Entangling Forms

AutorMerrell, Floyd, 1937-
PealkiriEntangling forms : within semiosic processes / by Floyd Merrell
IlmunudBerlin ; New York : De Gruyter Mouton, c2010
ViideMerrell, Floyd 2010. Entangling forms: within semiosic processes. Berlin; New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

List of abbreviations
  • OAH = Object, Act, and/or Happening. A sign (representamen) interacts with its respective semiotic OAH (in Peirce studies customarily called the sign's object) during which process the OAH becomes the sign's Other, and both sign and OAH are mediated by the sign's interpretant (interpretation through co-participation of the sign and its interpreter). Thus there are three components to the fully developed sign.
  • CCC = Contradictory Complementary Coalescence, or Contradictorily Complementarily Coalescent. Signs, as well as imaginary mental worlds and the physical world, are intricately interconnected, such that they complement one another, even though they might otherwise have been conceived as contradictory, and they converge toward and merge with one another by way of coalescent processing.
  • i-i-i- = Interdependency, Interaction, Interrelatedness, or Interdependently, Interactively, Interrelated. Signs are, as possibilities, interdependent; as possibilities having become actualized they are interactive; and as navigators within the semiosic process, they are complexly, divergently, and convergently interrelated (Peirce CP 6.272-86).
  • BSO = The concept that what is, is becoming something other than what it was becoming. In a word: process (of the nature of C.S. Peirce's theory of 'continuity') (Peirce CP 6.102-185).
  • EZ = Zero ('nothingness, 'emptiness') conjoined with the empty set of 'set theory' (silence, a blank page). It is a matter of 'pre-language', or 'pre-semiotic', as purely possible possibilities, before any signifying process has begun emerging. It is comparable to what C.S. Peirce labeled 'nothingness' (Peirce CP 6.189-222).
  • LW = Living World (the macro-level, empirical 'physicla world', and its depiction as a 'semiotic world').
  • QW = Quantum World (the micro-level counterpart to LW).

Having said this much, one of my aims in this inquiry is to illustrate the importance of bodymind doing and meaning through socio-proprioceptive-somatic-kinesthetic interdependency, interrelatedness and interaction (i-i-i) between ourselves and (1) our inner dialogue, (2) our dialogue with others, and (3) our dialogue with our physical world. When I write 'dialogue', I by no means limit my dialogic imagination to words, whether spoken or written or thought. In addition to language, 'dialogue' involves basic signs of sound, touch, taste, smell, and sight, much in the sense of Antonio Damasio (1994, 2000). And when I write 'socio-proprioceptive-somatic-kinesthetic interdependency, interrelatedness and interaction' (i-i-i), I allude to our complementarity and our co-participation with all signs and all signs with us. For, in the final analysis, we are signs ourselves, signs among signs. (Merrell 2010: 3)
The notion of bodymind is neat. Otherwise, his love of cumbersome notions stacked one after another makes him a mystic semiotician. Although complex notions, tied together like that, they become very vague and that seems to be the exact purpose for doing this. In this book, vagueness is good.
During the coming and going of our concrete everyday experiences, we interdepend on, we interrelate and interact with, and we reflect upon, myriad OAHs: my car, this book, that building, a brief conversation on the sidewalk, a newspaper article, a game of touch football in the park, and so on. I add the expression 'reflect upon', because when we first interact with the OAHs in our environment, we do not initially encounter them in a reflective way, but in a pre-reflective manner. That is, our bodies respond to certain vague aspects of the world, but these aspects are not yet OAHs elevated to conscious levels as signs of something, for us, in some respect or other. In other words, at the pre-reflective level, OAHs do not (yet) exist as items of our experience. This, once again, raises the question: What precedes what with respect to bodymind, OAHs, and the world? (Merrell 2010: 5)
This is a somewhat familiar process in nonverbal communication. The major question revolves around how external events (OAHs) become internal signs.
