|obverse Chapter 15·||Turning Signs (Contents)||References||SourceNet|
This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·15 (the reverse side of Chapter 15·) of Turning Signs, as of 7 September 2017. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere. Tip: You can also search this page or the whole netbook or the gnoxic blog for any term.
In the marvelous thirteenth-century legend called La Queste del Saint Graal, it is told that when the Knights of the Round Table set forth, each on his own steed, in quest of the Holy Grail, they departed separately from the castle of King Arthur. “And now each one,” we are told, “went the way upon which he had decided, and they set out into the forest at one point and another, there where they saw it to be thickest” (la ou il la voient plus espesse); so that each, entering of his own volition, leaving behind the known good company and table of Arthur's towered court, would experience the unknown pathless forest in his own heroic way.— Joseph Campbell (1968), 36
But by writing thithaways end to end and turning, turning and end to end hithaways writing and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slettering down, the old semetomyplace and jupetbackagain from Ham Let Rise till Hum Lit Sleep, where in the waste is the wisdom?— The Restored Finnegans Wake, 90-1
Wild goose chase: 2. fig. An erratic course taken or led by one person (or thing) and followed (or that may be followed) by another (or taken by a person in following his own inclinations or impulses); in later use (the origin being forgotten) apprehended as ‘a pursuit of something as unlikely to be caught as the wild goose’ (Johnson); a foolish, fruitless or hopeless quest.— Oxford English Dictionary
Toties testies quoties questies. The war is in words and the wood is the world. Maply me, willowy we, hickory he and yew yourselves. Howforhim chirrupeth evereachbird! From golddawn glory to glowworm gleam. We were lowquacks did we not tacit turn.— Finnegans Wake 99, RFW 78
There is no inherent difference between the associations of living thoughts that constitute the living thinking knowing self and those by which different kinds of selves might relate and thereby form associations. Further, because selves are loci of living thoughts—emergent ephemeral waypoints in a dynamic process— there is no unitary self. There is no one thing that one could “be”: “[A] person is not absolutely an individual. His thoughts are what he is ‘saying to himself,’ that is, is saying to that other self that is just coming into life in the flow of time” (Peirce, CP 5.421).— Eduardo Kohn (2013, 88)
Selves relate the way that thoughts relate: we are all living, growing thoughts.— Kohn (2013, 89)
You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says: It is a puling sample jungle of woods. You most shouts out: Bethicket me for a stump of a beech if I have the poultriest notions what the forest he all means.— The Restored Finnegans Wake, 89
The forest is context of the path.
To understand a sentence means to understand a language.— Wittgenstein (PI I.199)
For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.— Wittgenstein (PI I.43)
What a word means also depends on where and when you use it. ‘Queen Anne's Lace’ is one of several popular names for the common weed Daucus Carota – in North America. In England, ‘Queen Anne's Lace’ is the name of an entirely different plant, Anthriscus sylvestris (Heiser 2003, 44).
A turning word is like the tip of the proverbial iceberg, or rather like the still point of a turning sign, ‘at the still point of the turning world’ which is its context.
The universe is the only text without a context. Every particular mode of being is universe-referent, and its meaning is established only within this comprehensive setting. This is why this story of the universe, and especially of the planet Earth, is so important. Through our understanding of this story, our own role in the story is revealed. In this revelation lies our way into the future.Use, purpose and meaning depend on context. How can that which provides the context for everything have its own use, purpose or meaning?— Thomas Berry (2006, 23)
to maximize the relevance of any information being processed. … people hope that the assumption being processed is relevant (or else they would not bother to process it at all), and they try to select a context which will justify that hope: a context which will maximize relevance. In verbal comprehension in particular, it is relevance which is treated as given, and context which is treated as a variable.This is another perspective on the process of ‘context construction’ described in Chapter 15. But context being holarchic, that process itself has a context. Relevance involves some relation to the known (or presupposed), but also some novelty; if i tell you what you already take for granted, that is not relevant. Relevance itself, then, is determined by context, i.e. by the ‘state of information’ (Peirce) in which the communication or ‘processing’ is situated – or in Peircean terms, in which the sign determines an interpretant.
