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Comments to Semios-L

Steven Skaggs :
Wed, 19 Jun 1996 09:37:37 -0400

Responding finally to Katya in more detail:
>1> When I read '4' that's my interpretant.
>2> The number on the screen was the representamen or sign vehicle.
>3> Your thought was the object.
>4> Your thought was itself an interpretant (of a preceding semiotic event).
>This is where I begin to get lost: I see no difference between seeing a
>4, reading a 4, thinking it's a 4, and interpreting it as a 4. Apart from
>the anthropocentric approach, there can be no number on the screen
>without it having been already read and thought as such. The only
>difference I can make here is this little stick with a small triangle
>hanging form its top "4" (sr) and its correspondence to **** (sd).

I would try to make the distinction not by arguing for the necessity or
obligation of viewing things from a Peircian (or Saussurian) perspective,
but by showing the different kind of work the two systems do. First, to
look at the Peician:

A sign is a relation in which

_something_ (a vehicle)
stands for _something else_ (its object)
to _someone in some respect_ (the interpretant).

a _light wave_ (vehicle)
stands for _a certain color_ (its object)
to _the cells in the visual cortex in the respect we call 'green'_ (the

a _light wave_ (vehicle)
stands for _a change of condition_ (its object)
to _a photosensor in the respect we call 'ON'_ (the interpretant).

or take the quotes in my sig....
the thermostat is capable of three interpretants: "It is too cool in here",
"It is just right in here", and "It is too hot in here". The sign vehicle
in this case is the volume of molecules in the coil of the thermostat. As
the molecules expand, the interpretation is "it is too hot in here". Well,
the - it is too hot - refers to the referent "temperature of the room".
That is the object.

I asked you to think of a number between one and five.
When you thought of the number '4', your thought is the object of the
following semiotic event:

4 (a vehicle)
stands for the number you were thinking of (object)
to me when I read it off the monitor (interpretant)

Note the following:
>4 does not always stand for the "number you think of" (For instance it
>also stands for "the length of term of office for the President of the
>United States").

>I could have been deceived (you could have been thinking 3 and typed a 4
>to fool me). So the object need not have a status of 'real', 'actual', or
>any other validity.

>4 may have been the number you were thinking of, and the number you typed,
>but because it was late at night I may have confused it with the letter A
>(received a different interpretant). The interpretant I received was just
>as 'real' as the one I missed.

The Peircian system is uniquely placed to trace questions of drawing
inference, validity, agreement and argument.

The threefold articulation has the advantage of treating the sign event
from outside the point of view of any participant. But that also leads to
the confusion we all feel when dealing with it. To see why, let's look at
the same situation from the point of view of the agent doing the
interpreting (taking a Saussurian approach):

I see a 4 (signifier)
I think "the number you were thinking of is four" (signified).

The process is much more simple.

The inclination of the Saussurian perspective to emphasize codes and
systems becomes clear as soon as we take the next step:

When this group of us see a 4
we think "the number you were thinking of is four".


When that group of them see a 4
they think "get arrows here".

Saussurian semiology gets outside the viewpoint of the participant through
focusing on these disjunctures of sr-sd relations. The systems governing
these relations are called codes. Cultures are then able to be studied
through the technique of looking for patterns in their code structures.

More to come...

Steven Skaggs

>> McCarthy: "Even machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have

<< Searle: "What beliefs does your thermostat have?"

>> McCarthy: "My thermostat has three beliefs - it is too hot in here, it
>>is too cold in here, and it is just right in here."

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