In our general everyday extralinguistic activities as well, we improvise at every turn. We most often seem to do it without thinking. At times we have a minor 'flash of insight' that leads us spontaneously to create some utterance, idea, physical activity, or way of doing what we're doing. At other times, we are in a period of mild to intensive concentration, and the 'flash' comes to us as if out of the clear blue. A playwright, composer, novelist, or painter, or a mathematician or scientist, might have a major 'flash of insight', when a new idea suddenly reveals itself; then, it may take her months or even years of work to bring it to fruition. During that time she is requires to keep the insight fresh in her mind: she socializes with it, works with it, plays with it, eats with it, attends to her biological functions with it, and sleeps with it, until it's the way she wants it. The finished work - actually that's a misnomer, since a work is never really finished - expands on that original momentary 'flash'. But the expansion doesn't stop thre. Onlookers and listeners and readers and critics expand on the expansion, and alter it considerably. (Merrell 2010: 13)
Improvisation in extralinguistic activity. The description made me remember my own 'flash of insight' concerning avoidance in human behaviour as a semiotic phenomenon, but it will take years before anything becomes of it.
Access to the deeper environs of musing, within one's own 'reality', the 'social reality' of one's community, and one's 'physical reality', can only be adequately fathomed by wordless feeling, emoting, intuiting, imagining, and sensing, what is within one's self, within the multiple selves making up one's community, and with all aspects of one's physical world. However, language, whatever language, whether logic, mathematics, Boolean computer formalism, or natural language, is what it is only with respect to what it is not. And what is this wordless is not with respect to what language is? No more than a possible sign, emerging from the 'Empty Set' (silence, a blank page), and at the furthest extreme, from 'Zero', 'nothingness', 'emptiness' (a combination of the 'Empty Set' and 'Zero' will be designated EZ). In other words, it is 'pre-semiotic', 'pre-languae', 'pre-Firstness'. It lies outside consciousness and self-consciousness, outside awareness of signs becoming other signs (Bae 1988, Brier 2008b, also merrell 1998, 2003, 2007). (Merrell 2010: 24)
Another drop in the already quite filled (but not yet overflowing) pool of discussion on the limits of semiotic reality. Are the wordless sensations outside of it? Are they 'nothingness'?
The plurimorphic process is a matter of creativity. How so? It begins with that syncopated Threeness, when there's a feeling of something as yet unspecified and perhaps unspecifiable. Then, fingers do the walking, eyes do the probing and scanning, and ears, nose and tongue do the sensing, when the proprioceptive, kinesthetic, somatic body does the talking, in its silent, nonverbal way. During such spontaneous corporeal activity and nonverbal dialogue, mind is not just along for the ride. Mind and body, as a complementary plurimorphic whole, enters the creative vortex. (Merrell 2010: 36)
A brief note on bodymind & creativity.
Language and thinking are obviously of utmost importance to the process of human experience. But the notion of body, given its inherent proprioceptive, somatic, and kinesthetic nature, is not merely a linguistically garbed notion, nor is it suspectible to thinking as formulated in words, words, and more words. There is always something else, something that eludes disembodied thinking, something that by and large remains unspecifiable in language. This proprioceptive, somatic, kinesthetic nature of the body, its CCC, its i-i-i-, its BSO, and its having only barely begun taking its leave of EZ as it begins emerging into the light of day, is something language simply cannot adequately fathom. (Merrell 2010: 42)
It seems that this last proposition is vague enough to be controvertible.
All this is to say that bodymind feelings and sensations entail: (1) proprioception (through sensory receptors chiefly in muscles, tendons, and joints, that respond to stimuli emerging within the organism), (2) sometogenesis (sensations emerging within the body as a result of the OAHs presented to it in its CCC, and i-i-i- within its environment that is in the BSO process), and (3) kinesthetics (sensation of bodily position, presence and movement resulting from stimulation of nerve endings from muscles, tendons, and joints). These sources of feelings and sensations - within processual Firstness and Secondness - involve entire contexts, and contexts of contexts, that include past contexts, present contexts in interatice interrelation with other contexts, and future contexts that are likely to emerge, given past experiences, predispositions and proclivities, presuppositions and prejudices, and expectations regarding what is most probable and what is least probable.
