Semiosis: Mountain and River

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Taborsky, E. (1998) ‘The Mountain and the River: Two levels of codification’. Architectonics Of Semiosis (p. 4)

The concept of a force of infinite and continuous power has played and always will play an important role in the human idea of reality. The truths or powers of this force are understood to exist per se esse: separate and, indeed, unaffected by any of the immediate particularities of life. This essentialist purity provides the continuity of life and is more expan­sive, more enduring, and more powerful than any single articulation. It has been imagized in countless tales, among many peoples, as a moun­tain. We read that:

“They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion which cannot be re­moved, but abideth forever.” (Ps. 125: 1);

and also

“He set above them

Granite of high mountains-and a king Empowered at command to rein them in

Or let them go.” (Virgil 1990: Bk. I. Lines 86-89);

as well as

“On the face of the mountain, the cedar lifts its seed.

Its shade is good, full of comfort.” (Gilgamesh 1984: p. 133).

Another common image is that of water – the rain, the rivers, the streams. We read that “a mist went up from the earth/and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:4); and “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” (Gen. 2:10). Water, in the boundless polyphonic plurality of its forms, is the image of renewal of the immediate, the multiple individual experiences of life. “Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters” (Isa. 32:20); life can begin again.

Semiosic actions within the architecture of a regime of knowledge con­sist of these two seemingly contradictory forces of stability and change. The individual sign, unfettered as these waters, must always, however one defines it, “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” (Ps. 91) and operate within the bonds of another force, for “In the Lord I take refuge. . . [I] flee like a bird to the mountains” (Ps. 11). What is the relationship of these two disparate forces, which operate within a single regime and, therefore, must interact? What of other relationships and other interactions that must be dealt with by a regime of knowledge?

(p. 5)

S’an ist une goute de sane Do fer de la lance an somet,

Et jusqua la main au vallet (Chretien de Troyes [c.1181] 1990: lines 3136-3139)

Un graal entre ses deux meins

Une demoisele tenoit (lines 3158-3159)

“Reality exists; it is “Other” to us. We fall over, bump into, meet with the brutality of its basic existentiality; as Peirce described, “the real is that which insists upon forcing its way to recognition as something other than the mind’s creation …. The real is active; we acknowledge it, in calling it the actual’ (1.325). We generally admit that we experience the realities of this otherness within the particular nature of ourselves as individuals, “for all men begin, as we said, by wondering that things are as they are” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk.I:Ch.2.983a15).

Therefore, I am bringing to this analysis a premise that the Self and the Other(s) – we and whatever we experience in external reality-both exist. A key question is, do we have direct or indirect access to the verities of this experienced reality? Is our understanding dyadic and direct between these IWO focal points, the Self and the Other, or is it triadic, with a mediate ac­t ion inserted between these two nodes? These two cognitive frames, the dyadic and triadic, are as ancient as human thought. I consider this debate, over the existence of a mediate metanarrative that plays a role in cognition, the basis of all human inquiry. There seem to have been only these two an­swers, both of which have their followers: a dyadic cognitive frame, which is to say, direct and lacking mediation; and a triadic, which includes a me­diative action. The dyadic interaction operates within a unileveled, or one ­dimensional, architecture; the triadic operates within a bileveled, or multidimensional, architecture. A unilevel architecture involves codal or semiosic actions operative only as particular or single-fact existences; a bilevel architecture adds codal actions of generalization and commonality to those of the particular sign.

Most of the time our reflections about the codal operations of the uni­versal and the particular forces consider one of the two as dominant. In­deed, the history of analytic theories within both the sciences and the humanities is a pendulum swing of exploring, promoting, privileging, denying, or rejecting one or the other as the basis of our reality. However, it is the thesis of this book that the most strategically adaptive semiosis is operative within a bilevel architecture. One level, the group based on continuity, permits stability. The other level, the individual-based line of finite specificity, permits heterogeneity and diversity.”

(p. 139)

“The only way for energy, as desire, to exist is via the development guarantees of codification. Peirce described this energy as “a chaos of un­personalized feeling, which being without connection or regularity would properly be without existence” (6.33). These guarantees are achieved by the development of hierarchical levels of codification of both simple and com­plex-interlocking, delocking, relocking, new locking-networks of codi­fication via which energy moves in a continuous production of signs. Networks of relationships, pragmatic and reflexive (which means an ability to be meaningful) are the infrastructure of semiosis.

Di Quoi Ii Graus sert?

Et Percevaus redit tot el …

Tant que il do Graal savra

Cui I’en an sert, et qu’il avra

La Lance qui saigne trovee

Tant que fa verite provee

Ii soit dite por qu’ele saigne.

