Tagarchief: semiotics

Semiotics before and beyond consciousness

Kalevi Kull (Habits – semiosis-  habits; Sign Systems Studies, 44(4) 2016, pg 623-629) reflects on consensus of Peirce’s phenomenon and concept of Habit. Biosemiotic study is about the sign theory of Charles Peirce. Peirce supposed that: ‘…. I was led to the hypothesis that the laws of the universe have been formed under a universal tendency of all things toward generalisation and habit-taking’ (1898, CP) Habit (taking) is a fundamental concept of (bio)semiotics. The axiom is that all vital actions -whatever- tend to repeat themselves and consequently to become habitual. Regardless of the organism -bacterial or mammalian- and regardless of a verifiable consciousness in the organism (bio)semiotic serves all sciences with fundamental theories and methods about knowing and meaning-making in all their forms. As an institutionalised field it is only about half a century old.

The (biosemiotic) concept of habit (taking) teaches us for instance that is was important in discussions of evolution and development. Joseph John Murphy differentiates between formative, motor and mental habits. Murphy: ‘…… the law of mental habit is usually called the law of association of ideas…’ (Habit and Intelligence;1869) Conwy Lloyd Morgan adds ‘… habit involves individual acquisition..’ (Habits and instinct; 1896). And Samuel Butler observes that: ‘…. unconscious knowledge and unconscious volition are never acquired otherwise than as a result of experience, familiarity, or habit.’ (Life and Habit; 1878)


From the end of the 19th century till now it has been a long time. But (bio)semiotic theoretical conceptualisation appear to add new meaning to science because of the need to draught a interpretation framework for (neuro)scientific research results. For me the concept of habit (taking) is relevant for my hypothesis on human evolution; the Sexual and Social Intelligence Hypothesis. But (bio)semiotics as a revisited and currently further developed paradigm can add to ways of thinking about (human) consciousness, intelligence, social structures, learning and meaning.

Habits are regularities that are products of semiosis. The process involved in habit change (Social Interventions) is learning. Learning modifies habits and establishes new one. (Bio)semiotics is a fundamental field of study of knowing, and habits are necessary for any knowing. That is why Peirce stated: ‘[…] knowledge is habit […].’ (1906, CP). Jaakko Hintikka puts it this way: ‘Surely the first order of business of any genuine theory of knowledge – the most important task both theoretically and practically – is how new knowledge can be acquired, not merely how previously obtained information can be evaluated.’ (Socratic Epistemology: Explorations of Knowledge-Seeking by Questioning; 2007) Erkki Kilpinen defines habits as ‘vehicles of cognition’ and also states that ‘intentionality without habituality is empty, habituality without intentionality is blind’. (Habit, action, and knowledge, from the pragmatist perspective. In: Zackariasson, Ulf (ed.), Action, Belief and Inquiry: Pragmatist Perspectives on Science, Society and Religion. (Nordic Studies in Pragmatism 3.) Helsinki: Nordic Pragmatism Network, 157–173, 2015).

The thing is that my hypothesis on human -cognitive and curious- evolution can explain the (mammalian/human) emergence of intentionality. Currently coming to a provisional end in what is called human learning, human creations and the human way to signify phenomenon in the Umwelt. It is my solid conviction that emerged (human) intentionality started a process we now call science; exploring and representing the environment.

The (bio)semiotical concepts according to relations between habits and semiosis -as studied by Kull and others in Northern Europe- is of great importance. I think science as a whole is in great need of other and irreverent interpretation frameworks.

In Kull’s words: ‘It is reasonable to hypothesise that semiosis takes place only in a phenomenal present. Or rather semiosis creates the phenomenal present, the now. (We can even say that semiosis is the phenomenal now.) This is because interpretation assumes a possibility for choice (between options), while choice truly cannot happen in a sequentionality. Choice presumes presence and the present. In this aspect, semiosis is a choice between habits. Habits themselves are sequential behaviours. Habits are inferences carried out by life far before logic becomes conscious or formal. Not only is habit repeated (almost automatic) behaviour; habit may also be repeated semiosis.’

It is the latter ‘habits as repeated semiosis’ that challenges and provokes us. Not only in our personal lives, but also in our professional lives, given the social and economic issues we are facing globally.