Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I Used To Be a Semiotician...

until I became a full otician.

But seriously, folks, I've been reading Thomas Sebeok's Signs this week, and am really enjoying dipping my toes in these waters again. Here's Sebeok:
"The phenomenon that distinguishes life forms from inanimate objects is semiosis."

How's that? Well, as I understand it, inanimate objects only display what Peirce called secondness: "It is important to understand what I mean by semiosis. All dynamical action, or action of brute force … either takes place between two subjects … or at any rate is a resultant of such actions between pairs. But by ‘semiosis’ I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a co√∂peration of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs."

And it is characteristic of the living world that this relation of thirdness occurs -- a bacterium swims up a chemical gradient because it interprets the gradient as a sign of the presence of food ahead.

Also, how about this? "The literature on vertebrate communication takes it for granted... that indicators (i.e., their own names) are universally incorporated into all messages of birds and mammals."


  1. Wait - does this mean that Schroedinger's cat must always be DEAD, because when it is in its quantum box we are unable to detect any signals from it?



"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb