Conference Contribution 1991
Steps towards a Semiotic Ecology
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Contribution to the Symposium in Honor of Ernst E. Boesch "The Cultural Environment in Psychology", Merligen (Lake Thun), October 21-24, 1991 (Research Reports 1991-1)
© 1998 by Alfred Lang
Scientific and educational use permitted
- A general methodological view
- Artifacts semiotically (25 paragraphs)
- People with their things in their rooms (some research examples)
- Badges from my K(n)opfkissen
- 1. "Irene von Monreale" (a description of an emblem)
- 2. Scaffolding elementary semiotics (that's more than a badge!)
- 3. The Semiotic Function Circle (a legend to figure 3)
- 4. Semiosis and cultivation
- 5. ExtrO- + IntrO-Semiosis => Communication (another larger than life size badge!)
- 6. Categories precede!
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The following is a working paper composed of different parts. My original intention was to present an overview on semiotic ecology in the form of theses and elaborations. This implied an attempt to semi-systematically formulate a psychological understanding of the person-environment-relation which is ontologically unprejudiced and methodologically coherent.
Understandably, I failed in the time and space available. There are two papers in German in a theses-and-elaborations-form attempting to give such an overview (Lang, 1990; Lang, in press c). Hopefully they will soon grow to reasonable communications. So the immediate objective was reduced to present in exemplary fashion some key notions and give an overall impression of the kind of thinking about people and culture I want to propose. Reading this paper may be compared to visiting a large park; I take the reader by hand, I know something to show, I detect while guiding, reader and myself are overwhelmed, and there is lots more to discover. The missing parts, although they cannot but look through between my phrases and paragraphs, mainly concern epistemological and philosophy of science foundation, the necessary elaboration of a Peircean elementary semiotics, the elaboration with contents broader than our chosen field of things and places, and perhaps many more.
I start with a short general methodological consideration. The bulk of the contribution is given over to a semiotic treatment of artifacts, i.e. of what artifacts might be understood to be, their conditions and their effects, when they are not separated from and opposed to the people making and using them. Although this section of the text has primarily been written with psychologically interested semioticians in mind, it gives me a chance to touch upon most of the more important issues of semiotic ecology while keeping it within overseeable dimensions. I elaborate a bit with examples from the field of people with their things in their rooms, i.e. our psychology of things and residential or urban activities. In the end, I add a few badges. They are taken from my badge cushion (Knopfkissen). If I were a missionary of semiotic ecology, I would sport another of those badges every day and freely distribute of the leaflets concealed in the badge receptacles. My badges point to scientific issues to live with, to elaborate upon, to, when they find a system location, perhaps "solve". Most of these badges, however, you might guess, are like Russian puppets: you open and another one comes out. Or rather like onions: you peel and peel and never come to a kernel. (It looks as if these external leaflet-anaforms of my thinking make me a missionary anyway, almost against my original will; for having produced those leaflets, what else to do than to distribute?)
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A general methodological view
In an extremely brief methodological sketch I should like to oppose two ways of thinking that I dont like to be confounded. Lets call them substantive and genetic thinking, respectively.
The first is what people (including many scientists in their more elaborated fashion) most of the time do in everyday (or laboratory) situations in order to understand and to be capable of acting. We perceive and select something of interest, give it a class-name, which implies a category, define the class and then proceed to analyse exemplars of it and describe its function(s) as a class and thus maintain lawfulness for all members of the class. But what is a member of the class, what not? The initial substantification breeds ramifications and excludes others, and usually one tends to cut off and forget, for reasons of sheer necessity, the many threads all things observable have connecting them with other things. The result is research on apparently substantive givens like consciousness, pitch, emotion, or residential environments; elements and functions are found and specified that describe the composition of the starting objects and the relations between such elements and other such objects. The hope is to investigate all parts of the world separately and then, in the end, to put together the puzzle.
The second way naturally also starts with observing something to appear worth of investigating. But before defining it one looks at threads and context. In particular, the general assumption is that everything observable has a history or is just an actual form of some existence that goes right through many forms of appearance. The objective then becomes to follow the threads Ð Kurt Lewin calls them genetic series (Lang, in press c) Ð backwards in time or to arrange for and follow controllable genetic series and to develop general principles as to those genetic conditions that have the potential of producing exactly the starting observations. If principles on how the observable and its precursors and its brood became what they are found to be observed can be formulated and validated, they might also, if general enough, apply in the future and to some extent provide a general understanding of what is going on in the world from the point of view chosen.
As the reader might assume, I have a definite predilection for the Lewinian way of thinking which he called the conditional-genetic method or the Galilean mode of science. My problem (and that is the reason for mentioning it here) is that most of the language I can use to express findings and principles, including logic and mathematics within my competence, is not in the genetic series format, but rather forces me to the substantive and predicate form that elementarizes the situation to be understood. So when I speak, for instance, of artifacts or of information, these are inevitably class concepts of the substantive type.
I want to use the words differently. I mean them to be nothing but markers for entities the existential specifics of which are not automatically implied, but rather are to be reconstructed. Dealing with observations or phenomena in particular ways always presupposes particular assumptions, usually implied, rarely spelled out. Lewin has demonstrated that different assumptions underlie a physico-chemical or a biological understanding of, say, an organism (see Lang 1990 a, in press c). Possible existence assumptions in most if not all fields, thus, are manifold, although not unlimited. Making explicit ones chosen assumptions as to existence of ones scientific interest is then mandatory. The one common mode separating matter and spirit is a primitive and possibly misleading one. I want to challenge different possibilities rather than treat this particular one as an apriori. Natural science was highly successful with an assumption of causal series under a principle of conservation. This one fails, I have learnt from Lewin, when applied to life or to information exchange between individuals and their environment. My ambitious master plan is to find out how far an assumption of semiotic series underlying psychologic and ecologic phenomena may lead.
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((1)) How could we conceive of artifacts in a non-Cartesian world? We might try to investigate, how entities in general Ð i.e. whatever we can differentiate, but before we divide in material vs. mental Ð interact among themselves rather than how they impress themselves upon us. In a Cartesian view of the world, subjects or cognitive systems, i.e. "in" humans, in particular, or res cogitantes, are thought to be completely different from objects, i.e. material givens or artifacts. The latter are considered just another form of res extensae, although they are systematically formed by humans rather than arise just by themselves or by "nature".
((2)) This Cartesian perspective produces a highly particular notion of the relation between humans and the world, quite uncommon among cultures in the the rest of the world. It is a relation of opposition between humans and nature, in despise of the insight (or fact) that man is also a part of nature. If "ecological" refers to systems of genuine exchange between mutually dependent parts such as living entities and their living conditions, the Cartesian view of man is un-ecological if not anti-ecological (see also Lang 1988).
((3)) As a consequence, occidental (natural) science has restricted itself for centuries to research how material entities have effects on material entities. And although the ensuing understanding is quite advanced, it is necessarily attained by a cognitive system. And shared knowledge, indispensable in social systems, is based on exchange between cognitive systems. However, our understanding of the world would then appear quite precarious in view of the fact, that we do only superficially understand how cognitive systems interact with each other and that we are altogether ignorant on how material entities act upon cognitive systems or how cognitive systems act upon material things. Dualistic world views thrive in the minds of people, but they fail in explaining their actions and have widely been given up in science for some monistic versions. Yet the contemporary materialistic analysis of the world, be it mind as brain or artifacts as mere objects, misses essentials, and the opposing mentalistic constructions with their verbal bias risk of confounding the signifying with the signified.
((4)) In a non-Cartesian view it is exciting to see that cognitive systems and artifacts are similar in many respects. Also, there is no need to separately conceive of so-called mentifacts, i.e. symbolic artifacts (see Posner 1989). Triadic semiotics elaborated from the original tradition of C.S. Peirce has a potential of overcoming the Cartesian split between the two worlds, because both cognitive systems and artifacts can be seen as signs and signs are neither material nor mental. Leaving out either of these characters of signs misses exactly their sign quality (for general reference to semiotics see Sebeok 1986 or Nöth 1985). Indeed, Peirce considered "thought" (Peirce CP 5.594/1903), "human beings themselves" (CP 5.314/1868 or WCP 2:241, P 27), and perhaps "the entire universe", including, of course, artifacts, to be composed of signs (CP 5.448/1906; Peirce exaggerates a bit) or "a vast representamen" (CP 5.119/1903). "But a sign is not a sign unless it translates itself into another sign in which it is more fully developed" (CP 5.594 /1903). The question then is, to be asked of cognitive systems as well as of artifacts, how they are translated into other signs. In other words: how do signs come about and how do signs have effects? Obviously, people are involved. It seems to be a task for psychology, then, to combine forces with semiotics.
((5)) Lets first activate a familiar example in order to facilitate understanding of the following relatively abstract constructions. What you are reading now, is certainly an artifact. True it is of a special linguistic nature, but it would make no great difference to have presented my deliberations orally or in schematic drawings, or whether you would enjoy the lush or radical parkscape of some real world English or Japanese approximation to Garden Eden. Conceive firstly of some creator of the garden or text (you can always insert both an ordinary and a structuralist notion of "text"). It need not be one single subject, because whatever those persons directly or indirectly (mediated by other persons or by instruments) have done to the text, whether in the roles of precursors or mediators or modifiers, may or may not find some manifestation therein, in their traces, direct or indirect. Nevertheless, it would be as senseless, to completely forget about these creator(s) Ð the text would simply not exist as it does without them Ð as it would be foolish to exclusively reduce the text to itself, to a series of words or letters, to an aggregation of trees and bushes or whatever. On the other hand, its your business to make with the text what you can and want to, depending on whether and how you can read, watch, feel, think, or smell. Hopefully, in dealing with the text, you will build up something within yourself, an impression, an experience, a memory, even a new potential of living, although, immediately, it is just a web of glimpses of this garden together with memories of gardens past or wishful gardens and more of your imagination, including, of course your own walking, reading etc. In essence, you build, as the structuralists might say, your own "text" in your mind. I dare hope your personal text (in respect to ecology or garden), instigated by my words, will last longer than my spoken words or the tour could do, and in case it seems worth it, you might later go back to my written text. You might also choose to deselect my text and discard it as unworthy of your time and attention. Yet the garden or text in your mind is obviously not the garden or text out there in Japan or in my paper, as little as the garden or text out there is identical with the original intent in the creator. Yet all three are related, the one in the creator(s), the one out there, and the one in the receivers mind; and if your are gardener or scientist, it might well be that you contribute to creating another link or knot in a long chain or web of related entities. Ð The foregoing is a phenomenological descriptions of artifacts in context. I shall proceed with a semiotic analysis of the subsequent "texts" or anaforms, as I will shortly call them, of text or garden, hoping all the while to elucidate, how artifacts and people belong together.
((6)) I proceed by applying Peirce's method of abductive inference (CP 5.171ff./1903; WCP 2:217/1868, P 27). According to Peirce, it suggests that something may be the case. Abduction is, in contrast to induction and deduction, "the only logical operation that introduces a new idea" (CP 5.172/1903). First an explanatory hypothesis is suggested: to see artifacts or culture in general as sign-aspects or components of semioses that have no separate existence but as parts of ecological or person-environment-systems. Observations are then gathered to illuminate, or to infer amendments of, the hypothesis; until it proves itself nonsensical in the pragmaticists' sense, refutation is delayed in favour of progressive clarification and modification. As a caveat it seems important to note that my intention is not to replace a problematic ontological dogma by another one. It suffices to assume a world exists independent of the beholder, while in the same breath accepting that it cannot be described except by the tools of the beholder. It seems, however, possible to paint pictures of the world, as we can see it, while also seeing the painter painting, rather than bestowing upon him the certainty of his absolute doubt or transcendental character. So I am accepting Kant's original epistemological insight while discarding his solution as to the transcendental subject.
((7)) Starting from the (early) Peircean triadic conception of an object (i.e. the referent), a representamen (i.e. the sign carrier or representant) and an interpretant seen in a mediating function (WCP 2:53f./1867, P32, et passim; for a comparable evaluation of early and later Peircean thinking on the interpretant in the context of pragmaticism, see also Scherer 1984), a "psychological" interpretation of semiotics is proposed. "Psychological", in this context, should not be confined to or even confounded with mental. It means not much more than: Include people when you want to understand artifacts or signs in general. And there are many different ways to look at people. Psychology, the indispensable companion of a process-oriented semiotics, in my opinion, must be performed as a view from outside. For, speaking about internal or "mental signs", nothing can be publicly known about anything mental that has not been transformed into an external matter-energy-formation, i.e. what is generally called a (public) sign, be it functional (e.g. acts, objects, spaces) or symbolic (e.g. images or language, spoken or written) or both (i.e. an artifact, see also WCP 2:213/1868, P 27). Following Peirce's suggestion I understand as signs both artifacts and the psychological organization or "mind" (for lack of a better term) in the individual; but from then on I forget about Peirce's partial mentalism and at the same time avoid to fall into Morris' inconsequential materialism. The psychology available at Peirce's epoch was a Bewusstseinspsychologie, the one of Morris' was positivistic Behaviourism; it should be possible today to see the limits of both. Following Peirce's implicit advice that "this act" of making "reference to a correlate" by comparison, in other words, of creating or using a sign, "has not been sufficiently studied by the psychologists" (WCP 2:53/1867, P32, emphasis added) and judging his statement as still correct today, I take the liberty of re-interpreting 20th century Cartesian psychological knowledge to fit my purpose.
((8)) Semiosis thus is the process of producing and using both culture and mind; it is generally conceived as structure formation under the guidance of existing structures. Structure formations in and between living systems in particular, and possibly including some additional natural and artifactual entities, are historical processes. Although natural laws are not broken by the making of organic or artifactual structures, such formations are not sufficiently specified by the natural laws alone, because they are the offspring of encounters amongst two or more local systems, the laws of each of them might be known, yet not those of their particular historical compound. It is nonsensical to formulate and impossible to validate a law on such encounters that is valid only once, viz. on the occasion it is found, because the encountering systems have no chance to meet again in the same states and under the same conditions. Living systems and some other types of systems are exactly of that historical nature. Of course, this statement does not exclude the possibility of describing and predicting encounters of certain types in terms of higher level principles or in terms of their statistical or, perhaps, normative regularity. However, regularity and lawfulness should not be confounded.
((9)) In particular, what is generally understood as the meaning of a sign (or the resulting interpretant of a semiosis in the later Peircean view, see above) may be the dark depths of the mental trap. So let us make the switch and consider all entities we can observe or conceive of to inseparably involve three aspects, viz. the material, the energetic and the (in)formative. Any description of an entity in the world must refer to all three of them. We seem to have given insufficient care to the third in the belief, it could be reduced to the second and first (Stonier 1990). Also what results from perceptual or cognitive processes is in any case just another such structure, as is the result of behavior or action. It is equally impossible to come across matter without energy or energy without matter except in a formation. Two characters of such matter-energy-formations semiotically understood deserve mention. First, it appears of no fundamental import, whether such formations are more transient or lasting: transient formations, i.e. events, may have a more limited range of effect, but they have the same function in semiosis. The relation between transient and lasting in semiotics might be comparable to that between rest and movement of bodies in physics; what is phenomenally distinct is conceptually two appearances of one and the same. Even more against our thinking habits is the second proposal to overcome formation units as our perception proposes them. Sure we have to start from what we discern as units. But the final criterion for defining formations should not be their general impression on us but rather what goes together in having effects or in being affected (see also Lang 1988). For "real is what has effects" (Lewin). Whether formations in the sense of sign components are perceptually unitary or manifold is of no avail. Formations can be found located within or outside an organism or they can comprise both, such as for example in tool use.
