory of evolution forces us to conceive the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities together in one theoretical framework of unrestricted or absolute naturalism, where consciousness as well as culture is part of nature. But the theories of the phenomenological life world and the hermeneutics of the meaning of communication seem to defy classical scientific explanations. The humanities therefore send another insight the opposite way down the evolutionary ladder, with questions like: What is the role of consciousness, signs and meaning in the development of our knowledge about evolution? Phenomenology and hermeneutics show the sciences that their prerequisites are embodied living conscious beings imbued with meaningful language and with a culture. One can see the world view that emerges from the work of the sciences as a reconstruction back into time of our present ecological and evolutionary selfunderstanding as semiotic intersubjective conscious cultural and historical creatures, but unable to handle the aspects of meaning and conscious awareness and therefore leaving it out of the story. Cybersemiotics proposes to solve the dualistic paradox by starting in the middle with semiotic cognition and communication as a basic sort of reality in which all our knowledge is created and then suggests that knowledge develops into four aspects of human reality: Our surrounding nature described by the physical and chemical natural sciences, our corporality described by the life sciences such as biology and medicine, our inner world of subjective experience described by phenomenologically based investigations and our social world described by the social sciences. I call this alternative model to the positivistic hierarchy the cybersemiotic star.”

Read the paper: Cybersemiotics: A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture | CYBERSEMIOTICS

“The Emergence of Biosemiotics from Physiochemical Dynamics” — Terrence Deacon

Terrence Deacon, Professor of Biological Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, gives a presentation as part of the University of Oregon Conference on Biosemiotics and Culture. This conference, organized by Visiting Professor Wendy Wheeler and Molly Westling, focuses on the cultural dimensions of this new interdisciplinary field that explores meaningful relationships and communication throughout the living world. This communication includes the whole range of behaviors from intracellular code exchanges to interspecies communication and human language and culture. This new field has enormous potential for reintegrating cultural studies with the life sciences and opening new perspectives on the evolution of language and the arts. “Biosemiotics and Culture” will be the first such conference in the United States.

Watch the video here

 

More than the subtraction of its parts

We tend to understand processes of emergence as the specific significant reality that is produced by a sum of parts. In this we emulate a homo faber worldview of production, or even of production ex nihilo. According to this web of belief, parts are seen as preexistent to the whole, as the cogs of a machine (although even the parts of the machine come after its architecture) or as the ingredients that make a meal (but here again a recipe is followed).

In growing plants, animals, humans, the whole seems to be prior to the part, like a plan that allows for biological forms and patterns to be specific and reasonably stable. Darwin has shown that these forms evolve, certainly, but gradually, against a stronger tendency towards stability and lawful behaviour. Evolution seems better understood by scientists than stability and repetition of forms in ecosystems.

Crealectics is an attempt, at the moment balbutiating, at understanding the stability of universal forms that we call reality, rather than their change only. The Creal hypothesis presupposes, as in all process philosophies, that change and creation are fundamental and ontologically given. Multiplicity, profusion, metamorphosis, infinite probability are not “mysterious” if primordial. What is more mysterious is the real with its recurrent and regular forms.

Compared to a Creal defined as pure virtuality and infinite probability, the real is not an addition but always a subtraction. One does not produce reality by adding elements, otherwise we would, by a regressio ad absurdum, have to explain how something is created out of nothing (an idea that the pre-socratics found ridiculous). Ex tota materia emergat resolutio; by considering a prime mover that could be defined as infinite probability, infinite virtuality, or infinite multiplicity, we start to foresee that realia, real phenomenaare a partial manifestation, not a +1 but a -1.

Actualisation, from a creal point of view, is not an emergence, but a resorbence. And even the idea of resorption might not be indicated here because if you take an element (a reale) of an infinite virtual set (Creal), the set remains infinite.

 

 

Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Peter Skagestad

University of Massachusetts

 

ABSTRACT: The adjective ‘virtual,’ practically unheard-of a few years ago, has become a primary buzzword of the 90’s. Yet the word ‘virtual’ is nothing new, although its ubiquity is new, as is perhaps its current meaning or meanings. In 1902 the word was defined by Charles Peirce as follows: ‘A virtual X (where X is a common noun) is something, not an X, which has the deficiency (virtus) of an X.’ Peirce also references Scotus’s concept of virtual knowledge, the concept of virtual velocity in physics, and Edmund Burke’s doctrine of virtual representation, which is not representation but is supposedly as good as. The concept of virtuality is deeply embedded in Peirce’s doctrine of signs and hence in his semiotic doctrine of mind. In this Peircean doctrine, which has been more recently echoed in the writings of Wittgenstein and Popper, we find the most promising philosophical framework available for the understanding and advancement of the project of augmenting human intellect through the development and use of virtual technologies.

