People certainly are groping for something. One ought to be able to reach out and touch it. Touch what?
A recurring theme is the primal distinction. I am reminded of Spencer Brown's 'Laws of Form' with is 'mark of distinction'.
There are no purely physical distinctions. Distinction comes only with function and information. We are so embedded in semantics that we can imagine neither a pre-semantic nor even a proto-semantic state. That super-imagination is what the semioticians are groping for.
The whole point of theism is that this quest is futile. There is no such thing as half of a meaning. There are no demi-gods. The mind of God is indivisible. The closest thing to a proto-God is a toti-Potency. The toti-Potency is the proto-Creator. As creatures it is logically impossible for us to imagine a creationless Creator, except as the ultimate mystical state of empty bliss: the Alpha and Omega of all distinction. And it's all down hill from there! Mostly kidding.
The 'Holy Grail' of Semiotics is exactly the Holy Grail. Sorry 'bout that! Realizing that is the hardest thing we will ever have to do. The Eschaton will then just be an anti-climax. Upon realization, our first act is to kick ourselves for not realizing it sooner.
Semioticians are looking for God in all the wrong places. They strangle themselves in words, trying to avoid the obvious. It is a painful but necessary exercise. Theirs is lesson well learned.
What I just said from yesterday raises an obvious issue. To what extent is semiotics purely intellectual, as opposed to being, let's say, 'extracurricular', e.g. political, emotional, etc.?
Europeans tend to be more subtle about a lot of things, but particularly about religious matters, we may suppose. Even with that caveat, the fact that I have not yet encountered any theism in the semiotic context seems remarkable. The other European philosophies of existentialism, phenomenology and idealism, all have strong and explicit theological dimensions.
Perhaps the structuralist provenance of semiotics is partly to explain this. Structuralism was intended as a quasi-mathematical theory of language and ritual. It was meant to be purely descriptive in the fashion of, say, mathematical physics. But semiotics is definitely pushing that purely clinical(?) envelope, to the extent that metaphysics comes to the fore, and with that must come all the usual metaphysical suspects. That they don't come is perhaps due to a European version of a Gentleman's Agreement. Well, us 'Amurricans' have a tad less couth. And I think I noticed a similar lack on the part of the Muslims in this same context. Perhaps the Europeans are overplaying their role, or is it just their parole, so to speak. The Europeans allegedly learned their subtlety at the wrong end of a Hundred Years war. Now that we are headed for another one, perhaps we should all be their students, a development that would certainly meet their expectations. In other circumstances, this might be good advice, but there is the small matter of the Eschaton and its disposition. I continue to labor under the impression that its disposition is at least partly up to me, until such time as I am relieved of said task. The semiotical evasions are not helping, quite frankly.
Having said all this, thank you very much, I do now recall Raphael Capurro with his angelical semiotics. How could one forget? I guess we'll have to ascertain the degree of Raphael's anomalousness. [5/21/03 - I just received a brief note from Raphael acknowledging my acknowledgment of his work. This would not be terribly noteworthy were it not the first spontaneous communication I have received in reference to these pages. May I conclude that Google has finally stumbled upon my humble abode? Raphael points out that more of his work is available, including some in English, here. I will be investigating further, but now I must resume with photo-realism lest I lose that thread. I can only wonder if Raphael garnered a clue as to what transpires hereabouts.]
From Robert Corrington I notice this article: "My Passage From Panentheism to Pantheism," The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy," Vol. 23, # 2, May 2002. Too bad it's not available, but I'm not sure that was a good move, though.
Along these lines I was struck by the following:
Philosophy -- based increasingly since the last century on theories of language -- has begun, in people like Eco, to shift its position in order to encounter a post-modernist scepticism and irony which has not always proved fatal to theism. Eco's notion of irony is profoundly creative and liberating: in The Name of the Rose, it is God who has the last laugh. For who are they which survive the apocalypse? Against all odds, Baskerville and Adso emerge from the intended death-trap: the first, to become Holmes' great-great ancestor, the other to chronicle the human condition faced with the mysteries of the cosmos: we can not know, yet we continue to hope, and to believe.