((10)) I use the term formation to refer to any observable matter-energy-compaction that can be consistently attributed a discernible form or a (set of) character(s). This definition includes formations that are formed the way they are by necessity, i.e. by physico-chemical law, or arbitrarily, i.e. by historical processes or unique encounters of two or more separate entities. (I refer here to the traditional view of natural science, since this is still the one dominating in social sciences and psychology; while delighted that it has been overcome within science, I would not like to nourish the illusion that micro-physical uncertainty or macro-physical turbulence and the like is all that underlies the behavior of semiotic systems.) In the first or closed system case determination (with the reservation just pointed out) is perfect; in the second or open system case a new formation results, under limiting constraints, but unpredictable from either subsystem alone, although the two subsystems themselves, up to the moment of their encounter, may prove perfectly determined in retrospect. This definition, however, excludes all that has no specifiable location in space and time. It cannot therefore include anything called "mental". Thus entities such as numbers or concepts or companies are exactly then formations when they are signs, i.e. when they are incorporated in a matter-energy-formation such as a (necessary though obscure) brain structure or state, a sound wave, a trace on paper or bits in a computer, an office at an address and with people to address during office hours. There is no point in assuring the permanent existence of numbers or concepts, because they can only have effects when they are incorporated at some time and place. Be aware that this is not a materialistic view, because any purely physico-chemical description of any formation might miss its essential existence or informative potential.
((11)) Furthermore, formations are then called structures when they to some degree resist influences from their surround Ðwhich would otherwise result in de-formation Ð and/or when they have a potential of producing or having produced anaforms of themselves (see below for an explanation of this neologism). This is no sharp and certainly no categorical distinction, but rather a matter of degree and point of view. Yet a formation is an observable, structure must be inferred. All formations have a particular structurization, to be morphologically described, i.e. they have a place and a time, discernible parts and relations and other characters. When relations between parts are found to be of a non-arbitrary character, i.e. when there is some degree of organization or when there is a rule as to their construction, we tend to speak of structures. Structures can be ordered aggregates or wholes or parts of wholes. It is of no import whether their organizing principle is intrinsic, such as in organisms or kinship systems, or whether it is extrinsic, such as in artifacts (buildings or cities or the law or myths or any text in the structuralist's sense) or whether it rests in both. In fact, the last of these cases is the most common if not the only possible one (perhaps I also exaggerate a bit). You cannot shape an object or build a house to your blueprint while neglecting the physico-chemical properties of your raw material and the static and dynamic conditions of their arrangement: what is extrinsic, what intrinsic? Obviously, everything pertinent for persons, everything cultural partakes in both. Often a slight change in a formation or "deconstruction" (Derrida) can result in a fundamental structure change, such as removing a link of a chain or adding a person to a group, or closing the door of a meeting, or repeat a phrase, or put it in quotes, or looking at something from a different perspective or point of view.
((12)) Structures are semiotically interesting only insofar as they are not completely determined by natural law but, in addition, by historical processes, although, of course nothing in them conflicts, I repeat, with nature's laws in any respect. In addition, whereas non-structure-formations are necessarily determined by and completely at mercy of their local composition and/or their surrounding conditions, structures maintain "themselves" somewhat apart or are made to withstand to some degree. They hold a certain autonomy within certain limits of external influence. They keep themselves or are kept buffered against some influence from or can become a partial master of their surrounds. In other words, structures in some respect obey their proper domain or profile, instead of the totality, of the natural laws. E.g. crystals or organisms select (and reject) molecules from their surrounds and they arrange them not merely conforming to, say, gravity or other external field forces but rather according to local preference and organization; it is therefore that they are considered to be structures as long as they do not decay. Artifacts are mostly shaped or constructed to fulfil specific structural properties, and although their organization principle is perhaps primarily extrinsic (when compared with organisms) and they eventually also decay into other formations, they can be and often are repaired and replicated and procreated. The Shinto-shrines at Ise (Japan) exist as the same structures since 690 A.D. although, or rather because, they are rebuilt in mimetic anaforms every 20 years. Again, be aware of not interpreting these statements ontologically; the structures of one context are normally formations of another and vice versa, e.g. crystals and organisms as totalities underlie gravitational or other forces, and the Niesen on Lake Thun is physically a random formation but a structure in perception or in Paul Klee's painting.
((13)) Insofar as structures are formed to retain their specificformative character, they are usually said to contain information. It would be better to conceive of them in a more neutral way as particularly specified energy-matter-formations (or "formations" for short), which may (Peirce would perhaps have written: must) have resulted from and can also underlie semiotic processes. Processes of encounter between two structures, or of a formation and a structure, often result in the production of an anaform, i.e. one further structure, be it a new third or a modified second one. A chair thus is a sitting anaform to human anatomy or vice versa; the word "homme" is an anaform of the word "Mensch" by and for the comparing or interpreting dictionary writer or reader; this knowledge is an anaform by reading of that text, etc. The representant structure results from, is a part of and stands for (represents) that singular semiotic referent-with-interpretant-encounter-triad.
((14)) This deliberation should make clear that no formation or structure "contains" information per se; rather (in)formation depends on the particular interpretant involved. One formation in-forms another by mediation of a third. The same object may serve in turn as a referent for various interpretants, thus forming different representants and implying a variety of informations. Any particular referent informs its representant and any particular representant is informed, and in turn capable of informing, about its referent in the perspective of a particular interpretant (for more details see Badge 2 below on elementary semiotics). Any description of a formation, and even more so of a structure Ð because comparisons of formations are entirely in the beholder, whereas descriptions of structures can refer to their organising principle which must be assumed also in re and thus give justifiably raise to class concepts Ð, is therefore to be considered as just one of a set of descriptions and should be accompanied by some indication of the particular interpretant involved.
((15)) By way of example, the physical description of an object such as what is called, e.g., a stone, is the representant of just one particular interpretant, viz. the science of physics or chemistry with their concepts and methods. Another interpretant such as a cultural knowledge or value attitude might describe the same object as a gem or as a gift from a beloved person and, in the latter case, it carries or informs of a social bond. Many more interpretants could take up the same individual object and produce more and further anaforms. It does not matter whether the gist of the triadic sign stems primarily from the referent or rather from the interpretant or equally from both. While a chemical composition or a physical mass description of the object are anaforms, the specifics of which refer in terms of a standardized interpretant largely to the referent or object Ð we call it therefore "objective" Ð, the romantic love interpretant, on the other hand and as a rule, is a quite stronger determinant of its representants in comparison to its referents, wherefore the triad is called "symbolic" or "subjective"; any other object might have been chosen in the first place to no great immediate avail for the effective reality of its social meaning.
((16)) "Information" then is neither in the object, nor in the subject, but obviously is a character of the sign as a whole; it characters an unique semiotic triad and involves essentially characters of all three of its components: referent, interpretant and representant formations. Information is not a substantive, but rather a relational and a genetic or generative concept. So the text or the park in our example ar not the park or the text except for a given beholder. Although they exist independently of an observer, they have no character except in a specific view; they have only a potential to inform only somebody literate or receptive, somebody having the capability to form a related structure. In order to bring the idea of in-forming nearer to the process of sign translation (Peirce), I suggest therefor the term anaformation, which is an expression for semiosis understood as structure formation. The representant formation resulting from a semiotic process can transfer, in a singular or rule-determined or lawfully repeated way, formative characters from either or both the referent and the interpretant formations. Representants thus bear an anaform relation to referents and/or interpretants. By and in anaformation some structure is partially or aspectually "duplicated". Anaformation, in addition, is the fundamental instrument of development, i.e. of stability and change in the world of signs, insofar as anaform representants can retain, and at the same time deviate from, characters of their referents, while building self-identical and procreative series in time (see also Lang 1988). Anaformation, thus is the cultural analogue of, or rather the inclusive, superordinate term for, the notion of variation in evolution; in cultural change the distinction between formation and structure is an expression of the selection phase. My neologism happily combines prefixes such as a-, an- and ana- to point to both deviation and similarity, continuity and opposition, between the entities involved.
