Hoffmeyer Biosemiotics 213
Keywords: function of sensation, semiotic emergence, Cognition and Semiotic Emergence, narrative thinking, mimetic culture, Proprioception - the sources of psychsomatic integration, Other-reference and self-reference, confusing first person experience and third person experience, qualia, mental life
Endosemiotics- sign processes within the body.
(25 ...our description of a sensory cell's complete physical activity remains critically impoverished without an accompanying understanding of the exact role that such activity plays in creating the overall function of sensation...Even if one believes in that the activity of each of these cells obeys the coercive power of natural law down to the most minuscule electronic quiverings - in other words believes that cells have absolutely no freedom to interpret and therefore to misinterpret such signs - it could still be useful to describe such activities in the light of their organismic „purposes“.
Boe: vgl Deacon Incomplete Nature: purpose
28 Biosemiotics is capable of transcending this tradition of disregard for the autonomy of individuals through a theory of semiotic emergence. In the Peircian schema of sign relationships there are interpretants but not interpreters - but this does not mean that the category of interpreter is an empty one. For as we shall see, the idea of semiotic emergence implies that while there is no centralised director „behind“ the person or organism, the organism, a person as an entity is continuously regenerated as an active, creative authority. The person is thus not a stable being but rather a constant becoming. The critical point is to recognise the emergent autonomy of various levels of organisation.
225 Cognition and Semiotic Emergence
That life and cognition may be seen as a related phenomena has been observed by several thinkers (Bateson, Maturana/Varela) and this conception gains credibility with the decreasing confidence in the idea of thought as a purely logical-rational activity and understanding of its irreducible bodily embeddedness (Damasio, Deacon, Lakoff).
Thought seems to swarm out of the body: „The brain is, as we have seen, immersed in the immune system's floating morass of physicality, and the cognitive scientists‘ search for the brain‘s supreme centre - or central processor - has proved futile. Rather than the brain being preprogrammed to produce intelligence, intelligent seems to swarm out of it.“ (Hoffmeyer 1996)
The idea that thoughts swarm out of the body implies their entanglement in human life processes. Although children are often thought to be able to spontaneously think both rationally and logically, such claims often underplay the rich world of rationalistic social interaction into which most children have been plunged since birth, and as any parent can attest, the development of truly rational thinking in children requires much practice and incitement to develop.
Conversely, narrative thinking, it has been claimed, comes to us for free and usually feels much more natural to us. Jerome Bruner (1990) has characterised such narrative thinking as fundamentally temporarily organised: „Perhaps its principal property is its inherent sequenciality. The narrative is composed of a unique sequence of events, mental states, and happenings involving human beings as characters or actors. These are its constituents. But these constituents do not, as it were, have a life meaning of their own. Their meaning is given by their place in the overall configuration of the sequence as a whole - its plot or fabula.“
Merlin Donald: mimetic culture
Carol Feldman: "We tend to endow the conclusions of our cognitive reckonings with a special external ontological status. Our thoughts are in here, but the conclusions are out there are" - ontic dumping, as Feldman calls this human naïveté. However, it only deserves to be called naive if one also believes that our conclusions are themselves beyond time and place.
For in reality, the brain is there to give us a track to act upon, it is not there to give us truth. (Our desire for knowing the truth is, of course, both useful and commendable. But it risks becoming exaggerated beyond our natural limits - as one may sometimes see in those philosophers of the analytical school who maintain the confidence in the scope of reasoning that may itself be somewhat unreasonable.)
Interactive emergence - which might as well, or better, be termed
By semiotic emergence, I mean the establishment of higher-level patterning scaffolded by a situated exchange of signs between components.
For illustration, let me borrow an example from computer scientist Martin Resnick. Resnick tells us, with barely concealed delight, how his computer simulations of traffic jams invoked headshaking distrust in some of his colleagues because the simulations showed that the traffic jam moved backwards relative to the driving direction of the cars. This result was easily confirmed from the air, and the reason is simple: the traffic jam does not consist of cars, which of course move for that; it consists of a relation between cars. The traffic jam is a pattern that appears because of the semiotic interactions between the drivers of the individual cars who, moment for the moment, must observe (interpret) the movements of other cars - as well as such constraints and driving that might stem from other factors, the borders of the lanes, roadwork, only about accident, or harsh weather conditions.
We have have here a kind of self-organisation that cannot be explained through any generative causal law but instead demands a historical explanation of the phenomenon as an effect of the conjunction of circumstances that produced it. This is the kind of interactive pattern that I call semiotically situated interaction.
Proprioception - the sources of psychsomatic integration
The central nervous system is not engaged in producing solutions to abstract problems but is, on the contrary, from the earliest moments of childhood incessantly occupied with the modulation of bodily parameters that show up for us in our attempts to overcome the obstacles posed by the body and the environment.