Peirce in a 1906 text identified three kinds of interpretant:
In all cases, it includes feelings; for there must, at least, be a sense of comprehending the meaning of the sign. If it includes more than mere feeling, it must evoke some kind of effort. It may include something besides, which, for the present, may be vaguely called “thought.” I term these three kinds of interpretant the “emotional,” the “energetic,” and the “logical” interpretants.Naturally it is the ‘logical interpretant, the conveyed thought’ (EP2:410) which is most crucial for a sign involved in a process of dialog or inquiry; and ‘the essence of the logical interpretant’ (EP2:412) is the habit which is established or modified by that semiosic process. Not all signs can have a logical interpretant, and even a sign which would have one if the semiosic process were completed may not produce it in an actual semiosic process, depending on the timing:EP2:409
It is not to be supposed that upon every presentation of a sign capable of producing a logical interpretant, such interpretant is actually produced. The occasion may either be too early or too late. If it is too early, the semiosis will not be carried so far, the other interpretants sufficing for the rude functions for which the sign is used. On the other hand, the occasion will come too late if the interpreter be already familiar with the logical interpretant, since then it will be recalled to his mind by a process which affords no hint of how it was originally produced. Moreover, the great majority of instances in which formations of logical interpretants do take place are very unsuitable to serve as illustrations of the process, because in them the essentials of this semiosis are buried in masses of accidental and hardly relevant semioses that are mixed with the former.What makes a semiosis ‘relevant’ or essential (rather than accidental) to the formation of a logical interpretant? To deal with this question, Peirce constructs a scenario of an inquiry process and conducts a thought-experiment to investigate how it works.EP2:414
The best way that I have been able to hit upon for simplifying the illustrative example which is to serve as our matter upon which to experiment and observe is to suppose a man already skillful in handling a given sign (that has a logical interpretant) to begin now before our inner gaze for the first time, seriously to inquire what that interpretant is. It will be necessary to amplify this hypothesis by a specification of what his interest in the question is supposed to be.… unless our hypothesis be rendered specific as to that interest, it will be impossible to trace out its logical consequences, since the way the interpreter will conduct the inquiry will greatly depend upon the nature of his interest in it.The inquirer's ‘interest’ is part of the context of the inquiry – not the ‘context which is treated as a variable’ according to Sperber and Wilson, but the situational context which determines what is essential and what is irrelevant in the text.EP2:414
At this point it must be noticed that the simplest assertion uses two signs. This is true even of so simple a proposition as “pluit”, where one of the signs is the totality of the circumstances of the interview between the interlocutors, which makes the auditor think that what is happening out of doors is referred to. This is evident, since if he simply heard the word “pluit” pronounced, though he might be ever so determined to believe what was meant, yet if he knew not at all whence the sound came, whether from somebody recounting a dream or telling a story or from a planet of a distant star, and did not know at what time the word was uttered, he could not in the least guess what he was expected to believe. Nor could any mere words tell him, unless they referred to something in his immediate experience, as a sign (and if he were, for example, told that the rain was “fifty miles north of where you are standing.”) It must be something common to the experience of both interlocutors.— Peirce, “Basis of Pragmatism”, 1905, MS 284, 42-3 [Stjernfelt 2014]
a sign endeavours to represent, in part at least, an Object, which is therefore in a sense the cause, or determinant, of the sign even if the sign represents its object falsely. But to say that it represents its Object implies that it affects a mind, and so affects it as, in some respect, to determine in that mind something that is mediately due to the Object. That determination of which the immediate cause, or determinant, is the Sign, and of which the mediate cause is the Object may be termed the Interpretant.It seems that the representation of the Object by the sign is inseparable from the determination (or causation) of the sign by the Object, and from the determination of the Interpretant by the sign. In the last sentence of the quote above, the ‘determination’ which ‘may be termed the Interpretant’ is the result, or effect, of the determining action – determination in that sense – by the sign which ‘affects a mind.’ In Peirce's usage, this term does not refer only to human minds, as every animal has a mind adapted to its requirements (CP 5.603, 1903). For our purposes we may define a mind (or ‘quasi-mind,’ as Peirce sometimes calls it) as anything capable of being determined by a sign to an interpretant.CP 6.347 (c.1909)
A similar Peircean definition says that a sign
is anything, of whatsoever mode of being, which mediates between an object and an interpretant; since it is both determined by the object relatively to the interpretant, and determines the interpretant in reference to the object, in such wise as to cause the interpretant to be determined by the object through the mediation of this “sign.”That which is antecedent to something is before it in time, place or logical order; the consequent of it follows ‘as an effect or result, or as a necessary inference’ (CD). Reasoning proceeds from antecedent to consequent, and normally attributes the same sequential order to cause and effect (RLT 201ff.). The object being antecedent and the interpretant consequent of the sign attributes that same sequential order to the determination of the sign by its dynamic object and its interpretant by the sign, and to the mediate determination of the interpretant by the object. Thus determination as the essential sign-action takes time – yet the mediate determination must take place at the same time as the other two determinations involved in a moment of semiosis.The object and the interpretant are thus merely the two correlates of the sign; the one being antecedent, the other consequent of the sign.EP2:410 (MS 318, 1907)
When we represent this moment as a step in semiosis (analogous to a step in walking), we regard sign, object and interpretant as the three correlates of a triadic relation, as if the three were separate entities or subjects connected by the one relation. The transitive action of determining a subject causes it to become determinate in some respect in which it was indeterminate before. Peirce defines this in logical terms:
A subject is determinate in respect to any character which inheres in it or is (universally and affirmatively) predicated of it, as well as in respect to the negative of such character, these being the very same respect. In all other respects it is indeterminate.Predication is a kind of sign-action, specifically the action of a proposition (sign) upon its subject (the sign's object). Determination moves in the opposite direction: object (antecedent) determines sign to determine interpretant (consequent). As we have seen above, this directionality also applies to what Peirce called ‘the logic of events’ (RLT) – and in Peirce's view, the concept of causal sequence is derived from the concept of logical consequence.CP 5.447, EP2:350
Even a future event can only be determinate in so far as it is a consequent. Now the concept of a consequent is a logical concept. It is derived from the concept of the conclusion of an argument. But an argument is a sign of the truth of its conclusion; its conclusion is the rational interpretation of the sign.‘New Elements’ (1904) is another essay where Peirce points to the entanglement of causal conceptions with the logical concepts of argument, truth, conclusion and interpretation. Logic, he writes,EP2:392-3
speaks of an antecedent as that which, being known, something else, the consequent, may also be known. In our vernacular, the latter is inaccurately called a consequence, a word that the precise terminology of logic reserves for the proposition expressing the relation of any consequent to its antecedent, or for the fact which this proposition expresses. The conception of the relation of antecedent and consequent amounts, therefore, to a confusion of thought between the reference of a sign to its meaning, the character which it attributes to its object, and its appeal to an interpretant. But it is the former of these which is the more essential. The knowledge that the sun has always risen about once in each 24 hours (sidereal time) is a sign whose object is the sun, and (rightly understood) a part of its signification is the rising of the sun tomorrow morning. The relation of an antecedent to its consequent, in its confusion of the signification with the interpretant, is nothing but a special case of what occurs in all action of one thing upon another, modified so as to be merely an affair of being represented instead of really being. It is the representative action of the sign upon its object. For whenever one thing acts upon another it determines in that other a quality that would not otherwise have been there.The ‘representative action of the sign upon its object’ is the cognitive determination of the object, as when the scientific investigator determines the probable truth or falsity of a hypothesis. In a sense, then, cognitive determination (inquiry), as an action upon the object, is the reverse of the semiosic determination of the sign (and interpretant) by the object, as if it were the other side of the same coin. Cognitive determination is essentially triadic, while ‘action of one thing upon another’ is essentially dyadic; yet Peirce says that cognitive (i.e. semiotic) determination ‘is nothing but a special case of’ causal determination. This accounts for the ‘confusion of the signification with the interpretant,’ or confusion of representative action with interpretive action. This confusion results naturally from the nature of the argument, which is the main semiotic instrument and embodiment of inquiry, because this kind of sign actually fuses causal with cognitive determination.EP2:305
According to Peirce (above), ‘an argument is a sign of the truth of its conclusion’ – not the sign of its conclusion, but of the truth, which it thus takes to be its object. Now a dynamic object, ‘since it is conceived to act upon the sign, … must be conceived as singular, not general’ (EP2:404).
Indeed, all propositions refer to one and the same determinately singular subject, well-understood between all utterers and interpreters; namely, to The Truth, which is the universe of all universes, and is assumed on all hands to be real.‘There is but one individual, or completely determinate, state of things, namely, the all of reality’ (EP2:378). That to which ‘all propositions refer’ may be called ‘The Truth’ becauseCP 5.506 (c.1905)
Truth belongs exclusively to propositions. A proposition has a subject (or set of subjects) and a predicate. The subject is a sign; the predicate is a sign; and the proposition is a sign that the predicate is a sign of that of which the subject is a sign. If it be so, it is true.‘That of which the subject is a sign’ is the object of the proposition; and ‘there must be an action of the object upon the sign to render the latter true’ (EP2:380). Moreover, this action must be dyadic. A true proposition must involve a genuine index, a sign causally or dyadically determined by its object, as the orientation of a weathercock is by the weather (to use Peirce's favorite example). An index does not act as a sign until it determines an interpretant, but when it does act semiosically, its indexicality (its ‘real relation’ to its object) is antecedent to its acting as an index. Indeed the dyadic action of its object upon it may precede the triadic action of reading it by many thousands of years, in archaeology for example. Yet the interpretive action is triadic because it involves the determination of the index by its object, so that the proposition involving that index represents its object as real.EP2:379
Turning from the proposition to the argument, we find another layer of involvement: the argument must involve a proposition (CP 2.253, EP2:293), just as the proposition involves an index (which in turn must involve an icon in order to convey information). Indeed the argument, being also a symbol and a legisign, involves in its action all of the other sign types listed in Peirce's tenfold classification of them (in his 1903 ‘Syllabus’). This might explain Peirce's claim that the Universe, ‘being precisely an argument’ (EP2:194), is ‘perfused with signs’ (EP2:394), assuming that the Universe perfused with signs is the same ‘universe which we are all accustomed to refer to as “the truth”’ (EP2:394). But does it explain how the object of an argument can be ‘the truth’ (of its conclusion), if the object ‘must be conceived as singular, not general’ (EP2:404), while at the same time the ‘Argument must be a Symbol, or Sign whose Object is a General Law or Type’ (EP2:293)? This apparent contradiction arises partly from another ‘confusion’ related to the concept of an object, which Peirce unravels in MS 318 (EP2:404-9); but mostly it arises from the nature of the Argument.