((17)) To come back to psychology and the ecological relation between culture and person, perception, for example, is semiotically an encounter between a source (situation) as a referent and a mediating perceptual-cognitive system as an interpretant to result in an altered or in-formed or anaform "mind-brain-structure" as a representant. The new internal anaform is definitely not a "representation" of the source, as it is in Cartesian understanding, "symbolic" or not, in whatever understanding, but rather a formation that stands for the encounter and has the potential not only of pro-creating further anaforms, i.e. variation, but also of co-creating anaforms that are equated among themselves or recognized, i.e. of founding the class concept. Memory, as the organized ontogenetic integration of all internal signs of an individual, does not image the world, but builds its own anaform world, howsoever corresponding. You do not "know" about your text or garden by having a kind of replica in your head. How uneconomical, how superfluous (it is out there!) and how impossible for organisms with more limited memory capacity! Rather you construct a set or system of your own place-holders of your encounter (representants) which you can use as referents when orienting, reminiscing, relating, acting with respect to many things, among them gardens, semiotics and psychology.
((18)) Cognitive systems Ð this term always used in a very broad sense of internal psychological organization, including motivational aspects Ð are then seen as semiotically attained (sign-)structures formed by series and nets, parallel and nested, of semiosic acts. Endosemiotics has been proposed as a collective name for the study of within-body semiotic processes (see Sebeok 1986 or Nöth 1985). In addition to biogenetic preconditions and effects of perceptual semioses, "spontaneous" endosemiotic processes within the body or brain can also be semiotically constructed; the latter are traditionally described as "mental" (conscious or unconscious). Perceptual and executive acts (ecosemioses) and presumed endosemioses "between" perception and action collectively contribute to the buildup and differentiation in ontogenesis of cognitive structures. The same can obviously be said of artifacts: they are semiotically attained external (sign-)structures formed by human action and in turn are potential referents for further perceptual processes contributing to the buildup of internal structures. So the internal structures or the mind of any person and external structures or culture, in abstract terms, are anaforms of each other. Neither of them has an independent existence.
((19)) By analogy to endosemiotics, the semiotic study of perception and action could be termed ecosemiotics, whereas, from the viewpoint of a person, all semiotic structure changes in the world and independent of herself, possibly involving other persons and/or their tools and devices, could fall under the rubric of exosemiotics. But we have to think in spiralling function-circles, semiotically elaborating von Uexküll's seminal idea (see figure 3 below: Semiotic Function Circle). I am conceptualizing perceptual acts as IntrO-Semiosis, endosemiotic processes as IntrA-Semiosis, executive acts as ExtrO-Semiosis, and the processes of cultural change out there as ExtrA-Semioses. In addition, one' s own ExtrO-Semiosis normally might be another person's ExtrA-Semiosis. On needs to specify the point of view in looking at semioses: between ones ecosemioses (ExtrO and IntrO) may be small or large sets of exosemioses which, of course, are IntrO- and ExtrO-semioses for the other people involved. The four steps of the spiraling function circle cannot be studied independently. Ontogenetic development as well as cultural change are inextricably connected. This can only be mentioned here to frame the programme of an eco-psychological semiotics or an eco-semiotic psychology.
((20)) When cognitive systems or minds serve as control systems governing actions of the individuals, including orienting behavior in the service of perception, the same is again valid for artifacts: spatial structures guide our orienting behavior and locomotion, everyday things in our dwellings constantly engage our attention and steer our actions, from sitting to cooking to eating to reading and even at night a bed is catching us, not to speak of books and artwork. Artifacts or, broadly speaking, culture are thus in social systems what the body and the mind-brain is for individuals (see also Lang 1988). Artifacts, like bodies, make anaforms of ones "mind" available to others, including to oneself; body and artifacts, i.e. external anaforms of their psychological organization bring the "minds" of the members of a social system at one's disposition and enforcement. And we spend a life's worktime and effort caring for or cultivating not only our and other's body, but we are gathering and storing all the artefactual chunk. Tidbits, tools, machines and instruments of all sorts including computers and not to speak of books or houses or clothes exert considerable power in chanelling our actions, although they might leave sometimes some degrees of freedom, if we care.
((21)) Both, cognitive systems and artifacts are then seen as structural results of recursive and evolving processes, within the constraints of ontogenesis or of cultural change respectively. Both types of structures are dynamic, having a potential for self-regulation and of evolving anaform replication and procreation. No magic is involved when we realize that almost nothing pertinent to our life exists exclusively either within or without the person. Both worlds are not self-sufficient entities; each needs a complement: a natural and cultural environment in the case of the cognitive system, a cognitive (including perception and action) system in the case of artifacts. Reduced to itself each of them would simply stop to exist either as human or as culture. We are urgently wanting conceptions and generally agreed upon terminology to clearly differentiate between formations or structures, that refer to possible aspects of signs or components of semioses on the one hand (artifacts are outstanding examples) and, on the other hand, to those entities that stretch across the circle and thus refer to the inclusive signs. Artifacts are not signs: they should be seen as components of signs; their description or specification presupposes an interpretant which has to be, in any particular instance, specified to avoid confusion.
((22)) So, cognitive systems and artifacts, as both appear in our phenomenal world, act upon each other and promote each other mutually. This is as trivial, as it is true, yet not at all part of our conception of ourselves' existence in the world. We have the task of finding out, "how thoughts act on things" and vice versa (CP 5.106/1903). Semiotics in the Peircean tradition is a promising tool to describe the mutual interdependencies between these two subsystems of the ecological unit. There are further similarities between the two and also a number of interesting differences. But since we Cartesians are so accustomed to the differences, I thought it might be worth while here to preferably point out some (semiotic) similarities.
((23)) The present semiotic-ecological perspective of the person-environment-relation will be illustrated with material from studies on the communicative and regulative function of small objects and their topography in the home. We use the semiotic tools mainly to study humans with their things in their rooms, i.e. the activities of people with objectal and spatial arrangements made and used within and around residential settings (see Lang in press a and b; Slongo 1991, in press). A related approach to artifacts and psycho-social processes, yet in essence Cartesian and, as far as I can see, restrained to a notion of signs of essentially linguistic signs (words, numbers, etc.) in a somewhat Saussurian conception, is the cultural-historical theory instigated by Vygotsky (see e.g. Wertsch 1985). Phylo- and ontogenetic relatedness of mental and artifactual phenoma and the mediating role of imagery and spoken and written words are clearly seen (see e.g. Cole, in press, for an example on the processes between children and computer-systems), although conceptual tools appear to lack the elegance and power triadic semiotics allows for. A large spectrum of psychological and ecological problems, however, win surprising new sides in the light of eco- and endosemiotics. Nature and culture sciences both could win and come closer by overcoming Cartesian dogma.
((24)) The present approach is obviously rooted in and pertinent to epistemology and philosophy of science and can be seen as an attempt to answer largely neglected questions as to the existence of scientific objects in general (see Lang in press c). Since the physical sciences have given up the idea of an universal determinism in a world traditionally called "material" and enter considerations of historically open interactions among locally determined systems, the mental and cultural sciences can as well put down their insistence on the "separateness" of the epistemic subject, both as a transcendental "Weltgeist" and as an individual cognizing subject. If the concept of matter looses sense, the same must be true of concepts of spirit and the like, because the two are defined as an opposition which imposes itself in our perception and cognition. What they might be in and for themselves, we can never know. They need not have a "real" counterpart. In fact, I believe, they are mal-incorporated artifacts (mentifacts), whose symbolic carriers (words and experiences) might have played tricks on us by mediation of, among others, René Descartes and Immanuel Kant.
((25)) However, when we look at what we can differentiate in the world and how these entities deal with each other, semiosis appears to be a viable alternative description of what happens. And this is "more" or other than material interaction and "less" or other than res cogitantes. Semiotics in its history so far, it is not to deny, has also been hampered by the mind-matter split. By conceiving of semiosis as structure guided structure formation, or anaformation, it might get an even more interesting future.
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People with their things in their rooms (some research examples)
This title phrase is is intended to circumscribe the principal research interest of our group. What we also call Psychologie des Wohnens or Wohnpsychologie in German is not unambiguously to render in English. Candidates like psychology of residing, of living in, of dwelling etc. have all their surplus meanings we want to avoid. Especially in the latter term might be too easily reduced the object "dwelling", the part of the house or unit of living in. Our preferred formal designation then is psychology of the dwelling activity (or process).
