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Re: [ontolog-forum] Triadic Sign Relations

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2010 14:39:56 -0400
Message-id: <4C6ECBFC.9070802@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Azamat,    (01)

I'd just like to comment on those three points:    (02)

> 1. There are things that are just things, not any sign at all;
> 2. There are things that are also signs of other things
>    (as natural signs of the physical world and mental
>    signs of the mind);
> 3. There are things that are always signs, as languages
>    (natural and artificial) and other cultural nonverbal
>    symbols, as documents, money, ceremonies, and rites.    (03)

Let's start with a something fairly simple, such as a cup of coffee.    (04)

Is that an example of point #1 -- "just things, not any sign at all" ?    (05)

I'll admit that the configuration of a cup with some liquid in it
exists outside of our minds.  But how does the idea of a cup of coffee
get into the mind?  What kind of idea gets into the mind?  And what
causes that idea to get there?    (06)

Is it the the visual pattern?  The smell?  The taste?  The weight
of the cup when you pick it up?  The heat of the coffee, the flow
from the cup into the mouth and down the esophagus?  The memory
of previous cups of coffee?  The contrast with other food or drink
in the same situation or in similar (or different) situations in
the past?  Is it the entire configuration of all those aspects,
or is it just some aspect or selection from them?    (07)

That brings us to Peirce's observation:  All knowledge comes
from signs.  For something as simple as a cup of coffee, it
might exist independently of us, but we can't know anything
about it without signs.  As Peirce said, everything that we
perceive is a source of one or more signs that give evidence
of its existence and at least some aspects of its nature.    (08)

If the lights are out, we can't see the coffee, but we might be
able to smell it.  But if we're outdoors at night and the wind
is blowing away from the coffee, we can't see it or smell it.
Without some signs and the means for transmitting them, we
can have no knowledge about it.    (09)

As Peirce said, everything that we perceive is a source of one
or more signs that give evidence of its existence and at least
some aspects of its nature.  Those signs are natural (i.e.,
not conventional).    (010)

For point #2, the question of "other" is not clear.  Is the
sight of the coffee or the smell of the coffee some "other"
thing?  Where do you draw the distinction between the "same"
thing and some "other" thing that is a sign of it?    (011)

For point #3, the question of what is "always" a sign is
not clear?  Are there any things that could not be signs?
If so, how would we know about them?    (012)

And how is the sign related to the person who perceives it?
If I take a walk in the woods, I might enjoy the experience,
but there are huge numbers of signs that I miss.    (013)

An expert hunter, for example, would immediately point out
signs of all kinds of animals that had passed by and left
tracks, bent twigs, and scratches that I had never seen.    (014)

A biologist could point out all kinds of interdependencies among
the plants and animals and the subtle signs that show them.    (015)

A geologist would note how the color of the soil, the rocks,
and the shape of the hills were related to the geological
formations and to the effects of glaciers that had covered
the ground thousands of years ago.    (016)

The number of signs are endless.  And the same leaf or scratch
on the ground could be interpreted by the hunter, the biologist,
or the geologist in very different ways for very different reasons.    (017)

In short, everything we know and believe is the result of signs of
signs of signs.  We interpret linguistic signs on the basis of other
pre-linguistic signs, and those linguistic signs enable us to re-
interpret the natural signs in many more ways than we could ever
have discovered for ourselves.    (018)

What I just said is "obvious" -- but most people don't think
about it.  Peirce not only thought about it, he analyzed it in
great detail and showed how those ideas are central to all thought,
language, reasoning -- and their study in every branch of science.    (019)

John    (020)

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