By the expressions show up for us I am referring not only to the external registration of success and failure in solving concrete tasks, but also to the internal feeling on the movements (e.g., the mechanical resistance that we experience as exertion as well as the muscle fatigue that we likewise label stiffness). Proprioceptive sense receptors are distributed over the muscles, sinews, and joints throughout the body.
Through proprioception it becomes clear that cognition (knowing something to be the case) is as much concerned to the registration of movements and to the play of muscles, as it is to the brain and to symbolic reflection - in fact, these two aspects of cognition cannot exist apart.
In short, the semiotic interaction between embryonic cells, tissues, and organs must have, at various intervals in evolution, given rise to the unforeseen appearance of organised high-level patterns that could stabilise the evolution of suitable new developmental strategies or serve as steppingstones to reach yet more overarching organisational structures.
By terming this phenomenon on semiotic emergence, I wish to bring out as forcefully as possible the common underlying principle exhibited in these cases, i.e., the principle that the emergence of higher-level patterns is the result of semiotic - and not just physical - interactions between entities at the lower level. Semiotic emergence will, of course, build on patterns of semethic interactions and it is perhaps a question of terminology when - or from its level of the process - one should talk about real emergence.
The appearance of a uniquely flexible kind of consciousness in big brained animals is perhaps the most obvious case of semiotic emergence… Neurobiologists have proved experimentally that proprioceptive information is more important than vision when the task is to direct the correct movement such as reaching out for something… More remarkable, perhaps, is that the task of proprioceptive information does not consist in any simple or direct correction of errors. Rather, sense input from proprioceptive sense receptors supply data that the brain must use to calibrate the organism's ongoing action on the environment. Proprioceptive information operates by generating and recalibrating internal models of the mechanical properties of the limbs.
Boe: consciousness - experience / thinking - feeling
Motor emulators: An emulator is a piece of on-board circuitry that replicates certain aspects of the temporal dynamics of the larger system, and its role is to predict – i.e., determine probabilistically - what the feedback from the sensory periphery is likely to be. If the device is reliable – i.e., if it is properly calibrated - these predictions can be used in lieu of actual sensory signals, so as to generate faster error correcting activity.
Andy Clark : proprioceptive signals must travel back from bodily peripheries to the brain, and this takes time - too much time, in fact, for the signal to be used to generate very smooth reaching movements.“
Brains capable of developing such virtual action coordination controls must have been created by evolution long before the arrival of humans. The point is that this substitute interpreter would seem to be a perfect early precursor for human consciousness.
Its primary survival function is to facilitate smoothly co-ordinated goal-directed movement, but it does so by making a construct which is not as such a direct reflection on the regularities of sensory input in the naïve inner-model sense (for this would require an infinite regress of homunculi to view the models).
Rather this construct is based upon a particular set of sensory motor schema that are selected from the organism's entire behavioural repertoire, so that it orients the organism for the immediate next action… In other words, and most essentially, this systemic substitute or virtual interpreter has already attained a degree of autonomy relative to the real world.
In the natural history of human consciousness, these properties are exactly what should be expected from an eventual early precursor for what much later would become the virtual world of human consciousness, as we know it from our own lives...
We may conclude, that the deeper sources for the cognizing self lay inscribed in the very basic senso-motoric unity of animal multicellular life. In the next chapter, I will discuss in detail the appearance of the peculiar attractive talents that came to characterise the uniquely human form of such cognition. It is important at the outset, however, that one understands the basic phenomenon of cognition as a quite general product of semiotic emergence in multicellular organisms… Human cognition should be understood more modestly as an extraordinarily interesting - but obviously species-specific - development of the cognitive capacity that quite generally caracterises all moving, living, adaptive semiotic systems.
Other-reference and self-reference are inseparable aspects of the dynamics of the living. (see Hoffmeyer 25: In the biosemiotics analysis, the problem of the self is closely associated with the problem of biological reference... The self exists only insofar as that which is inside contains an intentionality toward or reference to that which is outside - an aboutness, as it is often called)
Boe: Reference: Hoffmeyer271 - To refer to the surroundings is of course a fundamental semiotic capacity - it is derived from the Latin referre= to carry back (e.g., signs of the outside world to the interior of oneself) - and this is a semiotic capacity that all living systems posses to some extent.
242 The bodily Psyche
Not many people nowadays seriously deny that body and mind are two deeply integrated aspects of human life. And since one can hardly quarrel with one's wife or play chess while unconscious, it is difficult also to deny that this whole business of what we call human consciousness is effectively part and parcel of the slimy dynamics of the body's incessant corporal functioning. The question remains, though: how can this possibly be?