"People with things in rooms" would refer to ecology at large; adding the possessive pronomina narrows down the focus to places where people are at home and have their, to some extent, proper selection of artifacts widely at their own disposal. "People with their things in their rooms" is on purpose without a verb phrase: semiotic ecology is to illuminate rather than to anticipate what happens in these systems comprised of people and artifacts.
The psychology of dwelling activity comprises, in our view, what happens with people within and around those places called dwellings. From an etic perspective the artifacts involved can be described in terms of objects (Objekte) and space (Raum). From the viewpoint of their users, i.e in an emic perspective, objects and space are turned into things (Dinge) and places (Orte; see Lang in press b and, for the emics/etics distinction, Headland, Pike & Harris 1990).
In view of the dialectics given between objects and space we differentiate three typical scale levels: (a) psychology of things, i.e. the movables, (b) psychology of dwelling, i.e. the immovables, and (c) psychology of the habitat or urbansetting, i.e. the between dwellings situation.
(a) By placing things in particular locations and relative to each other people easily generate temporary or enduring spaces which by the very act of creating and perusing them become their places. People are doing that most easily within their houses (see Lang et al. 1987).
(b) The walls and floors commonly erected in particular arrangements in order to structure space by creating inside vs. outside differentiations most prominently also segregate the units called the dwellings and the living groups such as families. It is of utmost ecological importance and not at all understood today why people do build houses, and why they do and use them in exactly the way they do (see Lang 1988).
(c) Arrangements of dwelling units or houses in turn give rise to spaces with another inside and and outside separation, i.e. the townscape or city vs. the landscape. These spaces are also to varying degrees structured by placing houses and things and thus appropriated by groups of people to become their public or semi-public places and turf for larger scale social interaction and identity. For one approach on this level see Fuhrer & Kaiser (in press; see also Fuhrer on this Symposium for additional references).
The following examples are brief and bare; they should mostly explain themselves on the present background. The first is on the dwelling, the second and third on the thing level. The first describes a simple dialogue or transaction chain between people and artifacts seen co-developmentally. The second refers to what we call the regulative function of ecological units: by producing, selecting, placing, and perusing things and places, states and developments of persons and groups are regulated in a continuous process (see Lang et al. 1987 and earlier). The last example is to focus on the communicative function (see Slongo 1991 and in press; and also, below, Badge 5 on communication).
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1. The house developing with the family or the family with the house (an entry example)
In an early study (Bos 1983) we have attempted to gather material illustrating the mutual instigative influences between people and their artifacts. The leading idea is: we make houses, what do these houses make with us? Data were gathered in interviews with people who had their single family detached home renewed within the last 10 years to an extent that they needed a community permit. Narratives were recorded as to reconstruct the "parallel histories" of the house on the one side and the family or living group on the other. One particularly insight-providing example is summarized as follows.
Living conditions of the four person family changed when the father started his own business. In order to allow the mother to assist him without neglecting the school age children, it was decided to use the family home as a base. First success called for additional space and thus a wing with a separate office room was added to the house. It was natural, for architectural and economic reasons, to simultaneously add a second room on the upper floor. This allowed in turn to ask the single grandmother to live in and look after the children, so the mother could spend more of her time in business. Business thrived and that in turn imposed more representative rooms to entertain customers. The situation itself again suggested the addition of a garden terrace.
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2. Dirty clothes' chest with a young couple (a regulative example)
Excerpts from an interview transcript with a young married woman S. asked to talk "about some important things in their apartment" (Translation by AL from Slongo 1991:104f.):
The Dirty Clothes' Chest chosen by S. is one of several items S. reluctantly had to buy from her sister at the latter's emigration.
S.: The interesting thing, now, with the Chest that stands in the sleeping room, is that it pleases me highly, it's in fact almost like a sea trunk, that what it is to me, you can stow away something like the used clothes of 3 weeks or so. I don't really like to launder, and if I have to, I like to have the machine full, and this is the only thing [from the sister] which I have considered, I wouldn't like to give it back to her. Because this chest stands for comfort, on the one hand (laughs!), that is, there is a mad lot of clothes going in, I can hide the things inside, I can make them disappear, and then, on the other side, it's decorative, too. And then, the chest in addition cares for that R. [husband], when he has no skirts left, you don't notice, because everything is inside the chest, he only sees it in the cupboard. Before we had a smaller basket, it was overflowing already after one week, so you had to do something against, you just had to go somewhere with the dirty clothes. And then, since we live here and have this large chest, it is R. who does the laundry most of the time, not me (laughs!).
S.: I believe, it has something to do with the capacity of the chest, of what goes in there, there is a connection, that we did the laundry less often since then, and that we did not participate in the laundry schedule that reigns the house. In this house, people do their laundry every week, each party has one fixed day, and when the people before departed, then everybody in he house assumed we would take over their fixed day, but we didn't. And that's for me a kind of sign that I do not participate in the Swiss laundry day philosophy.
S.: Well, this chest, I would not like to give it back, it's a kind of freedom for me, well, a kind of revolt.
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3. The vase having yet to find a place (a communicative example)
The same woman also talked about a flower vase, her husband had made when they together took an adult education pottery class (Translation by AL from Slongo 1991:94f.):
S.: This is a flower vase from clay, a self made flower vase. And it was R. who has made it, in a pottery class which I have frequented together with him. It was in December, and this is interesting. On the one side I am not that frantic about it and I find, from the aesthetic point of view, I don't find it is a particular flower vase at all. But the meaning is for me that this object for me represents (ugh) a side of R. which had not been known to me so well. Kind of the artistic element.
I.: Did you find that out when you pottered together?
S.: Yes. It was then I became conscious that he has tremendous talents and that he does not at all carry out these abilities. So that is for me a kind of sign for the dormant artistic capacities of R. This, this flower vase. I feel, if this were not so, I had it for long stowed away or removed it some place.
S.: And, ugh, some weeks ago already, I have tried it, whether it leaks or not, whether I can fill in water at all. And I have let it standing for a day, with a Kleenex-cloth beneath, to thoroughly test it. And I have seen that it does not leak, that I can use it as a vase. But I have a feeling that I have to wait until the right flower or branch comes along or that which is fitting.
S.: And that's why the vase is lingering around here. And it's there on our kitchen sideboard where, in fact, it has absolutely nothing to look for. Where there is dishes and glasses for "Muesli" and glasses for all kinds of nuts etc. In fact, it is, strictly speaking, this vase is misplaced. It is, in fact, this vase is on the lookout for its proper place yet to find. And also for its purpose.
S.: I have envied him in part during that class, that's true, how it just went from his hand, like nothing. He has impressed me with his kind of contentment and at the same time self-closure, kind of, he and the material. And that has been flowing into each other and I was a little jealous on what he succeeded to do and I didn't. He also made the bowl, over there, which pleases me perfectly, and this one we use, you see, this bowl we use.
I.: That one with the nuts? Yes?
S.: And this flower pot is also a product of that weekend, and we use this one, too. The vase, I must say, it gives me the least pleasure of all.
I.: But why, then, don't you stow it away? You've said you wait until the flower comes up, the situation, where you know you want to put something in.
S.: Perhaps I want to show him somehow that the things, he has made, that this brings something to us. Say that we can use it and that is is not for nothing. Because, he himself, he was not very satisfied with these products he has made then. He says: "OK, that's nothing particular." And I want to sort of re-evaluate it and show him that it is something and that we use it and that it is also beautiful. And, probably, with a branch or something I would like to make the vase also beautiful. Like I find this one [the flower pot], or the dish over there, beautiful.
S.: For me, this also means, in addition, that I have to encourage R. to proceed with this. Above all, that I have seen how terribly well it did to him, and how he had fun, and that he fully enjoyed himself. And that's why the vase lingers on here.
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Badges from my K(n)opfkissen
1. "Irene von Monreale"
I have found it nice to condense our semiotic ecology in an emblem, called "Irene of Monreale", for use on the cover sheet of our Report series and as a didactic device. The name and some of the parts of the emblem are, of course, completely arbitrary, nevertheless, a number of niceties are hidden, so some elucidation might be desirable.