To repeat the remark quoted above from Peirce's ‘New Elements’:
The conception of the relation of antecedent and consequent amounts, therefore, to a confusion of thought between the reference of a sign to its meaning, the character which it attributes to its object, and its appeal to an interpretant. But it is the former of these which is the more essential.The sign's reference to the character it attributes to its object is ‘more essential’ to the function of a proposition. But equally essential to the function of an argument, or perhaps more so, is ‘its appeal to an interpretant.’ We may infer this from the following definitions of argument as given by Peirce:
An Argument is a Sign which, for its Interpretant, is a Sign of law. Or we may say that a Rheme is a sign which is understood to represent its object in its characters merely; that a Dicisign is a sign which is understood to represent its object in respect to actual existence; and that an Argument is a Sign which is understood to represent its Object in its character as Sign.CP 2.252, EP2:292
The Interpretant of the Argument represents it as an instance of a general class of Arguments, which class on the whole will always tend to the truth. It is this law, in some shape, which the argument urges; and this “urging” is the mode of representation proper to Arguments.CP 2.253, EP2:293
an Argument … is essentially intended to be understood as representing what it represents only in virtue of the logical habit which would bring any logical Interpreter to assent to it. We may express this by saying that the Final (or quasi-intended) Interpretant of an Argument represents it as representing its Object after the manner of a Symbol.CP 4.572 (1906)
An Argument may be defined as a Sign which intends itself to be understood as fulfilling its function.The function of any action is ‘its purpose together with the general idea,—not, however, the plan,—of the means of attaining that purpose’ (EP2:389). In other words, its final cause only partially determines what actually happens, as it is itself indeterminate to a degree, just as a sign is objectively indeterminate (CP 5.447, EP2:350). Actually carrying out a function such as that of a ‘Sign of law’ requires a cooperation of efficient and final causes. Each moment of semiosis is another iteration of the meaning cycle whose function is to efficiently and continuously modify the habits (or final causes) which in turn determine subsequent (and consequent) actions (as well as their other interpretants). The argument, as the kind of sign that most explicitly ‘appeals to an interpretant,’ manifests the implicit directionality, the feeling/quality of forward motion, which is essential to reasoning, semiosis, intentionality and determination, even to the flow of time itself.MS 295, 1906 (quoted by Stjernfelt 2014, 78)
Peirce felt that the best and most iconic representation of the reasoning process was his system of Existential Graphs, considered as ‘moving pictures of thought’ (CP 4.8, 1906). As he remarked in his ‘Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism’ (1906),
this System leads to a different conception of the Proposition and Argument from the traditional view that a Proposition is composed of Names, and that an Argument is composed of Propositions. It is a matter of insignificant detail whether the term Argument be taken in the sense of the Middle Term, in that of the Copulate of Premisses, in that of the setting forth of Premisses and Conclusion, or in that of the representation that the real facts which the premisses assert (together, it may be, with the mode in which those facts have come to light) logically signify the truth of the Conclusion. In any case, when an Argument is brought before us, there is brought to our notice (what appears so clearly in the Illative Transformations of Graphs) a process whereby the Premisses bring forth the Conclusion, not informing the Interpreter of its Truth, but appealing to him to assent thereto. This Process of Transformation, which is evidently the kernel of the matter, is no more built out of Propositions than a motion is built out of positions.Accordingly, we will perhaps understand the various kinds of signs (and triadic relations) as products of analysis of that Process of Transformation which most fully represents itself in the form of the Argument. In other words, we might best understand the Proposition in terms of its functional involvement in the Argument, the Index in terms of its functional involvement in the Proposition, and so on. We might likewise understand Sign, Object and Interpretant, the three correlates of the one triadic relation, not as subjects or things in themselves, but as concepts abstracted from that Process of Transformation for the purpose of representing how triadic action works. This may be the best way of grounding Peirce's semiotic/logic in his phaneroscopy, which likewise abstracts the concepts of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness as the indecomposable ‘elements’ of the continuous universal process of appearing. For here too the involvement of Firstness in genuine Secondness, and of both in genuine Thirdness, are essential. But for the time being, we will here conclude this particular episode in the universal process of semiosis.CP 4.572
All things speak this dharma. Who can hear it?
Investigate this question in detail throughout your life, throughout many lives. The question also can work as a statement. This statement is the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.— Dogen (Tanahashi 2010, 552)
Actually, hearing dharma is not limited to ear sense and ear consciousness. You hear dharma with complete power, complete mind, complete body, and complete way from before your parents were born, before the Empty Eon, through the entire future, the unlimited future. You can hear dharma with body first and mind last.
Such ways of hearing the dharma are all effective. Don’t think that you are not benefited by hearing the dharma if it does not reach your mind consciousness. Effacing mind, dropping body, you hear the dharma and see the result. With no mind and no body, you should hear dharma and benefit from it. Experiencing such moments is how all buddha ancestors become buddhas and attain ancestorhood.
Ordinary people cannot understand that dharma power transforms body and mind. The boundary of body and mind cannot be encompassed. When the effect of hearing dharma is planted in the field of body and mind, it never decays. It is bound to grow and bear fruit.
Foolish people may think that when we hear dharma, if we do not advance in understanding and cannot remember the teaching, there will be no benefit from it. They say it is essential to learn broadly and memorize extensively with our entire body and mind. They think that forgetting the teaching, absentmindedly leaving the place of instruction, creates no benefit and no accomplishment. They think in this way because they have not met a genuine teacher and encountered themselves. One who has not received authentic transmission face to face cannot be a genuine teacher. A genuine teacher is one who has received transmission authentically from buddha to buddha.
