Signs Grow

Signs Grow: Semiosis and Life Processes

Copyright Date: 1996
DOI: 10.3138/9781442679931
Pages: 356
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  • Book Info
    Signs Grow
    Book Description:

    This is the third volume in Floyd Merrell's trilogy on semiotics focusing on Peirce's categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. In this book the author argues that there are passageways linking the social sciences with the physical sciences, and signs with life processes. This is not a study of the semiotics of life, but rather of semiosis as a living process. Merrell attempts to articulate the links between thought that is rooted in that which can be quantified and thought that resists quantification, namely that of the consciousness. As he writes in his preface, he is intent on `fusing the customary distinctions between life and non-life, mind and matter, self and other, appearance (fiction) and "reality," ... to reveal the everything that is is a sign.' In order to accomplish this goal, Peirce's terciary concept of the sign is crucial.

    Merrell begins by asking `What are signs that they may take on life-like processes, and what is life that it may know the sign processes that brought it - themselves - into existence?' In order to answer this question he examines semiotic theory, philosophical discourse, the life sciences, the mathematical sciences, and literary theory. He offers an original reading of Peirce's thought along with that of Prigogine and of many others. Following Sebeok, Merrell reminds us that `any and all investigation of nature and of the nature of signs and life must ultimately be semiotic in nature.'

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7993-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Of Life and Signs
    (pp. 3-37)

    A few aphorisms, then, to set the tone of this enquiry. ‘Life is produced by life’ (Chicago Natural Museum of History); the ‘dream of a bacterium is to become another bacteria’ (Jacob 1982:72); ‘people, animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses - are only a sign’s way of making another sign’ (Sebeok 1979:xii); ‘life is but a sequence of inferences or a train of thought’ (PeirceCP:7.583); a physicist is ‘made of a conglomeration of the very particles he describes ... Thus ... the world we know is constructed in order ... to see itself’ (Spencer-Brown 1979:105).

    I offer these citations as...

  5. 2 As Ongoing Semiosis
    (pp. 38-70)

    Lévì-Strauss’s myths that speak themselves through man; Heidegger’s language bringing about its self-realization through us; Derrida’s we are always already in the text, wherever we are; Wittgenstein’s the limits of my language are the limits of my world; and Peirce’s I am the sum total of my thought-signs - all these indirectly testify in one form or another to the ‘Language ≈ Life,’ or better, the ‘Signs ≈ Life,’ equation. And they largely imply the self-organizing process under discussion. Creativity is crucial to an adequate - though inexorably partial at best - understanding of this process. Nature imitates art, Picasso...

  6. 3 The Time of the Mind-Sign
    (pp. 71-107)

    Let us for the moment eschew the brain-mind problem, as did Peirce, and place his ‘Man ≈ Sign’ in the spotlight. Consideration of this equation will foreground the intrinsic/extrinsic, inner/outer, intensional/extensional dichotomies finally revealing, I will take pains to point out, a paradox. In fact, these binaries are not either/or affairs at all, but rather, there is, in light of Peirce’s work, a ‘middle ground’ that lies at the paradoxical mainstream of the very semiosic process itself. This aspect of Peirce’s thought, as I shall hammer out in subsequent chapters, is patterned in the tenor of our times in so...

  7. 4 A Pluralist Semiotic Universe
    (pp. 108-135)

    Chapter 3 set the stage for a dynamic typology of semiotic entities (sign-events and thought-signs), especially with respect to their temporal character. This chapter focuses primarily on what we might dub the ‘dimensional nature’ of signs.

    Dimensionality, for obvious reasons, lends itself quite well to enticing graphic and diagrammatic representations of conceptual matter. Points, lines, planes, cubes, and even hypercubes and tessaracts can be handy tools for descriptive, explanatory, and didactic purposes. James Bunn (1981) makes ample use of spatial dimensions in constructing his unique ‘polydimensional semiotics.’ I shall juxtapose his attractive thesis with J.T. Fraser’s (1979, 1982) correlation of...

  8. 5 Space-Time, and the Place of the Sign
    (pp. 136-175)

    In light of the disquisition on Peirce’s concept of semiosis as living process in chapters 1 and 2, Bunn’s and Fraser’s dimensionality theses regarding tables 5 and 6 call for further consideration.