Irene of Monreale is, so to say, the surface or phenomenological look at the ecological function circle; its semiotic analysis or interpretation is given over to a second diagrammatic illustration, called the semiotic function circle. The objective of "Irene of Monreale" is to bring the human person and her perceptual and her actional devices in proper connection with culture. Eye and ear might appropriately represent the means of keeping contact with the world, as do hand and face, with a particular emphasis on the voice; a singer, and, for want of a reputable singing psychologist, Falstaff in particular, seemed a good choice. Ð As to culture, there was a broad spectre of things to consider, from tools to art, but a house, for all its psychologically, socially and culturally embracing quality, was the item of choice. An example including social interaction and the actional design processes was found in the form of a section of the mosaics in the Monreale cathedral. Similar to concrete situations, larger parts of the social and cultural facts are only implied or hinted at, so the virgin Maria has a mainly virtual presence. Ð How to depict the person? To do it with a body or a brain was quickly discarded as being too misleading (think of the famous Vitruvian figure of Leonardo that reduced the man-building relation to nothing but geometric forms and proportions). An intuition of a house in the head, because of the correspondencies between internal and external structures, was the lead of a search.
I found Irene, another mosaic Ð puzzle workers, we scientists! Ð from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Irene, I didnt know her in detail before, is an interesting personality for a semiotic ecologist. First she wears a crown that is, what else?, a house, because a house is, what gives people social identity, stability, and carries their power and social bonds. Then, Irene is the goddess of peace! In addition to her being the patroness of mutual understanding, irenism also is a name for movements putting dogmatic catholicism, of all sorts, into question. This particular Irene, the empress of Byzantium around 800 AD, was, as usual among the ruling, a war and peace making monster, and she was adamant in her principles if not forced by stronger minds, indeed. Another Irene is said to being so admired by Sultan Mohammed that he forgot his regal duties; she paid for by losing her head. But most interesting for our non-Cartesian world view, Irene the empress was instrumental, on the council of Nicaea in 787, in restituting icons in one phase of the so-called iconoclastic controversy. Images, before they have been curtailed to either copy or art objects, have been and still are in many cultural settings, incorporations of "forces". Understanding images and people is an eminent cultural-historical road into non-Cartesian life (see Belting, 1990, for a comprehensive analysis).
As I have said "Irene of Monreale" is a direct depiction of the person-environment-relation. The present emblem represents the way things impress themselves upon the perceiver: there are persons, they act for changing the world in their way, they perceive what is there, including nature and what they have collectively made beyond the given. There are also connections between the four elements and a multitude of ways of conceiving them. The scientist, whether she is a psychologist, semiotician, anthropologist, sociologist or cultural scientist or historian is our principal constitutor of what these connections are to conceive of. She unavoidably relies on her perceptual and conceptual and productive tools (or he on his). The impossible figure (after Penrose) with virtual contours (after Schumann and Kanisza) might be a nice reminder of at least two of the many things to ponder: (a) it looks allright in parts, but it never runs really round; (b) there are some contours there, yes, but the rest in the beholder. I am unable to render in English my preferred caption: Wahrnehmung oder Falschnehmung welcher Wirklichkeit? (literally: true capture or false capture of which reality?)
Naturally, the cross on the cathedrals tower has been replaced by another more abstract emblem: it is what we call the Semion, the tripartite logic unit of reference, interpretance and representance, that are a sign (see Lang 1990 b, d and the Badge on elementary semiotics below).
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2. Scaffolding elementary semiotics
In general we consider organisms and minds to be entities that are not completely at the mercy of their surrounds. Cells and plants have developed membranes around themselves and select or reject to a certain extent molecules to be let in and built in. Animals in addition select and change to a certain extent their whereabouts and thus regulate their energy household, and, in more differentiated phylae (people speak of minds), also select or neglect to a certain extent information from their surrounds to determine or influence their behavior and their development.
I think we have largely failed to draw consequences from these undeniable facts. They might be generalized into the abduction, that entities such as organisms and "minds" are to some extent self-sustained or independent entities, obeying local lawfulness in a manner to be differentiated from general lawfulness. In other words, they can be described as partly autonomous entities with their own history to be relatively separated from the history of their surroundings. They are selective upon their environment (see Badge 6 below on categoriality). In fact, there must be a cause as to their particular selectivity. They are systems where degrees of freedom left by natural law are specified by local-historical regularity proper to the specific type of entity. We do not know what is the cause filling those degrees of freedom.
If this is an acceptable description of things, we need instruments and principles to describe and understand the type of relationship such entities entertain with their environment. The typical causal relationship, in the strict sense, i.e. a necessary and sufficient relation between one and another observable entity, is not applicable to the relation between cells/organisms/minds, including perhaps other entities, and their environment, because this would exactly mean, that knowing the surround at a given time, you should be able predict the next step occurring in the living entity and vice versa. This is obviously the case in a rather limited sense only, in that you can often make probability statements as the course of these events, but you can seldom be certain about them.
A obvious way of seeing the relation between the two types of entities involved would be to describe it as a triadic relation rather than the dyadic implicit in the cause-effect consideration. Obviously in the cases in question, every one of the entities involved can have an influence on the second, but the effect to be observed as a result needs additional specification, i.e. the cause of the particular course of events, selectivity, and the like.
One traditional kind of interpretation in this situation is to look for those additional specification(s) in agencies outside the directly observable yet ascribe to them a humanomorphic character; examples are god, soul, spirit, phlogiston etc. This interpretation, however, if applied in the manner of a postulate of a real entity rather than as a conceptual construction based on observables, hurts our obligation to try to give comprehensive or rational account of what we can observe.
Another interpretation, and I take this for a promising perspective as to such additional specification, is to look at the entities involved themselves, particularly at the "receiving" entity, rather than a fictitious third one. This would nicely fit with the picture given above that some of the entities involved might have a partially autonomous character. So if they are part and parcel of their surrounding world only up to a certain extent, they might as well have the capability of modifying influences acting upon them from this surrounding world and also of putting their impression on the surrounding world at their discretion as to time, place and certain qualities, as long as they act within the general laws governing both themselves and the surrounding word. To the extent that they resist such influences from and determine such impressions on the surrounding world, they could be said to possess their own local lawfulness which could be described as a supplement to general lawfulness having effects to be described as a subset of generally possible effects.
Thus we have, in trying to understand such relations Ð person-environment or ecological relation as a prominent and well-observable example Ð, to replace the dyadic cause-effect connection by a triadic connex of one entity encountering a second which results in a real third.
Charles S. Peirce has maintained in the mid-sixties of the 19th century that such a triadic relation is an indissoluble unit different from and not reducible to a set of dyadic relations (see Peirce WCP 2, esp. On a new list of categories, 1867). For quality is monadic, relation dyadic, and representation irreducibly triadic. In other words, while it is possible, and indeed the essence of natural laws, that one entity (cause) affects another (effect), with respect to the second entity having a partially independent existence, we have to conceive of quite another type of relationship. The first entity could then be said to be available to the second with respect to and to the extent and kind of the seconds entity being independent of the first, rather than the second being simply determined by the first. For these cases, it seems to me, Peirce proposed semiotics as the logic of representation. What we have to conceive then is a different type of determination: semiotic conditioning is a non-categorical form of causality, suitable for partially autonomous entities. Semiosis is (in the dyadic sense) non-deterministic determination, so to say.
The essential point is simple: in order to represent an entity, a medium is needed, if the entity is to become, or have effects by, something other than itself. The result is a tripartite entity which can be logically differentiated into (a) the object or reference, (b) the medium or interpretance, and (c) the representation marker or representance. This is all the more plausible when you think the second or interpreting entity to be based in an entity of incessant and unidirectional change as is the case with living entities, so that the process of influence from the first to the second entity can, strictly speaking, not be repeated. What is represented, then, is in fact the original entitys encounter with the interpreting or representing medium rather than the first entity itself. A sign, therefore, in Peirces understanding, represents both, object and medium; and the ensuing third entity is tripartite, including reference, interpretance, and representance.
