NASS 2011

The Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Plenary lectures

Michael Arbib: From Action-Oriented Perception to Language

How do animals analyze a visual scene to determine a course of action, all within an ongoing cycle of action and perception? What does recognition of the actions of conspecifics as a basis for social interaction add to the demands on the subject’s brain? One suggestion is that mirror neurons are essential for this latter capability. We will sample relevant data addressing these questions as a basis for presenting the Mirror System Hypothesis of the evolution of the human language-ready brain, a hypothesis which is (to a certain extent) a gestural origins theory of language evolution. The talk will conclude by suggesting the relation of this to new ideas in neurolinguistics which seek to connect semantics to the brain by following through on how the visual system analyzes the objects, actions and relations in a visual scene, and then exploits the resultant semantic representation to drive the verbal description of the scene.

Terrence Deacon: The emergence of semiosis from dynamics: groundwork for a science of semiosis.

Before semiotic theory will be accepted as a legitimate scientific tool it must be shown how interpretive processes are grounded in physical processes and are not just a humanistic and phenomenological gloss applied to e.g. neurological and biological phenomena. Unfortunately, neither a Peircean-, linguistic-, nor phenomenologically-inspired approach accomplishes this because of the cryptic homuncular assumptions each incorporates. In this presentation I demonstrate that semiosis must be grounded on three nested levels of dynamical logic, which I term homeo-, morpho-, and teleodynamics, and a parallel conception of information that can be described as combining Shannon's, Boltzmann's, Kauffman's, and Darwin's insights about the relationship between information and work. I demonstrate this necessary dependency with a molecular model system that systematically constructs the emergence of the three fundamental modes of semiotic relationship from the synergy of dynamical processes that individually lack all such properties.

John Deely: Cognitive and cathectic dimensions of semiosis

It has been clear for some time – particularly since Krampen’s pioneering introduction of phytosemiotics in 1981 – that semiosis extends beyond the animal world. Indeed, since at least the 1990 proposal of the notion of a physiosemiosis prior to and independent of life in the universe, in a work that Sebeok deemed at the time “the only successful introduction to semiotics in English”, the question of the full extent of the action of signs has remained both open and pressing. In this essay, however, I will address exclusively zoösemiosis and anthroposemiosis, both to show how the former permeates the latter and how the latter transcends at the level of Innenwelt the communicative extent or limitations of the former.

Jean-Marie Klinkenberg: The impact of an embodied theory of meaning on the epistemology of semiotics


Cognitive semiotics has experience as its base : its thesis is that the origin of meaning — a problem that classical semiotics usually leaves out— lies in sensorialities. This paper will present schematically the mechanisms that make possible this production of meaning, but will focus primarily on the impact of the cognitive perspective on the epistemology of semiotics. It implies a process of naturalization of the humanities and the social sciences. This naturalization has drawn sharp criticism: its arguments are supposed to be circular, they are secretely founded on a postulat of innateness, it it is ta the service of an individualistic idealogy in tune with capitalist socieity… The paper will examine these pieces of criticism, wich lead us to oppose the criticized neural autonomism and the culturalist autonomism of classical European semiotics. The conclusion is a plea for a continuum between nature and culture.

Cornelia Müller: Mimetic modes as bases of gestural meaning creation: linguistic, semiotic, neurological and evolutionary aspects.

This presentation will offer results of an interdisciplinary research project "Towards a grammar of gesture: evolution, brain, and linguistic structures". In this project linguists, semioticians, neurologists and evolutionary psychologists are collaborating in order to document the core structural features of gestures, their neurological substrates and their evolutionary precursors. The talk will focus on one very fundamental dimension of gestures: namely the issue of how it is that hand-movements can be transformed into forms of symbolic communication.

First a cognitive-linguistic and semiotic analysis of the bases of gestural meaning. Gestures are inherently motivated signs, and their bases is 'mimesis'. Drawing on Aristotle, Wundt and the discussion of iconicity in Sign Languages we will introduce the concept of mimesis as a particular Peircian triadic sign relation (Müller 2010, Müller et al. in prep.). Based on these theoretical reflections a revision of Müller's (1998 a,b)) concept of 'Gestural Modes of Representation' will be proposed. Instead of four modes of representation (acting, moulding, drawing, representing), we now distinguish two kinds of gestural mimesis: Acting and Representing. In acting the hands re-enact an action of the hands, in representing, the hands re-present something other then themselves, they become a sculpture of objects such as a piece of paper or a tooth brush. We furthermore suggest that acting is based primarily on tactile experience whereas representing is based primarily on visual experience. From a neurological point of view: these two mimetic modes go along with Lausberg's distinction of pantomime (Acting) and body-part-as-object (Representing). Lausberg et al. (2003) found in split brain studies, that acting gestures where based on left-hemispheric processes, whereas representing gestures where based on right-hemispheric processes. In three further studies which were carried out in the ToGoG project these findings where further supported and differentiated in that pantomime (Acting) and body-part-as-object (Representing) were compared with a tool use condition in FMRT studies and with NIS (Near-Infrared-Spectroscopy). These results are highly interesting in the light of mimesis as base of gestural meaning creation and in bringing it together with an evolutionary perspective. When comparing gestures of humans with gestures of non-humans one crucial starting point is: to what degree are non-human primates able to create gestures (Liebal et al. 2007)? And if yes - what types of gestures are these. Studies carried out by in the primatological part of the ToGoG project indicate that non-human primates (orang-utans, chimpanzees) predominantly used the acting mode of mimesis when creating gestures. These findings indicate that gestural mimesis implies different neuro-cognitive, linguistic and semiotic processes in which different hemispheres are involved and which evolve at different evolutionary stages.

Frederik Stjernfelt: Dicisigns in Cognitive Semiotics

To a large extent, propositions have been overlooked in the classical semiotic traditions - possibly because of the conception that they were well taken care of by logician colleagues. Propositions, however, must be central to cognitive semiotics. They are composite signs which are able to make truth claims - for cognitive semiotics, signs which facilitate the expression and communication of true and false must obviously play a crucial role. This paper argues that Peirce's notion of proposition - "Dicisign" - extends the received conception of propositions considerably and thus provides a promising concept for cognitive semiotics. Dicisigns are not - contrary to the conception of many logicians - necessarily expressed in human langauage which is why the Dicisign category extends propositions into two direction, as it were. One is biosemiotics: Dicisigns inauguarate the issue of which animal signs may express propositions - which may be more than initially assumed. Another important extension is that propositions including non-linguistic material such as pictures, images, diagrams, gestures, etc. become just as important as propositions expressed in ordinary language exclusively. Thus, Dicisigns facilitates a cognitive synthesis of biosemiotics, language and iconicity.