For example, assume one evening you are driving on a rather secluded twolane country road along the ocean. The road winds along mountainous terrain arising abruptly from the ocean, with a steep drop to the narrow beach stewn with rocks some 500 yards below. And, ... what's that? There's a car behind bearing down on you. The car's weaving from one side to the other leads you to think the driver must be drunk or drugged. It's rapidly approaching your vehicle; it must be exceeding the 55 miles per hour speed limit by twenty or so. Your right foot spontaneously twitches a little on the accelerator pedal, varying the quantity of gasoline injecting into the engine. You don't twitch your foot. It twitches. Your right foot is primed to switch from the accelerator to the brake pedal at a fraction of a second's notive. Your left foot is arched upward, positioned for jumping into action and pressing down on the clutch in case of an emergency compelling you to change gears with lightning quickness. You don't arch your foot. It arches. Your eyes dark back and forth between the rear-view mirror and the road ahead. You don't dark them. They dart. Your back is tense, your neck tendons stand out, your head is erect. You don't do all this. Bodymind does it. All the while, you - now it's you, torpid, languorous, hesitating, caillating, you, via your mind-state - are debating over what you should do. Speed up in an effort to lose him? - why do you assume it's a him? Pull over to the side of the road? - but there's hardly any 'side of the road'; there's only an abrupt drop. Slow down so he'll pass you? - and risk his car slamming into yours. Continue as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening? - but something is happening, and your life is in jeopardy!
You are, mentally and consciously speaking, carrying on an inner dialogue with yourself. Meanwhile, body, bodymind, is doing what it does best, always poised and ready for rapid-fire responses to whatever unexpected conditions might pop up. (Merrell 2010: 45-46)
A very lenghty example of automatic behaviour.
During the coming and going of our everyday affairs, we ordinarily pay the equivalent of Hempel's Inductivity Paradox little mind. We just take the furniture of our world as we believe we should take it, with 'acritical indubitability'. In so doing, we do what we do best, and get on with life. We cut the world up as we go along. We send and take, and engender and translate signs. We compare new experiences to old ones, and pack signs into the pigeon-holes with which we have become comfortable, in spite of the risk we constantly run that what we take to be correct from out vantage point might well be absurd from another vantage point. Consequently, we use our customary set of categories to classify virtually everything there is, that is, everything in our world that we cut out, distinguish, and indicate by means of the standard categories of our particular community. For every item of experience, we abductively fashion and fabricate some similarity between out present item of experience and our memory of past experiences, and we usually manage to find a fit, deductively and inductively, for that similarity. If there is apparently no fit, then it's time for that wily trickster in abductive dress to bring about something new as a result of the surprising nonfit, and then we appropriately revise out set of categories. (Merrell 2010: 73)
A note on signs and culture - I take the "pigeon-holes with which we have become comfortable" to be adapted from cultural heritage.
In this manner, taking a cue from Polanyi once again, your focal attention to signs can at any moment take in or suffer displacement by subsidiary or possible signs, for those possible signs always exercise an influence, however slight, on the whole of all other possible signs and actual signs wihtin their particular timespace context. But in your frightening experience of a car rapidly heading in your direction, few subsidiary possible signs will likely be actualized, for you have one focal objective and only one: Get the hell off the street! (Merrell 2010: 116)
The distribution of attention in semiotic terms. These are handy notions.
Unfortunately, many of today's popular (neo)pragmatist notions of the self as a web of narratives, of human being as vocabularies incarnate, of mind as sentential, smacks of a strong dose of what we might call 'textualist essentialism'. Perhaps they should look more seriously at concrete experience, that which Dewey lionized and Rorty replaced with language. I allude to 'sensing corporeally', or what Richard Shusterman (1992, 1997) calls 'somatic' sensing and experiencing, following William James and Dewey. I also allude, once again, to the work of Merleau-Ponty. Kinesthetic, somatic, proprioceptive, visceral, corporeal awareness is a matter of everyday experience. It is polymorphous bodymind experience. It is with us in all walks of life - and this includes reading and writing books, and pontificating in the classroom as well. Indeed, in the beginning there was not the Word, but exceedingly more humble kinesthetic, somatic, proprioceptive visceral awareness and corporeal functions and bodily moves and rhythms, swings and swerves (Sheets-Johnstone 1999). It would behoove us to concede that before shutting our eyes, ears, noses, tongues and bodies to concrete living and pronouncing death to the body in order to lay it to rest with the deceased subject, and before obsessively textualizing everything, we might ask why (neo)pragmatists so often resist extralinguistic sensing and experiencing. Why don't they, why can't they, give bodymind its due? (Sheets-Johnstone 1992).