This contrasts sharply with the common understanding of signs (signum) as symbolic representations of the signified (signatum), which dominates in most linguistic traditions of semiology instigated by Saussure and his followers. In fact, as Saussure himself well knew, the latter may be considered as a special case of the former, viz. the case where the mediating instance or interpretance can be taken for granted or assumed invariant. For example, the spoken word <house> is a symbolic representation of the concept of house, as long as you imply an interpretance in the form of competence in English language notwithstanding the fact, that each individuals concept of house is to some extent idiosyncratic while all uses members of a community use the same word; or a particular bit-pattern is a representation of a letter of the alphabet assuming ASCII or another code and it makes no sense to proceed with idiosyncratic notions of bit patterns.
It is important to discriminate between dyadic and triadic semiotics, especially so in psychological matters. I use the term (symbolic) "representation" exclusively as a largely dyadic sign-relations of one sign replacing or standing instead of another, a particular variant of interpretation, often a normative one, being implied. Sign relations in general are triadic, and in Peircean semiotics this is always made explicit. The elementary logical unit of representation is necessarily tripartite and might be designated a Semion. The term Semion is inspired by the chemical elementary unit, the ion. The ion is chemically, the Semion logically irreducible, notwithstanding the fact that it can be analysed in terms of other approaches such as physical in the case of the ion or psychological in the case of the Semion. Like the ion, the semion has the potential of bonding with other semions, because it has parts that can function in more than one semiotic context (see the Badge on semiosis and communication).
The semion is the irreducible elementary unit of meaning or non-causal determination and includes always reference, interpretance, and representance components which are like parts of a whole; their role cannot independently be specified. The relationships between any two of the components in view of the third might be studied in turn (see Figure Semion). Semantics is the analysis of the modes of relationships between references and representances in function of particular interpretances. Its principal modes are iconic, indexical (symptom and signal) and symbolic. Syntactics refers to the ways, particular circumstances between references and and interpretances (to be called situations) can find their reflection in representances or actual sign-structures. The principal syntactic relations are those of quality or simple sign, proposition or sign-coordination, and argument or sign-implication. There might be other preferred and/necessary sorts of content-independent ways sign can form sign-complexes. Pragmatics, in turn, observes and systematizes functions, a reference can bring to bear in particular interpretance-representance combinations. The principal functions may be notative or indicative (standing for something or indicating some state), expressive (displaying some state), appellative (effecting something), phatic (effecting some state), autonomic (maintaining something, i.e. aesthetic), and reflexive (maintaining or commenting some state, i.e. meta-semiotic).
This triadic logic of the sign is easily applied to processes of (mutual) influence of the types of entities in question. Here we limit ourselves to making plausible that a "dialogue" of a person with her environment is semiotically conceivable under the assumption that the interpretant partakes in a common "ground", the psychological organization proper (see Figure Semiosis). In subsequent semioses different perceptual and actional subsystems must be assumed to be important. Both, IntrO- and ExtrO-Semioses result in referents, internal or external structures respectively, that can be re-interpreted by the interpretant as referents for the subsequent semiosis. In the figure, a narrow person-environment-system is assumed and only a small section of the semiotic chain is represented. However, the same process logic applies when some of the representants are proceeded by other people or events before being taken as referents by the person in question and after being produced by the person as representants. It can only be mentioned that this semiotic conception of the dialogue of person and environment seems lay the ground also for the unity of the person as well as of her development with the environment.
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3. The Semiotic Function Circle
The illustrative diagram (figure 3) attempts to summarize the web of essential concepts of semiotic ecology. It depicts the relative independence of the individual person from and her connectedness to culture by perceptual and actional subsystems. Although culture could be represented in an all embracing fashion, thus including the person, the chosen relative separation should remind of the developmental dialectics that are operating semiotically between the two ecological partners.
Semiotic processes are again symbolized by beams that "are more than they are". The loci of structure formation by semiosis of all four types within the person and in cultural settings are indicated by the corners. Structures themselves, in line with our distinction between substantive and genetic thinking, can and should not be depicted. They are implied entities in those semioses in which they are involved themselves. In order to be perceived and described, another semiosis, by a third observing party, is required; the scientist, phenomenologist or operationalist, or the introspector are examples of such higher order interpretants.
While IntrO- and ExtrO-semioses run relatively strait through the perceptual and the actional subsystems respectively, IntrA- as well as ExtrA-semioses are shown broken. They might result in formations that are left resting, while others are taken up. That is, internal and external structures are to a large extent memories or anaforms that stretch over time. This process of spreading, loosing and finding ends and beginnings is probably rather more extensive in culture, whereas more coherence is typical for the person.
Figure 3: Semiotic Function Circle
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4. Semiosis and cultivation
Descending from Georg Simmel, the term cultivation has been used in the sense of mutual mediation or transaction between person and object, between self and other; it is thought to be a process of culture creation and interpretation and at the same time of self-definition and -control. It is intended to bring dynamics into the otherwise static "symbol system" approaches to culture (Csikszentmihalyi & RochbergÑHalton 1981:4f.,173f.; RochbergÑHalton 1986). Similarly, Boesch has since long proposed the intriguing formula of "subjectifying the objective and objectifying the subjective" (Boesch (1991:179ff. and earlier; see also Fuhrers contribution to this symposium). The implied opposition and mutual dynamic dependency between person and culture has become known in many variants as the transactional approach (for an overview see e.g. the chapters by Altman and by Wapner in Altman & Christensen 1990)
The question arises as to the scope and power of this concept of cultivation in the context of a non-Cartesian and semiotic view of ecological systems. This question, of course, is intimately connected with the meaning given to the concept of culture. In the present context I have focussed attention on artifacts, leaving open while hinting at the possibility of setting culture equal to the system of artifacts a group of people is using as references and representancies in their semiotic web.
However, in a strict non-Cartesian stance, culture as well as person are not givens to be defined and start with. Both are resulting from and at the same time constituting semiotic processes and structures. In the process of throwing out the mutual constructions of subject and object it would be fatal to reintroduce the same opposition again in another, and perhaps even more disguising form. Person and culture appear as observables, the terms point to "real things" to be found and pointed to. In fact, both terms are empirically as elusive as the old Cartesian or Kantian concepts. As a psychologist, once you have understood how impossible it is to delimit the person (do you include or exclude her hairdo or clothes or house or valued possessions?), you will surmise similar difficulties with catching culture. As an anthropologists your inference might go just the reverse course. Both pairs of terms should be used in contexts only where their constructive nature is indubitably open. I have acquired a tendency to avoid them all whenever possible.
On the other hand, you need to fall back on everyday language in order to communicate. Although it makes sound phrasing to speak of cultivating artifacts and one's self or person, culture, as a substantive term, in this context, is more meaningfully restricted to structures external to people. Since cultivation is metaphorical in view of its origin of tending the fields, its reversal as to tending persons including oneself might run the risk of being an overly embracing idea. In addition, the almost inevitable inclusion of evaluative aspects in everyday parlance when speaking of some individual cultivating herself or "having" culture, the connotation in such views of conscious, voluntary and even planned ventures would make the term, in my opinion somewhat less suitable as a scientific term.
In fact, from the point of view of semiotic ecology, cultivation in the sense used by Boesch, Rochberg-Halton, and Fuhrer would be functionally equivalent to ecosemiosis, including both directions, extrO- and intrO-semiosis, and presupposing, of course, the totality of exosemiosis, i.e. culture seen as a process. We seem to have, in this situation, a choice between two parallel terminologies. There is no point in opposing the two terminologies with their respectve conceptual background to the extent of mutual exclusion. The two respective research strategies might go in parallel and mutually fructify each other. My contention is to place semiotic processes on an analytic level possibly underlying the more immediate or phenomenological stance of speaking of cultivation and culture. Detailed comparisons including mutual heuristic instigation of conceptual and empirical developments, it is hoped, are to be expected in the near and middle future.
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5. ExtrO- + IntrO-Semiosis => Communication (another larger than life size Badge!)