The Australian-American philosopher David Chalmers has introduced a distinction between the soft problems and the hard problem that need to be explained in accounting for this consciousness - and his distinction has become a standard one in the cognitive sciences and in the philosophy of mind. The soft problems concerning the questions on the mechanics of how the brain manages to integrate and process its electrochemical data. Finding the answer to these problems may take decades, but will not, according to Chalmers, forces to break with any already fully accepted explanatory principles. However solving the hard problem will, for the hard problem consists in explaining why brain processes are so often accompanied by an experienced inner life.
Here we are confronted with a problem that...cannot be attacked by the usual scientific methods: „I argue that reductive explanations of consciousness are impossible“ (Chalmer 1996: Chalmer does not doubt that consciousness is a natural phenomenal or that it should be possible to construct a scientific theory of it. But he thinks such a theory would necessarily contain kinds of lawfulness very different from the kind we are used to from physics. In this sense, at least biosemiotics and Chalmers share the same perspective.)
Boe: reductive explanations of consciousness: Abundis - two note thinking!
Tertium non datur - Gotthard Günther: Aristotelian monocontextural logic
(CONSCIOUSNESS stands between the QUALIA, felt experience, the subjective, and the "hard" reality, the external world. Anderesen / Forman JCS 2000)
Other philosophers have argued, that science cannot possibly describe conscious experiences in a language that in principle operates exclusively inside the limits of grammatical third person descriptions.
John Searle claimed, „An I cannot be described by an uninterrupted sequence of „it“ phenomena, no matter how complicated such sequences might be.
Articulating the same problem a bit more poetically, philosopher of mind Thomas Nagel famously asked, „How can it be the case that one of the people in the world is me?“
The error of confusing first person experience and third person experience is widespread in much scientific thinking.
(My longing cannot be "seen", it can only be "felt" - and only by me. Hoffmeyer1999)
Philosophers have used the term qualia as a designation for this aspect of our world, the inner feel of lived experience, the essentially subjective dimension of consciousness. And as such it constitutes the deepest challenge to cognitive science. For while all other aspects of our psychological life, at least in principle, might be explained within the ontology of natural physical law, doing so seems impossible as concerns the phenomenon on of qualia.
And this presumably is the reason why much realistically inclined cognitive scientists go to such efforts to argue that the whole notion of a felt, lived, personal qualia is based on some kind of misguided illusion - neuronal brain states exist and are real, but beliefs, feelings, desires, and thoughts, are misdescriptions of these brain states.. To believe in them as real as such is to fall prey to a widespread, but scientifically illiterate illusion ( Churchland 1986, Dennett 2001).
But, one may ask, can you really be mistaken about anything if you are not someone? Can pure things have illusions? The answer, it seems, has to be no - for if things were pestered by illusions, the illusion-having itself would constitute a genuine kind of subjectivity. Our feeling of being a subject can paradoxically only be illusory if it is true. To call subjectivity an illusion is simply self-contradictory.
Neuropsychological research indicates that the cognitive structure that is responsible for vision in human beings may be divided into two cooperative, a partly independent, visual brain systems - one of which (the oldest in an evolutionary contexts) is specialised in the control of vision based here-and-now motoric activity, whereas the other (more recent innovation) controls the knowledge- and memory- based selection of well-prepared planned actions referred to as „insight, hindsight, and foresight about the visual field".
On the basis of a series of experiments Andy Clark has suggested an experience-based selection model for visual perception that is based on the principle that „ conscious visual experience presents the world to a subject in a form appropriate for the reason-and-memory-based selection of actions“ (Clark 2002).
The brain‘s two-tract visual processing technique gives us a visual experience that both emphasises what is relevant in the context of our immediate motivated dealings with the world, and positions this processed information in a coherence spatio-temporal visual context reflecting our general memory and knowledge.
In effect, the folk psychological conception of vision as a Cartesian theatre is only an illusion if we, for ideological reasons, identify visual consciousness with the naked sense inputs that reach retiring here and now all via the saccades – or, in other words, if we insist on identifying consciousness with the unprocessed neurobiological basis of sensual experience. Such an identification would, of course, free us from explaining the phenomenon of qualia, but it would also, I strongly believe, „free us“ from the ambition of ever reaching an understanding of what kind of thing mental life actually is. What I want to suggest you, however, is that rather than disposing of the qualia problem we ought to recognise the absurdity of the concept of a psychological life without qualia, and therefore to pose ourselves the challenging question of the evolutionary origin of qualia. Seen from a biosemiotics standpoint, qualia - and thus the experiential dimensional existence - is a kind of Firstness in the Peircian sense, an aspect of semiosis as such, and therefore also of life and of cognition in general.