Every moment has its momentum.
Something behind it has just been determined,
and something before it is about to be.
— if we think of time as a thing in motion, like an arrow.
But what if time is the motion itself?
Is the past then before and the future behind?

And what if time is the continuity of presence?

Phenoscopy analyzes ‘whatever is before the mind in any way, as percept, image, experience, thought, habit, hypothesis, etc.’ (Peirce).
What does it mean for something (X) to be ‘before the mind’? Most obviously, X can be an object of your attention, something you are “minding” or conscious of. The sound of the rain, say. But there must be other ways of being ‘before the mind,’ – or ‘in the mind,’ as Peirce sometimes put it. He included ‘thoughts’ and ‘habits’ in his ‘whatever’ list, but you cannot be directly conscious of either.

Thought is often supposed to be something in consciousness; but on the contrary, it is impossible ever actually to be directly conscious of thought. It is something to which consciousness will conform, as a writing may conform to it. Thought is rather of the nature of a habit, which determines the suchness of that which may come into existence, when it does come into existence. Of such a habit one may be conscious of a symptom; but to speak of being directly conscious of a habit, as such, is nonsense.

— Peirce, EP2:269

You can be indirectly conscious of a habit, by using a sign to refer to it, as this sentence has just done. The sign at the moment has to be a replica of a legisign. But habits – including the habits or “laws” of nature – are themselves legisigns. They determine the momentum of the moment by determining what comes into (or goes out of) existence at this time – just as the Thought determines where your thinking and feeling are presently going.

The only kind of sign that can embody this momentum is the argument: for ‘“urging” is the mode of representation proper to Arguments’ (Peirce, EP2:293). Likewise some kind of urging seems to be the mode of life itself, driving all the creatures in its urgent grip like ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ (Dylan Thomas).

Every moment has its momentum.

Is that a fact?

A proposition is a statement of fact.

A Fact may be defined as the Secondness which consists between anything and a possibility, or Firstness, realized in that thing.

— Peirce, EP2:271

A proposition is a symbolic Dicisign or informational sign, which ‘must profess to refer or relate to something as having a real being independently of the representation of it as such’ (EP2:275).

Thus every kind of proposition is either meaningless or has a real Secondness as its object. This is a fact that every reader of philosophy should constantly bear in mind, translating every abstractly expressed proposition into its precise meaning in reference to an individual experience.

— Peirce, EP2:279

In fact, then, meaning can only grow from the ground of experience, from reading the time of your life.

They said to him, ‘Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you.’
He said to them, ‘You read the face of the sky and of the earth, but you have not recognized the one who is before you, and you do not know how to read this moment.’

Gospel of Thomas 91 (tr. Lambdin)

Real meaning and true guidance grow in the soil of experience as ‘the total cognitive result of living’.

What you plant well can’t be uprooted.
What you hold well can’t be taken away.

Cultivated in yourself, virtue becomes real.
Cultivated in your family, virtue grows.
Cultivated in your village. virtue multiplies.
Cultivated in your state, virtue abounds.
Cultivated in your world, virtue is everywhere.
Thus view others through yourself,
view families through your family,
view villages through your village,
view states through your state,
view other worlds through your world.

How do you know what other worlds are like?
Through this one.

— Daodejing 54 (Red Pine, repunctuated)

Mary Catherine Bateson

One of the key concepts in Turning Signs is that of the guidance system. It’s rooted in systems theory and cybernetics, which are introduced in Chapter 3. I’ve just discovered that anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, from whose works I’ve gleaned some deep insights into complex interactive systems, has a very recent talk on the Edge website called “How to Be a Systems Thinker”.

It’s a profound reflection on the current state of the world and how systems thinking could help humanity correct its course. It’s also a lament for the lost legacy of the early cybernetics movement, as its deeper wisdom has been mostly drowned out by the industry’s flood of “devices.” On the website you can read it or screen the live interview (about 42 minutes). I highly recommend it – especially for those who might have found Chapter 3 of Turning Signs something of a struggle.


A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.

— Paul Valéry, “Recollection”, Collected Works, vol. 1 (1972), tr. David Paul