A Badge on semiotics and communication in the context of how to deal with artifacts? Yes, artifacts is the principal means of communication. The field of communication, as everyone knows, is a mess. In addition, it might be one of the principal strategic problems of semiotics that is has often presupposed a particular theory of communication rather than constructed one with its own tools. This is particularly the case in the Saussurian, Morrisian and perhaps other traditions which have been largely developed as a part of communication theory. What is proposed here in contrast is work in progress at an early stage. Semiotic ecology seems to suggest a general way of understanding communication (in a broad sense) which we want to submit to discussion. It is not elaborated enough to be the theme of a separate contribution; on the other hand it presupposes much of what has been generally said about the semiotics of artifacts, so its fit for a Badge. I give a mere skeleton.
Instead of starting with a (necessarily controversial) definition of communication, we might describe with our ecosemiotic tools what happens when two person are in a typical communicative situation, say a dialogue or a series of dialogues (for more details see Slongo 1991, in press). Ecosemiotically, it is obvious that they take, more or less sharply delimitable, turns in externalising and internalising structures or producing internal and external anaformations, respectively. In other words, say, an extrO-semiosis by A (spoken, written, gestured, sung, designed, placed, arranged etc. external structure or representant) followed by an intrO-semiosis by B who interprets the said structure, taking it as a referent for building his own internal structure, which eventually contributes to an extrO-semiosis by B, the representant of which again becomes a referent of an intrO-semiosis by A, and the same sequence more or less regularly repeated many times. We might assume some additional intrA-semioses to happen in A and in B, temporally in between their respective intrO- and extrO-semioses, whereas, for the sake of overseeability, we exclude the intermittence of third party extrA-semioses, i.e. we have no other persons actually participate. Also we might assume, that interpretants of the subsequent semiosis in both persons, A and B, should have some coherence each in itself and also some communality between the two. Communality pertains on two levels. It is probably impossible to communicate without assuming at least some related content already available to the addressed partner; messages presuppose context. And if the communication is linguistic, for example, we must assume a common linguistic code to be effective in the interpretant set of both persons, A and B, at least in the case of succeeding mutual understanding.
In semiotic ecology, the communicative minimal episode, i.e. the act of transmitting some information from A to B in common parlance, can be seen as a chained consecutive double semiosis, viz. an extrO-semiosis by the sender followed by an intrO-semiosis by the receiver. Consecutive double semiosis is characterized by a common part in that the representant of the first link in the chain becomes explicitly the referent of the second link. Ð Trivial, nothing but of the often found semiotic nominalese?
Too early to decide! In our impression the suggested elementary semiotic parlance reduces complexities that vex theorists of communication time and again, and at the same time it suggests to place communication within a larger framework of the person-environment relation which promises profitable to both fields. Compare the double semiosis concept for instance with the communication scheme of Morris or other authors (for details and literature see e.g. Nöth 1985). I have to restrict myself to advance three insights.
(a) Consecutive double semiosis communication presents a simple solution to the grave problem of intentionality of communication which is often taken as a necessary defining criterion for differentiating communication from other forms of interaction. The problem, I think, cannot be put in a behaviourist and not be solved in a cognitivist psychology; it disappears in a non-Cartesian world. What remains is the question of addressedness of messages. We suggest the abduction that addressed semioses might be characterized by complex representant or twin structure, i.e. of being composed of at least two separable extrO-semiotic structure components, one carrying the message proper, the other providing the address and, perhaps, further appellative, phatic, and/or reflexive moments. In other words, the senders extrO-semiosis must include both a content and a control character structure. We need then to assume communicative intention if the communicative act includes indications of directedness or control. I think that intentionality (in the sense of purpose, conscious motive, will, etc.) is in the beholder; it is a category of introspection or observation. Whereas intention or intentness (in the sense of relatedness, directedness, addressedness, control) is a fact that forms a part of the extrO-semiotic act conceived as a twin. The control structure must be available to the addressee, at least in the view of the sender; that is why it must be part of the formers extrO-semiotic representant. The addressee, of course, might perceive this structure or not, and as a consequence, might chain his intrO-semiosis to complete the double character or not. In addition he might realize the twin character of his referent or not, i.e. he might get the message alone or the message together with the fact of having been addressed. That he does either or both is a prerequisite, but still no guarantee of, to some extent, successful communication.
(b) In our approach the question of code and code formation can become an empirical question rather than being part of an priori definition. We can see a broad field of transition between extrO-semiosis resulting in singular formative acts, but being taken up by a partner (conspecies or other), and highly ritualized or codified systems or ordered sets of structures or common code. It is a rather rare limiting case to communicate in a code without constantly adding events beyond the code. Processes of code formation and deconstruction take continuously place in phylo-, onto- and actualgenetic contexts; they may or may not result in temporary or permanent systematization of semiotic exchange.
(c) Considering the changed role of code in this approach to communication, there is no reason left to investigate apparently different kinds of externalizations differently. No question about linguistic communication being a highly sophisticated form of interactive semiosis; but no reason to assign it a model role or a special value. Designing, selecting, placing, arranging, modifying and rearranging small or large artifacts, things and houses for example, can definitely be conceived as extrO-semiotic acts. Insofar as they succeed in having effects in another individuals internal structure, they have fulfilled a communicative function to be analysed in pragmatics. In addition we speak of regulative function of inter-individual and inter-group semiosis when such communicative acts are effective in changing the relation between the parties directly or indirectly concerned. The starting point and the long range purport of our ecosemiotic culture theory has been and is to understand individual and social regulative systems including their environment, insofar as they are carried by co-evolving artifact structures such as things and places or settings (see Lang in press a and b; Slongo 1990).
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6. Categories precede!
We tend to think of class concepts as secondary achievements, abstractions from and over primary registration of singular cases. I think we should reverse that view. There is few empirical evidence available for that, although the class - type distinction of Rosch (1978) has prepared the field. This is the more regrettable since the question is particularly apt to reveal topical processes in the intercourse between humans and computers. Yet there is little interest in it in view of the difficulties, types demand of computers. This might perhaps change when connectionism yields realistic results (see Rumalhart & McClelland 1986).
But there is a rather tough evolutionary or empiro-logic argument: simple organisms, from amoebae on through evolution, must make "decisions", i.e. they musts have category types of relationships with their environment (nice to eat or not, better to flee or to fight, usable and available for copulation or not). And only the emergence of more differentiated information storage and comparison devices makes for adding characters of singularity for particular episodes of the biography. The simple animal stores or "memorizes" the type or class of his encounters with his environment. Both releasing stimuli of instincts and motivation, for instance, operate in categorical manner. The more memory capacity a species acquires, the more likely it is to learn about particular individuals in his social group, about particular episodes in their common course of life, etc.
So why should there be a break in evolution in that suddenly singularity takes precedence over category? This is a nonsensical expectation. It is as improbable as the expectation that simple organisms were automats controlled by environmental stimuli, and higher organisms were selective upon the input from their environment (see Badge 2 above on elementary semiotics). To be selective is to act categorically. With more differentiated nervous systems, it is agreed, a gradual differentiation between action structures (what you can do in this situation) and knowledge structures (what the situation do with you or what you can do to it) might accrue. And is there reason to assume that knowledge structures are singular while action structures are categorical?
We seem to have projected from our own oversophisticated ability to reconstruct in certain cases the singularity of an experience. But everybody knows today, that witnesses of events do not report the event but rather reconstruct it by starting from an event type and gradually adding singular characters if needed, and inventing rather than remembering alleged singular characters if pressed. So for me categories precede singularities in perception and cognition. The problem is worth delicate and considerate attention.
The point is ecologically interesting, because singular items or events and classes behave and develop differently in exosemiotics and in endosemiotics. Categorical behavior of items in nature is common only on a very primitive or non-semiotic level (atoms, molecules of any type are exchangeable with no avail); all the rest is more complex and historical, that means singular and possibly semiotic. Perceptual/cognitive and action systems, i.e. semiotic systems, on the other hand, are highly interested for economic reasons in neglecting everything singular ,except if forced to do so such as in very complex animals. Even after having acquired the capacity to singularize to a high degree such as in primates and sea mammals, they have developed secondary anaformations such as language and other dyadic sign systems, that let them comfortably categorize in order to keep in touch with their conspecies individuals and to manage complex social systems.
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September 18, 1991
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