Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Being Proper to Experience

The objectivity of the Umwelt is semiotic. This is what I took from Bains chapter on Umwelten (The Primacy of Semiosis, pp. 59-84). It requires just a little explanation. There is more at stake, however, than a question of how the environment is interpreted. It becomes a question of the nature of experience, whether experience is, as is claimed, primarily semiotic, and if so then what sense of being is proper to experience.

What does it mean to say that the objectivity of the Umwelt is semiotic? Jakob von Uexküll's basic insight is that the Umwelt, or environment, is specific to each species of organism (an idea I first encountered via Lewontin), and that furthermore, the relationship between an organism and its environment is one of interpretation. This is where Peirce's semiotics comes in handy, because it allows for the effects of a sign to be energetic as well as ideational, and thus, pace Uexküll, to see the Umwelt as an objective world. "Objective worlds," Bains writes, "are not in binary opposition with the modern sense of the subjective. Objective worlds as experienced include a shifting amalgam of mind-dependent and mind-independent aspects (or the 'psychical' and 'physical') through the univocal being of sign relations"(p. 74).

Well, now we're in the thick of it: The univocal being of the sign relation. Bains takes the view, following John Deely, that the being of the sign relation is the being proper to experience. (See also Deely's The Basics of Semiotics, esp. chapter 5; and Gilles Deleuze, Sur Anti Oedipe et Mille Plateaux, Cours Vincennes, 14/01/1974: English translation.) The heart of the argument is that the semiotic approach is truer to experience than other philosophical alternatives. "Experience is not locked into realism or idealism; it is neither/nor, for it is univocal in its being, including both the constructions of the mind and elements that are not reducible to the mind's constructive capacity" (p. 74). And similarly, "Semiotic reality is an interpentetration of the mind's own constructs with aspects of a mind-independent environment woven seamlessly together in the ontological univocity of the sign relation" (p. 77).

It occurs to me that there are other ways of navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of idealism and materialism, but the semiotic approach seems promising. It's been my task over the past twenty-four hours to examine my experience and see whether it resembles a semiotic reality. So far it seems plausible, but I am withholding final judgement pending further study.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:21 AM.


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