Indeed, to memorize in mind consciousness and not to forget is exactly how the power of hearing the dharma encompasses the mind and encompasses consciousness. At the very moment when this is done, you realize the power of encompassing body; encompassing past body, encompassing mind; encompassing past mind, encompassing future mind; encompassing cause and condition, action and result; encompassing form, essence, body, and activity; encompassing buddha; encompassing ancestor; encompassing self and other; and encompassing skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. The power of encompassing speech and encompassing sitting and lying down is manifest throughout the entire earth and sky.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Mujo Seppo’ (Tanahashi 2010, 553-4)
All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life.— Wittgenstein (1969, #105)
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. …
The Sign can only represent the Object and tell about it. It cannot furnish acquaintance with or recognition of that Object; for that is what is meant in this volume by the Object of a Sign; namely, that with which it presupposes an acquaintance in order to convey some further information concerning it. No doubt there will be readers who will say they cannot comprehend this. They think a Sign need not relate to anything otherwise known, and can make neither head nor tail of the statement that every Sign must relate to such an Object. But if there be anything that conveys information and yet has absolutely no relation nor reference to anything with which the person to whom it conveys the information has, when he comprehends that information, the slightest acquaintance, direct or indirect—and a very strange sort of information that would be—the vehicle of that sort of information is not, in this volume, called a Sign.
Two men are standing on the seashore looking out to sea. One of them says to the other, “That vessel there carries no freight at all, but only passengers.” Now, if the other, himself, sees no vessel, the first information he derives from the remark has for its Object the part of the sea that he does see, and informs him that a person with sharper eyes than his, or more trained in looking for such things, can see a vessel there; and then, that vessel having been thus introduced to his acquaintance, he is prepared to receive the information about it that it carries passengers exclusively. But the sentence as a whole has, for the person supposed, no other Object than that with which it finds him already acquainted. The Objects—for a Sign may have any number of them—may each be a single known existing thing or thing believed formerly to have existed or expected to exist, or a collection of such things, or a known quality or relation or fact, which single Object may be a collection, or whole of parts, or it may have some other mode of being, such as some act permitted whose being does not prevent its negation from being equally permitted, or something of a general nature desired, required, or invariably found under certain general circumstances.CP 2.230-2
The perspectival nature of linguistic systems means that as children learn to use words and linguistic constructions in the manner of adults, they come to see that the exact same phenomenon may be construed in many different ways for different communicative purposes depending on many factors in the communicative context.To construe is to simplify, and to simplify is to generalize: a symbol, by referring to a type of experience, can thus refer to many tokens of it on various occasions, including future occasions. Even proper nouns (names of specific things, places, people etc.) are general signs, because each implies the continuity of its object through time: each momentary manifestation of the object is a token of that type, and some features of it may vary from one occurrence to another. (If you notice a difference in someone's characteristic behavior, you might say, ‘It's not like him to do that!’) And the more common a word is, the broader is its reference.— Tomasello (1999, 213)
Things that you talk about, whether you perceive them to be in the external or internal world, are already construed, categorized and ‘framed’ by the time you mention them. But each actual reference to them can affect your framing habits; and these in turn affect your way of talking about them, or hearing others talk about them. Since everyone has a history of cycling through such loops countless times, and this history determines for each her ‘natural’ idiom, synchronizing reference between speakers is not always easy – hence polyversity.
The upshot of this in communication is that in trying to connect words with referents or experiences, ‘all sorts of risks are taken, assumptions and guesses made’ (Sperber and Wilson 1995, 19). This is the only practical way to reduce the many possible ‘construals’ of phenomena – or meanings of words – to the simplicity required for the maintenance of a conversation.
Sperber and Wilson take this as an argument against what they call ‘the mutual-knowledge hypothesis,’ but they are using the word knowledge here in an absolute sense, as equivalent to objective certainty (Sperber and Wilson 1995, 19-20). In reality, the common ground that people must have in order to carry on a conversation is a network of rather vague default assumptions. Actual conversation often consists of attempts to render some of the ‘mutual knowledge’ more precise, but in the actual context, there are pragmatic limits to this precision.
William James, in typically elegant fashion, gives a more psychologically realistic account of cognition as ‘virtual knowing.’