It is important to note that William of Baskerville is no sneering ironist himself, but a faithful Christian monk and priest, devoted to the "poverty of Jesus" in the Franciscan order to which he belongs. While he questions, doubts, expresses dismay over the lostness of the Church in some of her ways, at no time does he mock. An interviewer writes, "I ask Eco -- a lapsed 'militant Catholic' -- about the notion of an absent deity that haunts his writing. Laughing, he offers only the mischievous retort, 'God hides because He doesn't want to appear in Vogue!'"21 In Foucault's Pendulum, the Eco-character, Caussabon, pronounces tellingly on those who would love secrets more than faith in a possible truth:
"Hadn't Agliè spoken of the yearning for mystery that stirred the age of the Antonines? Yet someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words…could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle? And then he led the Church fathers to ponder and proclaim that God was One and Triune and that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, but that the Son did not proceed from the Father and the Spirit. Was that some easy formula for hylics? And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp…turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite…The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple."22
To laugh is not to mock; Eco so loves humour, and attributes great health of mind to seeing the humour in any given situation, that even his most technical textbooks on semiotics manage to produce a smile now and then; yet the dignity of certain subjects is never sacrificed to humour. And this is because it is precisely the "sense of the sacred, of limits, questioning and expectation", which provides the basis for his profound humanism. He writes:
"Accept for a moment the hypothesis that there is no God: that man's appearance on earth is the result of an unfortunate mistake, that not only is he consigned to his mortal condition, he is also condemned to be aware of this, and is thus the most imperfect of creatures… -- he achieves, in the fullness of time, the religious, moral, and poetic power to conceive of the model of Christ, of universal love, of the forgiveness of enemies, of a life offered in human sacrifice for the salvation of others. If I were a traveller from a far-off galaxy and I found myself facing a species that had been able to offer such a model, I would fall down in admiration of such God-creating energy; yet discovering it to be responsible for so many atrocities, I would deem it pathetic and despicable and would see its redemption only in the fact that it had succeeded in wanting and believing its story to be the Truth… but let us admit that if Christ was only the subject of a great story, the fact that this story was imagined and desired by immature fledglings who knew only that they knew nothing, would make it every bit as miraculous (miraculously mysterious) as the fact that the son of a true God was truly incarnate."23
Not bad for a lapsarian, huh! Is not Umberto arguably the best known semiotician? It was in regard to him that I recall first hearing this word mentioned, maybe only ten years ago. This lengthy passage and quotes are from 'God, Truth, and Meaning, in the Post-modernism of Umberto Eco' by Niki Lambros, [I've seen a lot on the web, but this is something else...] and let me not stop here:
Philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, "masters of suspicion1;" yet he also notes that though they sought to undermine traditional ideas, they were able to "clear the horizon for a more authentic word, for a new reign of Truth, not only by means of a 'destructive' critique, but by the invention of an art of interpreting2". In a similar way, Umberto Eco can be seen as both a post-modernist sceptic and a champion of truth and meaning. From a Christian point of view, one must be very suspicious of a post-modernist philosophy that will not allow the possibility that God, truth and meaning can exist: in a conversation sponsored by the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity last year, Rowan Williams and George Steiner noted that the "suspicion" or scepticisms of Derrida and Foucault are not suspicious enough for this reason: they do not allow themselves to suspect that truth may indeed exist. We must read Eco in the light of just such a suspicion; while Eco is sceptical of simply accepting traditional religion or modernist conclusions, he yet shows himself to be even more suspicious of philosophy which does not seek truth and meaning, but is content with nihilism and the void. The "art of interpreting" or, "deduction" in Eco, still leads a careful reader, if not to an absolute knowledge, at least to hope; and Eco sees a profound meaning in hope.
Then, of course, there is Charles Saunders Peirce, the mere father and Godfather of semiotics and pragmatism, providing some interesting gleanings besides the above:
Favorite Quotations -- Kevin Jessup:
"Shortly before he died, Carl Sagan wrote to say he had reread my 'Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener' and was it fair to say that I believed in God solely because it made me 'feel good.' I replied that this was exactly right, though the emotion was deeper than the way one feels good after three drinks. It is a way of escaping from a deep-seated despair. William James's essay 'The Will to Believe' is the classic defense of the right to make such an emotional 'leap of faith.' My theism is independent of any religious movement, and in the tradition that starts with Plato and includes Kant, and a raft of later philosophers, down to Charles Peirce, William James, and Miguel de Unamuno. I defend it ad nauseam."
-- Martin Gardner
The following is from William James:
A glance at the history of the idea will show you still better what pragmatism means. The term is derived from the same Greek word [pi rho alpha gamma mu alpha], meaning action, from which our words 'practice' and 'practical' come. It was first introduced into philosophy by Mr. Charles Peirce in 1878. In an article entitled 'How to Make Our Ideas Clear,' in the 'Popular Science Monthly' for January of that year [Footnote: Translated in the Revue Philosophique for January, 1879 (vol. vii).] Mr. Peirce, after pointing out that our beliefs are really rules for action, said that to develope a thought's meaning, we need only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce: that conduct is for us its sole significance. And the tangible fact at the root of all our thought- distinctions, however subtle, is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice. To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts of an object, then, we need only consider what conceivable effects of a practical kind the object may involve--what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare. Our conception of these effects, whether immediate or remote, is then for us the whole of our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all.