One response is that sensing and experiencing seem to place us squarely within the 'myth of the given', of 'presence'. That seems to be lurking behind Rorty's response. For sure, the bodymind option is ignored by Rorty's argument for banishing nonlinguistic experience. He fears that introducing somatic experience into philosophical practice would undermine philosophy's distinctive role and logical space by confusing between causes and reasons. This argument again concerns the 'myth of the given'. For in this myth, nondiscursive bodily sensation - which may be antecedent cause of knowing something (e.g. a burning sensation resulting in awareness that the plate is hot) - is falsely taken for a sort of reason that justifies such knowledge, a reason that seems irrefutable by its brute immediacy. But nondiscursive experience cannot, as such, play a role in language-games of epistemological justification, whose regimentation has always been philosophy's distinctive task. Nondiscursive experience may give rise to knowledge, but it isn't exactly the breeding ground for discursive knowledge. The breeding ground, I would submit, rests in our concrete physical world and concrete living. (Merrell 2010: 131-132)
This discussion relates to the corporeal turn (cf. linguistic turn, cultural turn, etc.), which I would posit in the 1950s-1970s with the advent of nonverbal communication research in social sciences, but more likely concerns human sciences in later decades which I am not yet familiar with.
Sign Common example
R1O1I1 Feeling of blueness...
R2O1I1 Vague sense of a form or shape (a spherical object)...
R2O2I1 Vague awareness of something, but it is still indefinite (a sense of the sphere of more or less brilliant ball size)
R2O2I2 Awareness that a spherical blue object is on a flat green background...
R3O1I1 Consciousness of a white sphere coming into contact with the blue sphere...
R3O2I1 A spontaneous evocation: 'There!'...
R3O2I2 A commonplace expression: 'Right on!'...
R3O3I1 A word: 'Corner!...
R3O3I2 A stentence: 'I knew it was going in.'...
R3O3I3 An argument or text: 'The cue ball hit it slightly to the right, it angled to the left, and straight as an arrow, into the corner pocket. ...'
"Table 1. Peirce's 10 classes of signs" with common examples by Merrell.
An illustration, if you will

Assume you're waking up from an afternoon nap. you have the vague feeling of a sound. It continues for no more than a fraction of a second. That's all. You just feel it. You are not really consciously aware of it, nor can you (yet) identify it with any sound with which you are familiar, for at any moment you are not aware of any other sounds with which you can compare and contrast it. The sound just is. Nothing more. It is a bare sign of possibility, a qualisign, R1O1I1.
A split second after hearing the first sound segment, another sound siggles your eardrums. it is something like da da, ... in a sort of boundy way. The first da leaps slightly up the scale to meet the second one, it seems, though the interrelations between the two sounds remain vague: sign R2O1I1. With cobwebs still in your mind as you are trying to get in tune with your environment, you hear da da, ... da da, ... . Suddenly you feel you are onto something. But not really, not yet at least. It's somehow familiar, but you can't (yet) attach a label to it and categorize it: sign R2O2I1. Now your attention is on the sign and turned to the possibility of some linear string of sounds flowing along from the initial da da, ... da da, ... . toward something else. It goes on, like da da, da da, da da, da da, da da, da da, da daaaaa, ... What is it? It's, ... uh. Oh! Is that what it is? That familiar tune. You know what it is, but you still can't quite put your finger on it: Sign R2O2I2. Ah yes! - the first indication of Thirdness of the sign enters your mind. Yes, it must be 'The Pink Panther', you sense. But at this stage you're only aware of the tune's familiarity, and no more. You haven't (yet) had a change to slap a linguistic label on the string of notes. The string doesn't (yet) have a name. You've barely entered sign R3O1I1.