Now the immensely greater part of all our knowing never gets beyond this virtual stage. It never is completed or nailed down. … To continue thinking unchallenged is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, our practical substitute for knowing in the completed sense. As each experience runs by cognitive transition into the next one, and we nowhere feel a collision with what we elsewhere count as truth or fact, we commit ourselves to the current as if the port were sure. We live, as it were, upon the front edge of an advancing wave-crest, and our sense of a determinate direction in falling forward is all we cover of the future of our path.— James, ‘A World of Pure Experience’ (Kuklick 1172)
Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception takes a slightly different perspective:
My set of experiences is presented as a concordant whole, and the synthesis takes place not in so far as they all express a certain invariant, and in the identity of the object, but in that they are all collected together, by the last of their number, in the ipseity of the thing. The ipseity is, of course, never reached: each aspect of the thing which falls to our perception is still only an invitation to perceive beyond it, still only a momentary halt in the perceptual process. If the thing itself were reached, it would be from that moment arrayed before us and stripped of its mystery. It would cease to exist as a thing at the very moment when we thought to possess it. What makes the ‘reality’ of the thing is therefore precisely what snatches it from our grasp.This is, in context, quite consistent with Peirce's definition of ‘reality’:— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 271)
I define the real as that which holds its characters on such a tenure that it makes not the slightest difference what any man or men may have thought them to be, or ever will have thought them to be, here using thought to include, imagining, opining, and willing (as long as forcible means are not used); but the real thing's characters will remain absolutely untouched.In the process of inquiry or of learning, what James called ‘our sense of a determinate direction’ is a feeling that our knowledge of reality is becoming more precise, getting closer to the Truth. But semiotic experience teaches that our knowledge is never completely determinate.CP 6.495 (c. 1906)
No cognition and no Sign is absolutely precise, not even a Percept; and indefiniteness is of two kinds, indefiniteness as to what is the Object of the Sign, and indefiniteness as to its Interpretant, or indefiniteness in Breadth and in Depth.Any knowledge that will prove useful as guidance into the future must be general, and thus indefinite in that sense.— Peirce, CP 4.543 (1906)
Yet every proposition actually asserted must refer to some non-general subject …. Indeed, all propositions refer to one and the same determinately singular subject, well-understood between all utterers and interpreters; namely, to The Truth, which is the universe of all universes, and is assumed on all hands to be real. But besides that, there is some lesser environment of the utterer and interpreter of each proposition that actually gets conveyed, to which that proposition more particularly refers and which is not general.This ‘lesser environment’ is of course the more immediate context. Even if the dynamic Object of the sign is a fully determinate singular, the sign itself is still ‘indefinite as to its Interpretant,’ i.e. vague in that context. ‘No communication of one person to another can be entirely definite, i.e., non-vague’ (Peirce, CP 5.506).CP 5.506
Imagine, if you can, a mind without an external world to offer resistance to its intentions – a mind to which all phenomena were entirely internal. You might call it “the mind of God.”
Such a god would fit the description left us in the fragments that survive from the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Xenophanes. Here are the key points of his theology (translated by Kirk and Raven, 1957):
One way to make a unified sense of these fragments is to take ‘his holy resting-place’ as the universe itself, which of course does not go anywhere, as there is noplace else for it to go to. This universe is identical with the god's body, while his ‘thought’ is identical with what happens in the universe, so there is no gap between the two (except in our minds, defined by their limitations). Now, clearly this god-thought cannot be conscious, nor can it include any kind of ‘plan,’ because those would involve some delay between thought and realization, and some effort; but this god at once accomplishes his thought without toil, and has no need of a ‘future.’ Consciousness and planning are signs of human (or ‘mortal’) limitations; god accomplishes his purpose (fulfills his intention, expresses his meaning, ..... ) without having to imagine it first as we do with ours. In this case our conscious planning, or purposing, or meaning (assuming they occur in the universe and not elsewhere) would constitute a minuscule part of the god's mindbody. The god's knowledge of events cannot be separate from the events themselves – not unless the god is out of his mind (i.e. external to the universe, which is none other than himself).
- One god … in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought.
- Always he remains in the same place, moving not at all; nor is it fitting for him to go to different places at different times, but without toil he shakes all things by the thought of his mind.
- All of him sees, all thinks, and all hears.
- Sitting, he nevertheless at once accomplishes his thought, somehow, from his holy resting-place.
The upshot of this thought-experiment is that cosmic purposes or final causes, though they may be real, cannot be conscious purposes, nor can they be symbolized, recorded or stored externally. As Peirce remarked, ‘it is impossible ever actually to be directly conscious of thought’ (EP2, 269); consciousness of a thought requires another thought, and is therefore indirect.
Being an organism in an environmental context means that you need an internal model to guide your actions. A universal mind or will, however, having no context to contend with, no territory to navigate or map, has no model, no ‘inside’ or ‘outside,’ and no need (or possibility) to represent causality by inference as we do in the meaning cycle.
This thought-experiment has a parallel in physics. We begin with a classic scenario of thermodynamics: a closed container of two chambers filled with a gas at different temperatures, in which the gas can pass freely from one chamber to the other. The second law of thermodynamics predicts that the temperature gradient will dissipate itself: heat will distribute itself uniformly through the whole container, thus achieving equilibrium, which is equivalent to maximal disorder or ‘entropy.’ In 1871, James Clerk Maxwell imagined a way that this law could be violated: set up two containers connected only by a microscopic gate just big enough to allow passage of a single molecule at a time from one side to the other. Now suppose a tiny ‘demon’ can detect the speed of any particle and open the gate momentarily to let fast particles through in one direction only, and slow particles in the other direction only. This would increase the temperature gradient, and thus reverse the entropic process, without using any energy to do the work – supposing that the actual opening and closing of the gate uses no energy.
In 1922, however, Leo Szilard wrote a paper showing that in order to know enough about the particles to sort them out in this way, the demon would have to create at least as much entropy as was eliminated by the sorting process (Campbell 1982, 49). That's because it takes work to assemble and represent the information needed by the demon in order to discriminate between fast and slow particles, and the amount of energy it takes to accomplish this knowledge of any particle is no less than the energy of the particle itself. So if we look at the whole system containing those representations (or symbols) as well as the particles being sorted, its entropy is increasing even as the smaller system inside the container is growing more orderly by creating a gradient.
