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Signs, sentences, syllogisms

Page history last edited by roy williams 1 year, 8 months ago


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Signs, Sentences, Syllogisms 


Signs are the first substantial level of abstraction, after the basic articulations of speech. They are the product of the transformation of uni-modal perceptive-action into multi-modal, cross-modal, and eventually into a-modal proto-concepts. This takes place in many animals, but it takes place in an exaggerated fashion in H. Sapiens, seemingly due to the unusually large Angular Gyrus on both sides of our cortex, where neurological messages from many different sensory organs all converge, (and potentially mix or even fuse) and where patterns of patterns of perceptive-action may lead to a-modal proto-concepts. (See Ramachandran's Reith Lectures of 2003).  


This provides us with unprecedented affordances / opportunities for creativity and imagination. And the addition of speech, via the double articulation of (arbitrary-and-conventional) phonemes (see here) and monemes (see here) lays the foundation for a truly flexible, open system for creating, storing and sharing meaning, and knowledge (the potential for effective action) - or, simply, cultural capital within a language community.


Speech provides the foundation for signs which are 'lifted-off', or even 'prized-off' from perceptive-action, into proto-/concepts.  


The next layer of abstraction is numeric.  Numeric signs (merging seamlessly, it seems, into both statistics and mathematics) provide what, at face value, seems to be just another type of sign. But they are a new (if rarely noticed) level of abstraction - just like pronouns, which also have no stable material referent - pronouns are 'passed around' from one person to the next, each of which becomes, for the duration of a sentence or two, the referent, the signified of exactly the same sign ('I' or 'me' for instance). Numbers too are 'passed around' from signified to signified, and are similarly 'promiscuous' - existing in a mode that is separated from any specific system of difference of discrete objects or beings.   


Signs are then combined into sentences (see Ramachandran, above, who discusses how sentences resonate with, and could even have been arrived at through their resonance with early physical tools, like axes) and, further, into syllogisms (e.g. "all swans are white, this is a swan, therefore it is white" - until a black swan comes along).



Syllogisms are an example of a logical combination, a structured sequencing of signs - they are the following layer of abstraction within texts, which are not only 'lifted-off' from perceptive action, but start to take on 'an independent life of their own', as fully-fledged conceptual tools / tools with ironic potential (see above).


More complex texts - theorems, theses, computer programmes, and machine learning (aka AI), most definitely take on a 'life of their own', notably captured in the UK comedy series which featured the phrase "computer says no" - at just about every turn in the script. (see Machine Learning).


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