This is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism. It lay entirely unnoticed by anyone for twenty years, until I, in an address before Professor Howison's philosophical union at the university of California, brought it forward again and made a special application of it to religion. By that date (1898) the times seemed ripe for its reception. The word 'pragmatism' spread, and at present it fairly spots the pages of the philosophic journals. On all hands we find the 'pragmatic movement' spoken of, sometimes with respect, sometimes with contumely, seldom with clear understanding. It is evident that the term applies itself conveniently to a number of tendencies that hitherto have lacked a collective name, and that it has 'come to stay.'
'Glory Met in Unspeakable Flux: A Critical Comparison of the Semiotics of Religious Experience in the General Theory of Signs of Charles Morris, the Semiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce, and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms of Ernst Cassirer' -- Paul Burgess (Burgess as in Burgess batteries).
The title says it all? ---
In the years since then, and especially since the early 1960's, the field of semiotics has undergone considerable development. Thomas A. Sebeok distinguishes three major strands in this course of development, which he designates the biological, the philosophical, and the linguistic traditions. The first tradition is rooted in medical practice and diagnostic methodology; Baltic biologist Jakob von Uexküll brought this approach to explicitly semiotic form in his study of animal behavior and perception between the two world wars. The second tradition leads from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine and the medieval scholastics via Leibniz, Locke, and others to thinkers such as Peirce, "the real founder and first systematic investigator of modern semiotic." The third tradition in its overtly semiotic form leads from Ferdinand de Saussure to writers such as Louis Hjelmslev, Roman Jakobson, and Roland Barthes. Although there has been creative borrowing among these traditions, Sebeok notes a continuing tension between more linguistically oriented and more philosophically oriented semiotic approaches.
Charlie's theism, whatever it may have been, has left an interesting paper trail, or provides a major cross-link in many such trails.
Given all of the above, how are we to explain the studied, silent agnostics of someone like Emmeche? How can he dig this deep without hitting pay-dirt? What is this game? Oh, yes, now I recall something about radical constructivism and shamanism. What do those two danglers add up to, pray tell? Claus does neither, it would seem.
So I guess the ball is back in his court: 'Closure, Function, Emergence, Semiosis and Life' (Emmeche 2000):
The aim of this brief note is to consider partly hidden ideas about theoretical biology and its subject matter, living beings, organisms in their ecosystems -- which means beetles, cows, worms, bacteria cells, green algae, and dinosaurs, their history and interactions, their development and evolution, their structure and function, their origin, self-organization, the extinction of individuals as well as species, and the genesis of higher modes of life. In other words, an extremely multifaceted subject. First, however, recall an observation on the fate of general systems theory, which in the 1960s and 1970s had the ambitious goal of synthesizing the general fields of cybernetics, information theory, operation analysis, and specific fields, such as evolutionary theory and thermodynamics. That goal was not achieved and various reasons may be given for the failure, but an important factor might have been a too high level of theoretical generality in accounting for the highly different types of systems included in the ambitions of systems theory . With this in mind, we could ask for the possibility of facing a similar situation with respect to the current trends in systems thinking.
Or, perhaps there was insufficient generality, insufficient to point to or include anything transcendental.
EXPLAINING EMERGENCE (Emmeche, 1997):
We argue that what is needed is an ontological non-reductionist theory of levels of reality which includes a concept of emergence, and which can support an evolutionary account of the origin of levels. Classical explication of emergence as `the creation of new properties' is discussed critically, and specific distinctions between various kinds of emergence is introduced for the purpose of developing an ontology of levels, framed in a materialistic and evolutionary perspective. [...] Recent research in self-organizing non-linear dynamical systems represents a revival of the scientific study of emergence, and we argue that these recent developments can be seen as a step toward a final `devitalisation' of emergence.
Am I the only one confused? Claus is a shamanic, non-reductive materialist? Whatever!
....let us as an example look at Friedrich Engels and his so-called dialectical materialism. According to Engels, it is not possible to reduce complex objects of one level to less complex objects on a lower level. Each level contains materialistic entities, but of different sorts, and being created at different times during an evolutionary process beginning from the physical entities. What controls this evolutionary process is not a vitalist immaterial principle, but the famous dialectical laws. The only teleological principle in these dialectical laws is the idea that evolution as such is not able to regress - you cannot "develop backwards", - but only forward, that is, the union of complex entities will always synthesize into more complex units. At a certain point in the evolutionary process, the dialectical development will cause quantitative elements to synthesize into qualitatively different elements.
