Monday, September 4, 2017


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SEMIOTICS, or what if the hokey-pokey was really what it's all about ...

Walker Percy was a brilliant fellow. He spent a lifetime trying to solve "...the dislocation of man in the modern age." Language was both his bete noir and his abettor. Both a scientist (earned a medical degree from Columbia in 1941) and a philosopher (steeped in existentialism), his notions are often larded with both science and metaphysics.

He embraced semiotics, which is simply the study of signs and symbols and their interpretation, and wrote several books on this subject. He recognized that the essential problem of language is the fact that we must use language to study language.

Since symbolization is the very condition of our knowing anything, trying to get hold of it is like trying to get hold of the means by which we get hold of everything else.1

Percy was known for his determined argument (see Message In A Bottle, 1975) to establish the unique position of both language and homo sapiens in the cosmic scheme of things. He relies heavily on cause and effect (dyadic) relationships for all things external to humans; and posits a triangular relationship (triadic) for our interaction with our environment. We become the sign-user (internal event) witnessing and labeling the cause and effect universe around us. This Percy called the Delta Factor (delta, or 'D' in Greek, is represented by a triangle, Δ).

Unfortunately, I believe he has begun with a false premise. Cause and effect has been in some disrepute for some time. Quantum physics has turned it on its ear. In the weblog 'Quantum Diaries', a useful discussion entitled 'Cause and Effect: A Cornerstone of Science or a Myth' provides the basic information on the subject.

The other issue is that all cause and effect relationships must be observed and so labeled. Who is it that does this business? The sign-user, is it not? We cannot separate ourselves from our environment. We are our environment.

My purpose here is to suggest, again, that language is in fact our bete noir, our bad boy, serving to alienate us from all other entities, be they organic or inorganic. Our dislocation is a function of this language. To 'find ourselves', shut down the concept factory in your head and listen to your heart beat. Start by not making judgments. If you walk outside in the morning and say, "Sure is cold this AM", then that is what it will be. Stop labeling (names call !!!), and your concepts will dry up. Or whistle while you work. The whistling (or singing) takes your mind off the drudgery (same as drying up the concepts).

Here's a tune to get you started. It's been around since the early 19th century. Let's all do the Hokey Pokey!

1 (from 'Naming and Being', Walter Percy. 1960.)

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