Suppose you're now committed to the hazy process of lifting yourself up from the sofa where you were taking a snooze and you catch a glimpse of your roommate, your spouse, or a friend. You are wondering where the couple of bars of music came from and why they didn't continue. You blurt out: 'That!' - in reference to the notes you heard. The other person responds: 'That what? What do you mean?' You emitted a solitary pronoun, which doesn't say much: sign R3O2I1. Yet it implies a more developed sign. You pay no attention to the inquisitive look sent your way, as if you had no clue with respect to what you had in mind when you blurted out 'That!'. But you know, and you know you know. So you tell your companion: 'I knew it'. You knew what? You're still not saying much, no more than a simple commonplace expression: sign R3O2I2. So you move on, with a name: 'Mancini'. Now you are into more explicit symbolic signs: a solitary word, or sign R3O3I1. But 'Mancini' doesn't qualify the series of musical notes you heard. So you utter a sentence: 'That's "Pink Panther" by Mancini', sign R3O3I2. Your companion inquires. You accomodate her/him with an explanation: 'Well, I was still napping when I heard. ..., and then...', sign R3O3I3.
This example patterns the 'ontogenetic' development of an individual sign. It involved your conscious and self-conscious awareness of the sign as a sign of something in some respect, the sign's respective other, which entails complexification of the original iconic sign when emerging into indexicality and symbolicity. 'Phylogenetic' evolution of signs follows a more general path regarding conventional signs in the human community, from roughly hewn icons to indices to spoken and written symbols, all having become properly entrenched and habituated. In order for this process to be possible, everything, including possible possibilities, possible signs, actual signs, and signs having attained a developed stage of symbolicity, must be intricately entangled. (Merrell 2010: 205-206).
In several courses young semioticians have to know this for the exam, but the examples are scant (a table is given here). I believe this is a useful illustration for the 10 categories.
[footnote No. 91] Using formal terminology, Peirce classifies the final three signs, chiefly of symbolic nature, as 'terms', 'propositions', and 'aguments'. However, on occasion he alludes to these signs in a less formal context as 'words', 'sentences', and 'books' (or 'texts') (CP 5.73) (Merrell 2010: 205
If Argument symbol legisign or R3O3I3 is a text, this may be a valuable connection between Peircean semiotics and Tartu semiotics.
Peirce was a triadomaniac. Everything must come in threes. Why? One reason among many is because three breads not simple orderliness but tension, and hence it becomes the author of change. How so? The number one, like a circle or a sphere, is wholeness, perfect symmetry. No matter how you rotate it, it remains the same. The numbers two and four are also relatively symmetrical, though their symmetry is blemished somewhat, since they have lost some of their rotational symmetry. Three, in contrast, is able to offer relatively little symmetry. And that is what Peirce wants. Asymmetry, imbalance, such that perpetual movement - change - is necessary to keep things in a more or less steady keel. But in order for this to be possible, there must be improvisation, that is, change of change as timespace contexts vary. (Merrell 2010: 145-146)
Peirce wants (notice the present progressive tense) asymmetry. Comparing this with the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics, it seems that they wanted "relative symmetry" (cf. Lotman's contention that culture, texts and other semiotic phenomena present two sides (two hemispheres, if you will) on all levels).
  • Boler, John 1964. Habits of thought. In E.c. Moore and R.S. Robin (eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, 382-400. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Damasio, Antonio 1994. Descarte's Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: G. P. Putnam. TÜR
  • Damasio, Antonio 2000. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace. TÜR
  • Danesi, Marcel and Thomas A. Sebeok 1999. The Forms of Meaning: Modeling Systems Theory and Semiotic Analysis. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. TÜR
  • Gendlin, Eugene T. 1991a. Thinking beyond patterns: Body, language and situations. In B. den Ouden and M. Moens (eds.), The Presence of Feeling in Thought, 25-151. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Polanyi, Michael 1958. Personal Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. TÜR
  • Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine (ed.) 1992. Giving the Body Its Due. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine 1999. The Primacy of Movement. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. TÜR


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