    Upon embarking on the journey I review Piaget’s developmental-constructivist theory of cognition as an introduction and tie-in to Patrick Heelan’s provocative argument that Euclidean space is no more than a pinch-hitter standing in for a more deeply rooted ‘hyperbolic’ mode of perception and conception of the world. I argue, following Heelan, that the transition to our Euclidean mind-set is illustrated through Renaissance painting by means of the infinitely...

  9. 6 Assembly-Line Signs, and Beyond
    (pp. 176-203)

    I shall have been asked by now what all the talk of temporality and spatiality has to do with the ‘Signs ≈ Life’ equation in the first place. In order to clarify my motives, let me exercise a move from symbolicity (one-dimensionality disseminating and spilling into multilinearity), and iconicity (self-referential, self-sufficient oneness), toward the Secondness of indexicality - that is, that which is construed to be ‘real.’ I do so by bringing the semiosic process to bear on our postmodern scene and its semiological interpretation by Baudrillard and others.¹ Then, I enrich the focus by introducing the self, which serves...

  10. 7 Rhetoric, Syncopation, and Signs of Three
    (pp. 204-216)

    In view of the thesis presented in chapter 6, consider table 8, drawn in part from Hartshorne (1970), Harvey (1986), Hassan (1987), and Tyler (1988), which complements table 7 in chapter 4.¹

    Existence-Actual-Particular-Space-Symmetry-Reversibility-Action-Reaction-Noun are the stock-in-trade of the classical Cartesian-Newtonian corpuscular-kinetic mechanical model of the universe. Concrete-Finite-Discrete-Presence convey the nature of traditional Western thought, following its Greek ancestors. And Tree-Roots are characteristic of traditional Porphyrian-Linnaeusean taxonomizing. Indeterminacy-Unpredictability, however, presented a problem for classical mechanics at the turn of the nineteenth century, when the Second Law of Thermodynamics threw things into disarray. The universe as a closed entity in its incessant...

  11. 8 Knowing Signs, Living Knowledge
    (pp. 217-243)

    The distinction I referred to at the close of the last chapter between Peircean semiotics and Saussurean, neo-Saussurean, and post-Saussurean – poststructuralist – semiology can be dressed quite nicely in terminology common to mathematical philosophy. Upon our formulating this distinction, the ‘life-signs’ theme discussed in chapters 1 and 2 resurfaces.

    This serves to re-introduce the continuity/discontinuity problem that has emerged throughout much of this book. By relating that distinction to the Cantor-Dedekind paradox and McTaggart’s A- and B-series to the becomingness of signs, I re-evoke the theme of spatio-temporality, also presented above. I then turn briefly to sign multiplication and...

  12. 9 Chance and Legacy
    (pp. 244-268)

    Given the so-called ‘genetic code,’ the number of possible double-helix sequences and hence protein structures is for practical purposes unlimited. It is the genetic analogue of one-dimensional generativity along infinite paths in three-dimensional space - somewhat reminiscent of Cantor’s transfinite set algebra.

    In view of this unfathomable degree of freedom, the cell’s accuracy of reproduction is indeed remarkable. Untold chemical reactions occur within the cell almost simultaneously with an I-told-you-so certainty and precision unknown and unthinkable to the mass-produced commodities of which postmodern technology is so proudly capable - which is to a degree an affront to Baudrillard’s notion of...

  13. 10 For a Critique of the Autonomy of the Sign
    (pp. 269-288)

    I now wish to gravitate away from the biological focus in the previous two chapters toward a broader, rather ‘ecological’ view. On so doing, my theme of the semiotic agent as sign among signs and the ongoing interrelatedness of all signs will reach a shrill pitch. This, I believe, will further illustrate that the triadic concept of the sign is quite in tune with that incessant buzz of happenings in which we find ourselves.

    Use of the term ‘linearity’ throughout this enquiry bears reference to Deleuze (1990a) and Deleuze and Guattari (1983) regarding what they term ‘series.’ According to the...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 289-294)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 295-306)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 307-320)
  17. References
    (pp. 321-342)
  18. Index
    (pp. 343-356)