Are you suggesting, Claus, that you're not one? Dialectical materialism remains the only non-reductive alternative to theism. Do you have another idea? A devitalized, disenchanted, materialized semiosis is precisely that. So sorry! And, by the way, were not the Marxists social realists? Does that not mean that they believed in the downwardly causal, historical efficaciousness of allegedly objective entities like capitalism and communism? If this were not the case, what would have been the point of advocating a workers' revolution?
As far as we can see, there is only one possibility if constitution of a level presupposes higher levels with boundary conditions - and that is an idealistic ontology, where every level and every entity are potentially existing and exerting attracting influences downward in the level system (the organism as attractor for the cell). We think this idealistic concept of potentiality can be refused on ontological grounds; we do not hereby want to refuse every sort of potentiality, but only in this holistic level-constituting sense.
As can be seen, any evolutionary theory presupposes this kind of potentiality (as in the Darwinian case: the host of species extinct or unrealized at various steps of development (from zygote to ecological niche) which we can never know as actual but must be posited as a potential to explain the selection of the known species.
This water is getting even more muddy.
My impression is that Emmeche is a very weak emergentist. Although he gives lip service to ontology, he is only doing epistemology. I have yet to see him reference Jaegwon Kim who argues effectively against the coherence of non-reductive physicalism. There is no downward causation with Claus, and, without that, talk of emergence is palliative. I can see no daylight between Claus and the Complexity Gang in Santa Fe. Did I say that Claus was an agnostic? I think I'll have to retract that: shamanism -- shmamanism.
There has got to be a biosemiotician out there who will take exception to Claus's palliation. Where shall I find this person?
My intuition is that mere epistemological emergence is self-contradictory. Intuition? Nay, logic: If I can rationally entertain the concept of a cat, then that concept is logically irreducible; because, if my rationality is not illusory, then that individual, indivisible concept must causally participate in my cognitive processes. And, furthermore, if there is any possibility of scientific realism, then the actual cat must partake of some very similar, and, thus, a causally irreducible felinicity. Is this Rocket Science? Has no one else ever thusly confronted these so-called 'emergentists'?
This last anti-reductive argument is indirect, relying on the holistic notion of rationality. It would have no impact on an advocate for Strong AI. I would like an argument that appeals directly to biology.
One such argument uses the idea that irreducible traits are a necessary underpinning for natural selection. Selection could not operate without an objective substrate of real traits that are downwardly causal. Traits must be ontological and not just epistemological. A species is a super-trait, and so this is an argument for the ontology of cats, for instance.
Another type of argument starts with the very basic idea of personal identity or ontology and then proceeds to include a wider range of identities. Personal identity must serve some evolutionary role and so it must be downwardly causal or it could not have been selected. This same argument is more frequently applied to the ontology of consciousness. Presumably, rationality also has a survival value, and is a selectable trait like consciousness, bringing us back to our original argument. Would this cut any more ice with the AI people? Intentionality is a functional illusion, they are wont to say. But such a deep-seated, widespread illusion must have some evolutionary significance. [Setting aside, of course, for the time being, and, as will be the case with all such arguments of mine, that, as a radical idealist or immaterialist, I put very little stock in this whole Darwinian, materialist worldview, to begin with. [That was just nine commas [,'s] by my count! It still may be a new personal record. Would anyone care to check?] But sometimes you do have to play in order to win.] It would be very peculiar, and be a definite setback for evolutionism, if evolution were found to play no role in what are evidently the most distinctive and significant features of our species, illusory or not. Illusions can play a causal role, regardless of their ontic status. Imagine the poor chap in the desert crawling a mile to an illusory lake. That illusion would have a dubious survival value, but still be causal. [And, yes, I realize that this is an externally generated illusion, but you get the point.] Let me hasten to point out, as many have before, that the entire notion of causation has a decidedly idealist, non-physical aspect. A cause is just an event or a state of affairs, a strongly emergent property. To say that an asteroid impact caused the dinosaur extinction is a flagrant exercise in rhetorical arbitrariness, from a purely physicalistic point of view, but it also represents the epitome of rationality. Rationalism and physicalism have been antagonists from the git go.
Downward causation is necessarily teleological, and thus vitalistic and definitely anti-physical. [By the same token, dialectical materialism is an oxymoron, but, of course, that did not prevent cadres of intellectuals from devoting their lives to it.] This is to say that Claus's weak emergentism is a non-starter. It is a verbal palliative. Jaegwon Kim's arguments should have put all this to rest years ago. These weak emergentists are like the Energizer Bunny. The founders of Structuralism and Semiotics took a decidedly metaphysical turn, but now their biosemiotic followers are opting for Scientific Correctness. Is there no shame?