[percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness

Mike Frentz mfrentz at bbn.com
Tue Dec 31 22:12:50 EST 2002

Dear All,

A belated chiming in.  A reference that I found very illuminating on 
this topic is a book called "the Symbolic Species  -- The Co-evolution 
of Language and the Brain" by Terrence Deacon, Norton 1997.  Briefly, he 
gives a very lucid (and Peircean, no less..) breakout of symbolization 
as a hierarchy of indices and icons, that is key in his explanation some 
of the results/non-results of decades of language research (Deacon comes 
out strongly on the side of much of the animal "language" research 
(whether cetacean or primate) as being quixotic, at least in retrospect).

Paraphrasing Deacon a bit:  Symbolic relationships are different because 
words also represent other words.  We do not lose the indexical 
associations of words because the possibility of this link is maintained 
implicitly in the stable associations between words.  It is by virtue of 
this sort of dual reference - to objects and to other words - that a 
word conveys the information necessary to pick out objects of reference 
(sense and reference).  Words point to objects (reference) and words 
point to other words (sense), but we use the sense to pick out the 
reference, not vice versa.

I highly recommend this reference, FWIW.

Happy New Year to All (to all following the Gregorian calendar, at least!)


James Piat wrote:

> I'm not sure what you mean above, Ken.  Peirce speaks of three kinds 
> of triadic signs  --icons, indexes and symbols.  He speaks of all 
> three as representations.  He differentiates them partly on the basis 
> of the type of association between the object and the sign. Icons are 
> based upon a similarity between the object and the sign, indexes on a 
> spatial temporal correlation between the object and sign and symbols 
> upon a convention.   Using Peirces classification of signs into icons 
> idexes and symbols are you saying that only humans use symbols but 
> that animals may use icons and indexes.  Or do you want to go further 
> and say that the comunnication signals that animals use are not 
> triadic at all? Thay they are simply some sort of mechanical behvior 
> that does not participate in what it means?  If so,  I would like to 
> hear more of what you mean by symbols participating in what they 
> mean.  It sounds interesting to me Ken but I'm not sure what it means.   
> And maybe a word or two about "meaning" itself.  I take meaning to be 
> the known consequences of behavior.  By consequences I mean the 
> effects the behavior has upon the ongoing goal directed behavior of 
> the community of shared language users.   Consequences are meaningful 
> only to the extent that they are known.  They have effects whether 
> they are known or not  -- but the effects don't "mean" anything to us 
> unless we can conceive, symbolize or know them.  Adam and Eve were 
> certainly naked before the fall but being naked only meant 
> embarrassment to them after they knew the consequences and 
> implications of not having any clothes on.   

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