Read the paper here: 20th WCP: Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Fabulation and esprit de corps as worldforming in Bergson

Esprit de corps was a fundamental notion in Bergson’s Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion,[1] where it appeared closely related to the idea that one’s social self was like a ‘moi supérieur devant lequel la personalité moyenne s’incline:’[2]

Si l’on admet […] une ‘mentalité primitive’, on y verra le respect de soi coïncider avec le sentiment d’une telle solidarité entre l’individu et le groupe que le groupe reste présent à l’individu isolé, le surveille, l’encourage ou le menace, exige enfin d’être consulté et obéi […]. La pression du moi social s’exerce avec toutes ces énergies accumulées. L’individu n’obéit d’ailleurs pas seulement par habitude de la discipline ou par crainte du châtiment : le groupe auquel il appartient se met nécessairement au-dessus des autres, […] et la conscience de cette supériorité de force lui assure […] toutes les jouissances de l’orgueil. […] Il suffit d’observer ce qui se passe sous nos yeux dans les petites sociétés qui se constituent au sein de la grande, quand des hommes se trouvent rapprochés les uns des autres par quelque marque distinctive qui souligne une supériorité réelle ou apparente, et qui les met à part. […] Tous les membres du groupe ‘se tiennent’ ; on voit naître un ‘sentiment de l’honneur’ qui ne fait qu’un avec l’esprit de corps.[3]

Bergson, at first glance, seemed to present a synthesis of the thoughts of authors like Durkheim, Tarde, Palante, or Terraillon: esprit de corps was a tribal process of collective self-glorification. But Bergson’s use of inverted commas was connected to the fact that for him this ‘feeling of honour’ was not true or natural, but rather a necessary fiction, a ‘fabulation’.[4]

Fabulation was for the author an intelligent capacity to manipulate symbols and fictional narratives in order to generate common beliefs. It functioned like a form of ‘virtual instinct’:

C’est de l’instinct virtuel, entendant par là qu’à l’extrémité d’une autre ligne d’évolution, dans les sociétés d’insectes, nous voyons l’instinct provoquer mécaniquement une conduite comparable, pour son utilité, à celle que suggèrent à l’homme, intelligent et libre, des images quasi hallucinatoires.[5]

In Latin, fabulari meant to speak and invent a story.[6] Bergson suggested that language, ideology and storytelling could help to create a mindset, a second nature, that simulated animal instinct to a certain extent. Esprit de corps was a form of collective hallucination, a contagious social fiction, a more or less permanent altered state of consciousness — this would justify the use of the term esprit as a form of spiritual possession. The paradox here was that freedom and rationality (‘intelligent et libre’) were associated with illusion and insect-like instinct. How could one be free and at the same time hallucinating? How could one be intelligent and model one’s conduct on a fable?

The answer, according to Bergson, lay in our plastic capacity to recreate new ideologies, to modify our narratives, to co-create our evolving virtual instinct, to which we then gave our near-blind consent, at least momentarily, for the sake of action and communion. Not unlike others before him, but more systematically, Bergson distinguished two interdependent and dialectical modes of human solidarity, one more conservative, the other more creative. The first one, based on obligation and social pressure, was comparable with the instinct of eusocial animals like ants and bees. It formed an effective human second nature via ‘habitude’, language, and social fictions.[7] In this case, the cohesion of the group was also maintained through its opposition to an outside territory, an outgroup. It was, when ripe, a circular force, hostile to the new:

Entre la société où nous vivons et l’humanité en général il y a […] le même contraste qu’entre le clos et l’ouvert. […] Qui ne voit que la cohésion sociale est due, en grande partie, à la nécessité pour une société de se défendre contre d’autres, et que c’est d’abord contre tous les autres hommes qu’on aime les hommes avec lesquels on vit ?[8]

In other words, esprit de caste was inevitable. But a more creative form of esprit de corps existed, if ephemerally; one that was about love and openness rather than antagonism.

Bergson thought that the mortar that joined the bricks of a closed society was ‘discipline’, which prepared for an ‘attitude’ of ‘guerre’ in front of an ‘ennemi’, a defensive mindset that subsisted even when covered by the ‘vernis’ of ‘devoirs moraux’.[9] There was a collective pressure on the members to remain united in a hermetic corps, and surrender part of their individuality to the duties of the in-group, for the sake of battles won. But because life was dual, both structured and structuring, both spiritual and natural, because it was a process of ‘creative evolution’,[10] human societies, according to Bergson, manifested a meta-historical flow of sentimental universalism, a slow and widening creation of fraternity that kept creating renewed and larger fabulations. This second tendency, representative of our cosmic freedom, could be incarnated by spiritual figures who were at the forefront of the ‘élan de vie.’[11]

[1] Henri Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990 [1932]).

[2] Ibid. p. 65.

[3] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 66–7.

[4] Ibid., p. 111.

[5] Ibid., p. 114.

[6] ‘Fabuler’, Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales, <www.cnrlt.fr> [Last accessed 15 March 2016].

[7] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 23.

[8] Ibid., p. 27.

[9] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 27.