(Chretien de Troyes, lines 4656-4670)

Semiosis is the transformation of energy into spatiotemporal reality; it is an ac­tion operating within the desire of energy for codification. This desire is expressed-is empowered in its search for codification-within the action of the question. The question opens the current state of codification, the current semiosis, to its potential transformation into a new semiosis. Life exists within the doubt of the question, and never within the fullness of the answer. “Love is not specially the cause of existence; for in collecting things into the One it destroys all other things” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk. III: Ch. 4. 1000b12)

THE BASIS OF SEMIOSIS IS THE DESIRE OF ENERGY TO BE ENCODED. [PW syntax] An imme­diate assumption by my use of the word “desire” is that I am denying what Monod (1971) defines as “the basic premise of the scientific method, to wit, that nature is objective and not projective” (1971: p. 3); I am completely in agree­ment with this statement-however, Monod continues that “the positing of the principle of objectivity as the condition of true knowledge constitutes an ethical choice and not a judgment arrived at .from knowledge, since, ac­cording to the postulate’s own terms, there cannot have been any ‘true’ knowledge prior to this arbitral choice.” (1971: p. 176).

(p. 140)

I am therefore insisting on an original “teleonomy” or intentionality of desire, both within the origin of the mediative codal actions (to be discussed as agaplastic desire) and within its ongoing operation (to be discussed as tychastic and agaplastic desire). This first premise, which is and must be a conscious and therefore ethical choice, is that this semiosic desire-which is to say, the infinite action of questioning – can only exist within the reflexive capacities of a bileveled semiosis.

The codal operations that emerge within the semiosic states of desire develop in evolutionary processes. What is evolution? Evolution operate within the desire for the articulation or codification of energy and exists within the realities of entropy. Codes emerge spontaneously within this state of desire. “The evolution of forms begins or, at any rate, has for an early stage of it, a vague potentiality; and that either is or is followed by a continuum of forms having a multitude of dimensions too great for the in­dividual dimensions to be distinct. It must be by a contraction of the vagueness of that potentiality of everything in general, but of nothing in particular, that the world of forms comes about” (Peirce 6.196). This orig­inal intentionality includes no instruction, no agenda, no particular gram­mar for the metanarrative or the signs of semiosis. Semiosic intentionality must be understood as operative within “the realm of perennial metamor­phosis … of every beginning, when the word has not yet detached itself from the thing, nor the mind from the matter” (Calasso, 1993: p. 137). It is “a process which extends from before time and from before logic, we can­not suppose that it began elsewhere than in the utter vagueness of com­pletely undetermined and dimensionless potentiality” (Peirce 6.193). Emergence of the basic code within a knowledge-regime is not simply and only tychastic and chance-driven; that is, isolate and unaffected by Other­ness; but is also operative within the desires, the codal attractions imposed by adjacent codal networks.4 And, therefore, “part of that which is chang­ing must be at the starting-point and part at the goal” (Aristotle Physics Bk. VI: Ch. 4. 234bI5); and “the unfailing continuity of coming-to-be cannot be attributed to the infinity of the material. … [Rather] the passing-away of this is a coming-to-be of something else, and the coming-to-be of this a passing-away of something else” (De Gen. Bk. I; Ch. 3.318a 20-25). Mat­uration, or the evolutionary development of these “selected” codes, will be anancastic – mechanically implemented, incremental networkings and “robust” or functional couplings with other codal networks. Therefore, within a state of desire for codification, actual codes emerge within the limited choices imposed by the current realities of codal Otherness, and

(p. 141)

this choice is made within the unpredictabilities of chance and accident; the “selected” or chosen codes, if successful within the limitations of the existent codalities of the Self and Other(s), quickly transform themselves into grammatical laws of regulatory order and, thus, increase the semiosic complexities and capacities of that particular regime of knowledge.

The codal grammars of the human species are expressed not merely within the physical, chemical, and biologic but also the conceptual codifi­cations. This is the real reason why we define Homo sapiens as “social”­ because the metanarrative is developed and functions within metaphors developed by the imagination, and the imagination is a communal and in­teractive force. “Experience is knowledge of individuals, art of univer­sals … yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than experience. .. [and] these things, the most universal, are on the whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the senses” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk.I.Ch.1, 2). The perpetuation of life requires the development of a metanarrative that operates within the generalities of in­terconnected habits of being. This generality is not that of any differential specification but “looking upon the course of logic as a whole we see that it proceeds from the question to the answer-from the vague to the defi­nite. The indeterminate future becomes the irrevocable past. In Spencer’s phrase the undifferentiated differentiates itsel[ The homogenous puts on heterogeneity. However it may be in special cases, then, we must suppose that as a rule the continuum has been derived from a more general con­tinuum, a continuum of higher generality” (Peirce 6.191).

Each society will develop a metanarrative grammar and its attendant networks over long periods of time-in a pragmatic, which means re­flexive-sense.5 These metanarratives are not rational architectures, con­cise blueprints of instructional goals, but are dialogic adaptations over time to particular stable and changing realities, beginning with a simple and moving into a complex semiotic architecture. “The activity of an or­ganism in any living system must favour both the environment and the organism itself” (Harries-Jones 1995,76). I am repeating Peirce’s dictum “there are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them” (5.384). I am quite capable of describing an alli­gator as a metaphoric clone of any ill-favoured politician, but I am no more capable of creating that alligator than it can create me. My rela­tionships with the Real must acknowledge the force of its potential im­pact on me; as such, these relationships develop within the basis of communal generalities developed over time.”


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