Our scenario above is similar in that any explicit knowledge (or purpose, or meaning) of any entity or event in the universe (the god's mindbody) would have to be another entity or event in the universe. This could add nothing to its ability to function implicitly, but something else would have to function implicitly in order to explicate (symbolize) the implicit function; and we can't go outside the universe to find that something else, because the universe has no ‘outside’ (by definition). In short, there's no room for explication apart from events themselves. On the whole, then, the only explication of the implicit purpose or meaning of events is the events themselves. In a more partial view, events may explicate or represent each other's purposes – which is what happens in consciousness – but only at the cost of converting (dissipating) some of the implicit functioning to symbolic functioning, without which there can be no explication.
Our scenario, then, presents consciousness as a small part of the cosmic mind, arising from local limitations, which can therefore serve some cosmic purpose, though it can only guess at what that purpose is – for as Xenophanes also said, ‘No man knows, or ever will know, the truth about the gods and about everything I speak of: for even if one chanced to say the complete truth, yet oneself knows it not … ’ and ‘the gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning; but by seeking men find out better in time.’ This sounds very much like the essentials of scientific method as Peirce and Popper saw it; and indeed Popper credited Xenophanes with the first clear formulation of ‘the true theory of knowledge’ (Popper 1968, 205). Gregory Bateson, in a comment on one of his essays in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, writes that
it extends the notion of informational control to include the field of morphogenesis and, by discussing what happens in absence of needed information, brings out the importance of the context into which information is received.…Message material, or information, comes out of a context into a context, and in other parts of the book the focus has been on the context out of which information came. Here the focus is rather upon the internal state of the organism as a context into which the information must be received.Of course, neither focus is sufficient by itself for our understanding of either animals or men. But it is perhaps not an accident that in these papers dealing with non-human organisms the “context” which is discussed is the obverse or complement of the “context” upon which I have focussed attention in other parts of the book.Consider the case of the unfertilized frog's egg for which the entry point of the spermatozoon defines the plane of bilateral symmetry of the future embryo.The prick of a hair from a camel's hair brush can be substituted and still carry the same message. From this it seems that the external context out of which the message comes is relatively undefined. From the entry point alone, the egg learns but little about the external world. But the internal context into which the message comes must be exceedingly complex.The unfertilized egg, then, embodies an immanent question to which the entry point of the spermatozoon provides an answer; and this way of stating the matter is the contrary or obverse of the conventional view, which would see the external context of learning as a “question” to which the ‘right’ behavior of the organism is an answer.— Bateson (1972, 395-6)
Is it possible that one single symbol could be awakened in isolation from all others? Probably not. Just as objects in the world always exist in a context of other objects, so symbols are always connected to a network of other symbols. This does not necessarily mean that symbols can never be disentangled from each other. To make a rather simple analogy, males and females always arise in a species together: their roles are completely intertwined, and yet this does not mean that a male cannot be distinguished from a female. Each is reflected in the other, as the beads in Indra's net reflect each other.…On this page, Hofstadter is referring to the instantiation of symbols in the brain, perhaps as ‘a neural network plus a mode of excitation.’ But what he says here is consistent with the concept of ‘symbol system’ in Turning Signs, with Peirce's use of the word ‘symbol,’ and with his remarks about the ‘perfect sign.’
The fact that a symbol cannot be awakened in isolation does not diminish the separate identity of the symbol; in fact, quite to the contrary: a symbol's identity lies precisely in its ways of being connected (via potential triggering links) to other symbols. The network by which symbols can potentially trigger each other constitutes the brain's working model of the real universe, as well as of the alternate universes which it considers (and which are every bit as important for the individual's survival in the real world as the real world is).— Hofstadter (1980, 359-60)
Jesus said, ‘He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.’Much of Christian (and Islamic) tradition associates ‘the kingdom’ with heaven and ‘the fire’ with hell, and elsewhere in Thomas, being burned is the fate of useless weeds (57). So what do we make of this connection between ‘the fire’ and Jesus? We can read it by the light of Sayings 10, 12 and 16 in Thomas, where ‘fire’ is an image of the disruptive, revolutionary, purifying force embodied in Jesus. Perhaps the reason that ‘fire’ is an element and an archetype, a part of the central repertoire of symbols in so many cultural systems, is its basic ambiguity, its potent mix of power and danger, destruction and light. Thomas 82 is just cryptic enough to remind us of this polysemy, and of how we have to play with meanings to find a fitting match for text and context.— (Lambdin)
As for ‘the kingdom,’ here as elsewhere it can be identified (metaphorically at least) with life itself. This reading is reinforced by the parallel saying in the recently discovered Coptic Gospel of the Savior:
Whoever is near me, is near the fire. Whoever is far away from me, is far away from life.As for the connection between fire and life, that is obvious enough in the light of nonequilibrium thermodynamics (Chapters 3 and 11).— (DeConick 2007a, 247)
Jesus said, ‘Now the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered them. Some fell on the road; the birds came and gathered them up. Others fell on the rock, did not take root in the soil, and did not produce ears. And others fell on thorns; they choked the seed(s) and worms ate them. And others fell on the good soil and produced good fruit: it bore sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure.’If the seed is a sign, the soil is the context in which its meaning appears (or fails to appear). The flower and the fruit are the life transformed or newly guided by that meaning. Thus the internal context – the guidance system of the sign's interpreter – is essential to whatever guidance is communicated.— Thomas 9 (Lambdin)
In the synoptic gospels, parables like that of the sower may be intended not so much to reveal spiritual truth as to conceal it from the unworthy.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.— Matthew 13.10-17 (KJV)
As Anthony Freeman (1999, 33) points out, this episode in Matthew ‘comes as something of a shock’ to those who assume that Jesus wanted to be understood by everyone. Here he seems to be punishing the gross of heart by casting pearls before them to increase their swinishness, or to widen the gap between those who have understanding and those who have not – ‘as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats’ (Matthew 25:32-3). The context here is a strongly dualistic sense of justice, with mercy at a minimum.
