And they leap so looply, looply, as they link to light.
— Finnegans Wake 226
Symbols (and even natural or non-symbolic dicisigns as self-representing signs) are the semiotic equivalent, or mental manifestation, of the brain processes that appear as consciousness. This self-representation is a feedforward-feedback cycle like the meaning cycle. Thomas Metzinger explains:
In conscious visual processing, for example, high-level information is dynamically mapped back to low-level information, but it all refers to the same retinal image. Each time your eyes land on a scene (remember, your eye makes about three saccades per second), there is a feedforward-feedback cycle about the current image, and that cycle gives you the detailed conscious percept of that scene. You continuously make conscious snapshots of the world via these feedforward-feedback cycles. In a more general sense, the principle is that the almost continuous feedback-loops from higher to lower areas create an ongoing cycle, a circular nested flow of information, in which what happened a few milliseconds ago is dynamically mapped back to what is coming in right now. In this way, the immediate past continuously creates a context for the present— it filters what can be experienced right now. We see how an old philosophical idea is refined and spelled out by modern neuroscience on the nuts-and-bolts level. A standing context-loop is created. And this may be a deeper insight into the essence of the world-creating function of conscious experience: Conscious information seems to be integrated and unified precisely because the underlying physical process is mapped back onto itself and becomes its own context. If we apply this idea not to single representations, such as the visual experience of an apple in your hand, but to the brain’s unified portrait of the world as a whole, then the dynamic flow of conscious experience appears as the result of a continuous large-scale application of the brain’s prior knowledge to the current situation. If you are conscious, the overall process of perceiving, learning, and living creates a context for itself— and that is how your reality turns into a lived reality.
— Metzinger 2009, 31-32
The shorter the scripture, the more it says to the deep reader. For instance the very compactness of the Sefer Yetzirah contributed greatly to its seminal nature as the primary source of so much Kabbalistic symbolism. ‘Everyone found in the book more or less what he was looking for,’ as Scholem (1962, 34) says. Likewise you can find your turning symbol in the fragments of Heraclitus, the Tao Te Ching, the Gospel of Thomas, or Dogen’s ‘GenjoKoan’, if you read them recreatively.
For Thomas Traherne it was the Cross: ‘There may we see the most Distant Things in Eternity united: all Mysteries at once couched together and Explained’ (First Century 58). The Cross is, of course, the point of Crossing, or of fixation or final determination – or, as the icon of extension, the monad pulled in the four directions at once, the point turned inside out.
The sacred text is what the sacred river is currently reading, the streambed of consciousness.
(Stoop), if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop) in this allaphbed! Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its world? It is the same told of all.
— The Restored Finnegans Wake, 14
Drawing nearer to take our slant at it (since after all it has met with misfortune while all underground), let us see all there may remain to be seen.
The act of meaning the sacred text involves collision and collusion with the limits of language.
Beware lest ye be hindered by the veils of glory from partaking of the crystal waters of this living Fountain.
But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: “Why, this is what we were fed with before,” for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein companions pure (and holy); and they abide therein (for ever).
In his book Art as Experience, John Dewey argues that having an experience always involves both acting and perceiving, both doing and feeling, and the esthetic experience is the most ‘integral’ kind, moving toward the ‘closure of a circuit of energy’ (Dewey 1934, 42). It involves a receptivity, but perception itself is ‘an act of the going-out of energy in order to receive’ (55). This is true for both the artist and the beholder of a work of art.
For to perceive, the beholder must create his own experience. And his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent. They are not the same in any literal sense. But with the perceiver, as with the artist, there must be an ordering of the elements of the whole that is in form, although not in details, the same as the process of organization the creator of the work consciously experienced. Without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art.
— Dewey 1934, 56
Dewey contrasts this act of ‘recreation’ with the ‘recognition’ which dismisses the object perceived as something already known and not worthy of the more active attention it would take to learn something new about it. Regarding the work of art as a sign, its object is the ‘form’ in which the ‘elements of the whole’ are ordered. Its interpretant, as the recreation of the beholder, is another sign of that object, though it will differ in other respects from the creator’s experience.
The pattern that connects (Bateson) is also the pattern that creates, the sign that determines the form of existing things or systems. We discover these patterns by observing that similar beings have similar origins.
All natural classification is then essentially, we may almost say, an attempt to find out the true genesis of the objects classified. But by genesis must be understood, not the efficient action which produces the whole by producing the parts, but the final action which produces the parts because they are needed to make the whole. Genesis is production from ideas. It may be difficult to understand how this is true in the biological world, though there is proof enough that it is so. But in regard to science it is a proposition easily enough intelligible. A science is defined by its problem; and its problem is clearly formulated on the basis of abstracter science.
— Peirce, CP 1.227 (1902)
In biology, the genetic ‘idea’ is more recently called the genotype, and we now have a better understanding of its role in producing organisms classified by phenotype. But many biologists still do not see these as types in the Peircean sense, which here he calls ‘ideas’:
All classification, whether artificial or natural, is the arrangement of objects according to ideas. A natural classification is the arrangement of them according to those ideas from which their existence results. No greater merit can a taxonomist have than that of having his eyes open to the ideas in nature; no more deplorable blindness can afflict him than that of not seeing that there are ideas in nature which determine the existence of objects.
— Peirce, CP 1.231 (1902)
John Kaag’s 2014 book Thinking Through the Imagination explores the imaginative side of cognition in a manner complementary to Turning Signs, drawing upon Peirce’s insights regarding esthetics and abduction, and upon recent neuroscience to explain how these creative aspects of mind are embodied in the functional dynamics of the brain. Continue reading Thinking Through the Imagination