[10] Bergson, L’évolution créatrice (Paris, Alcan, 1907).

[11] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 56.

Democratic ‘idiots’ according to Tocqueville

According to Tocqueville, any social group, even the lower classes, could feel the pride and dignity of belonging to an identified social cast. Modern democracies tended to prevent even the privileged classes from constituting a proper esprit: ‘Aujourd’hui, on voit encore des riches, mais ils ne forment plus un corps compact et héréditaire ; ils n’ont pu adopter un esprit, y persévérer et le faire pénétrer dans tous les rangs.’[1] A recent academic translation of the former passage has replaced ‘esprit’ by the expression ‘esprit de corps’: ‘Today, wealthy individuals still exist, but they have ceased to constitute a distinct and hereditary body capable of fostering and maintaining an esprit de corps, and instilling it in people of all ranks.’[2] The first English translation (1863) used the compound ‘class spirit’, [3]  adding ‘esprit de corps’ in parentheses in another passage where again Tocqueville only used the word ‘esprit’: ‘En toutes choses la majorité fait loi ; elle établit de certaines allures auxquelles ensuite chacun se conforme ; l’ensemble de ces habitudes communes s’appelle un esprit : il y a l’esprit du barreau, l’esprit de cour.’[4] In English:

 

The will of the majority is the most general of laws, and it establishes certain habits to which everyone must then conform; the aggregate of these common habits is what is called the class spirit (esprit de corps) of each profession; thus there is the class spirit of the bar, of the court, etc.[5]

 

For Tocqueville, esprit de corps was something of a pleonasm, hence the use of the sole word esprit. Democratic individualists can hardly form an esprit; etymologically speaking, they are ‘idiots’:

 

How do people remain their own masters? By maintaining the kind of community that secures their liberty. Freedom and community are not opposing forces any more than pluribus and unum. We are free so that we can create a community life so that, in turn, we can be free. Tocqueville’s singular contribution to our understanding of idiocy and citizenship is this notion that idiots are idiotic precisely because they are indifferent to the conditions and contexts of their own freedom. They fail to grasp the interdependence of liberty and community.[6]

[1] Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol. II, p. 331.

[2] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Library of America, 2004), p. 403.

[3] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Henri Reeve (Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1863), vol. I, p. 237.

[4] Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol II., p. 23.

[5] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Henri Reeve, p. 237

[6] Walter C. Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life (New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2003), p. 4.

Biosemiotics and Politics

Sharing an interesting paper by Cannizzaro and Cobley (2015)

Biosemiotics, politics and Th.A. Sebeok’s move from linguistics to semiotics. In: Biosemiotic Perspectives on Language and Linguistic. Biosemiotics . Springer, pp. 207-222.

Abstract This paper will focus on the political implications for the language sciences of Sebeok’s move from linguistics to a global semiotic perspective, a move that ultimately resulted in biosemiotics. The paper will seek to make more explicit the political bearing of a biosemiotic perspective in the language sciences and the human sciences in general. In particular, it will discuss the definition of language inherent in Sebeok’s project and the fundamental re-drawing of the grounds of linguistic debate heralded by Sebeok’s embrace of the concept of modelling. Thus far, the political co-ordinates of the biosemiotic project have not really been made explicit. This paper will therefore seek to outline
1. how biosemiotics enables us to reconfigure our understanding of the role of language in culture;
2. how exaptation is central to the evolution of language and communication, rather than adaptation;
3. how communication is the key issue in biosphere, rather than language, not just because communication includes language but because the language sciences often refer to language as if it were mere “chatter”, “tropes” and “figures of speech”;
4. how biosemiotics, despite its seeming “neutrality” arising from its transdisciplinarity, is thoroughly political;
5. how the failure to see the implications of the move from linguistics to semiotics arises from the fact that biosemiotics is devoid of old style politics, which is based on representation (devoid of experience) and “construction of [everything] in discourse” (which is grounded in linguistics, not communication study).
In contrast to the post-“linguistic turn” idea that the world is “constructed in discourse”, we will argue that biosemiotics entails a reconfiguration of the polis and, in particular, offers the chance to completely reconceptualise ideology.

The article can be accessed here.

 

 

From Information Theory to French Theory: the Cybernetic Apparatus

Interesting article of intellectual history by Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan. On the relationship between linguistics, structuralism, and CIA funded cybernetics.

‘In this paper I examine the history of efforts to reform the human sciences through new media research, with a particular emphasis on the Rockefeller Foundation’s interwoven programs of support for communications research, digital media, and global science from 1930 to 1960. Through archival research and textual analysis I reconstruct how leading scholars and scientific administrators came to conceive of new media technologies as part of an impartial apparatus for transcending cultural, biological, and political difference. I recover the forgotten history of interdisciplinary and transnational programs that conjoined the research of Francophone structuralists to that of American engineers. The result is a new account of 20th century media change and research as inscribed within a project of “global technics” that substituted technological procedures for political decision making.’

Read the full paper here