If you chance to come upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall let the mother go, but the young you may take to yourself; that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.In the Kabbalistic reading of Moses Cordovero, this refers to ‘probing the essence’ of the ten sefiroth or stages of emanation. It is improper to delve into the essences of the three highest ‘since they constitute the Divine Mind, Wisdom and Understanding.… However, it is not wrong for us to explore’ the lower seven, which are metaphorically ‘children’ of the third, Binah.— (RSV)
Concerning this it is written: ‘Let the Mother go’ (referring to Binah (Understanding); ‘the children you may take,’ to search and explore.— (Matt 1995, 44)
In the ecologically-oriented reading of Calvin B. Dewitt, on the other hand, the point of this precept is that ‘we must not destroy the ability of the bird to produce more offspring; we must preserve its fruitfulness’ (Kellert and Farnham 2002, 40). This is quite different both from the Cordovero reading and from the ‘rationale’ suggested at the end of the original text; these are not differences of opinion about the intent of the text, but differences among various contexts of interpretation.
A sentence can mean something to you consciously only in the context you can construct at the time of meaning. Its deeper meaning is beyond your consciousness to the extent that its wider context is beyond your construction.
On the other hand, we could also say that your context constructs you – that is, the self as a role in the biosocial ecosystem is constructed by the act of filling an ecological niche. The niche and its occupant, text and context, shape each other and co-evolve.
Or in the jargon of autopoiesis theory, there are no instructional interactions: the autonomy of organisms means that one organism cannot transfer structure to another, and operational closure means that structural changes cannot be imported from (or informed by) events external to the organism. Edelman (2004) likewise rejects an ‘instructional’ model in favor of ‘selectionism,’ ‘the notion that biological systems operate by selection from populations of variants under a variety of constraints’ (2004, 175) – that is, by selecting niches in meaning space. He also rejects ‘computer models of the brain and mind’ which regard ‘signals from the environment’ as carrying ‘input information that is unambiguous’ when noise is filtered out. ‘Such models are instructive in the sense that information from the world is assumed to elicit the formation of appropriate responses based on logical deduction’ (2004, 35).
A parallel line is taken by Goodenough and Deacon (2003, 814) with regard to moral ‘codes’:
… morality is not something that humans acquire by means of cultural instruction, although, as we discuss later, culture serves to complement the process in important ways. Rather we are led to moral experience and insight.The implication here is that the entire nature/nurture debate which raged through much of the 20th century was misconceived. On this point the authors quote Aristotle: ‘We have the virtues neither by nor contrary to our nature. We are fitted by our nature to receive them’ (Goodenough and Deacon 2003, 814). But we neither deduce them logically nor ‘receive them’ passively; where teachers are involved, their role is to give us clues or cues which prompt us to discover or construct them, when we are ready to do so. The same applies to the role of instruction in language learning.
A gene that has a major effect on a phenotype in one context could appear as a modifier gene of small effect in a different context, and could not be detected at all in yet another context (even though its characteristics and amount of variation do not change). The degree to which genetic variation is associated with phenotypic variation is, therefore, a property not of the genes but of the developmental system in which the genes play a role.— H. Frederik Nijhout (Oyama, Griffiths and Gray 2001, 140)
you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tables of human hearts [καρδίαις σαρκίναις].Here sarkina, the adjective from σαρξ, is used to distinguish the living (‘fleshly’) heart from the dead stone of the old law. What is ‘written in stone’ is of death, ‘for the letter killeth, but the spirit [πνεῦμα] giveth life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6, KJV). So the significance of the sarx depends on the context, which in turn depends on the situation of the addressee.— 2 Corinthians 3:3 (RSV)
A process is constant relative to the variables named in a description of it. Some terms of description may be constant within the framework of the description. But these constants may become variables when the context is a living process.
Jesus says: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but there are few workers. But beg the Lord that he may send workers into the harvest.’Thomas 73 (5G)
[A person] said: ‘Master, there are many around the drinking trough, but there is nothing in the <well>.’In one case the resource is abundant but few make use of it; in the other, potential consumers are many but the resource is lacking. Either way, we can construct a suitable context, find a fitting interpretation.Thomas 74 (Meyer)
In Thomas 75,
Jesus said: ‘There are many standing at the door, but those who are alone [Coptic monakhos] will enter the wedding chamber.’According to Meyer (2003, 296), ‘Sayings 73-75 most likely constitute a small dialogue’ (i.e. 74 expresses a disagreement with what Jesus says in 73, and 75 is his response to 74). But if we were committed to taking all three as separate utterances of Jesus, we could probably come up with some other explanation for the difference between 73 and 74. But what's to stop us fooling ourselves when we do so? Can a reader's cleverness teach him anything new?(Meyer)
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