Re: signs/symbols etc

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2005 - 21:45:30 PST

Perhaps "symbol" would be a better candidate for associating with
frightening social movements, Jay. "Symbol" originally meant the catechism
that converts swore to, and which set out the beliefs of a religious sect.
"Index" on the other hand simply meant the forefinger, which you used to
find a place in the book you were reading.

At 12:08 AM 12/01/2005 -0500, you wrote:

>An interesting take. I would suggest perhaps that the indexical order of
>intersubjectivity has a darker side to it ... less voluntaristic or
>emergent (even herd) for the community ("me, too," feels like the symbolic
>order) ... and more like the causal-effective order: the Svengali, the
>Hitler ... the other than imposes its imprint on us like it or not.
>Personally, I don't see a good side to this one, though others may think
>of one.
>Die Gedanken sind nicht so frei as we might like to hope ...
>At 12:32 AM 1/10/2005, you wrote:
>>I have been lurking in on this discussion about Peirce and Vygotsky, and
>>laughed out loud at the "yeah, yeah" joke. Semiology seems to lend itself
>>to jokes! But it also prompted me to share my thoughts, such as they are.
>>With so many heavyweight experts, not only in CHAT, but semiology, I have
>>been a bit reluctant to speak (believe it!). Nevertheless, I also see
>>great resonances between Peirce's semiology and Vygotsky and also Hegel.
>>My approach as ever is to try to relate the ideas to relations between
>>people, and how they are mediated.
>>Mainly I am interested in the icon-symbol-index trilogy, though the other
>>categorisations of signs in the discussion paper were immensely useful in
>>demystifying the idea of a sign, and also helped understand the way
>>Hegel's concepts find different applications in the same domain.
>>Firstly, I see the icon as above all a person, though it can be a group
>>or a practice or activity, but generally something in which a person not
>>only can see themselves, but because the icon is so impressive and
>>attractive, actually are motivated to see an image of themselves in the
>>icon. The icon is what teachers used to call a "role model,"
>>Secondly, there is symbol: the symbol is an expert or figure of authority
>>in the broader culture who gives an explanation of the experience or
>>actions of the icon, or demonstrates why and how one should emulate it.
>>The symbol would classically be highly mediated, taking the form of a
>>"theory" explaining the experiences and emotions of the icon in
>>"scientific" or otherwise socially legitimated terms. The symbol is a
>>kind of book, or teacher, or a word.
>>Thirdly, the index is numbers of people who raise their hand and say "Me
>>too!", demonstrating that the icon genuinely does point to something
>>universal and not just individual or particular.
>>These three constitute a new subjectivity; ideally they coincide, with
>>every index looking just like the icon and capable of operating in the
>>symbolic register.
>>For example, Kate Millett explains the meaning of sexism (here the
>>individual expert and the word are combined on different aspects of the
>>symbolic register). A group of women form a "consciousness raising group"
>>which receives publicity (Kate may be a member, but not necessarily, but
>>ideally the members of the group become about to replicate the
>>explanation of their action in terms of "sexism").
>>Finally, millions of women across the world form "consciousness raising
>>groups" to talk about sexism, and prove that they are experiencing it
>>themselves. etc., etc.
>>The importance of this approach for me is (1) we get away from "signs" in
>>the normal sense of the word, and making trivial (if humorous)
>>observations, (2) we get to talk about people, and (3) this clarifies how
>>a new subject (or social movement) gets on the road without the normal
>>paraphenalia of branches, party structures, leaders, etc.
>>What do you think?
>>At 12:30 PM 9/01/2005 -0800, you wrote:
>>> > While the utterance meaning of "Yes" and "Yeah Yeah" might have been (at
>>> > least near) synonyms; the speaker, Morgenbesser, exploits
>>> connotations (of
>>> > the informal/slang), discourse role conventions, and expressive
>>> intonation
>>> > (at least) to mean the antonym of 'yes'. Austin was working on sentence
>>> > meaning (and that itself is more than combinatrics of the lexicon) in
>>> > language as a cultural tool that can yield utterances when speakers
>>> use it.
>>Hegel Summer School: 18th February 2005 -
>> At 06:40 PM 9/01/2005
>>-0500, you wrote:
>>>A key to understand what guided Vygotsky, I think is his belief that the
>>>"meaning" and "concept" are but two sides of the same coin. Thus he
>>>identified "word meaning" and "concept", seeing cultural mediation in
>>>the way how having a word with its culturally delimited "meaning" guides
>>>the processes of concept development. He even talked about
>>>"pseudo-concepts" -- when a child can use words for all intents and
>>>purposes as if s/he had fully developed concepts, but is not yet able to
>>>expplicitly define these concepts independently of their usage. (Thought
>>>and Language). As if the word holds together all the ingredients
>>>necessary to form a concept before it has been formed.
>>>This leads me to think that Vygotsky really had in mind something like
>>>Ogden and Richard's model (Symbol-Thought-Symbolized).
>>>A transition between word meaning to sentence meaning and finally to the
>>>utterance meaning is not just a transition to a bigger and a more
>>>complex analytic unit. It seems to be a transition to a different
>>>dimension (or a different scale?) -- from a Symbol -Thought (Concept) -
>>>Symbolized set of relationships to a more communicational set of
>>>relationships as in Speeaker -Listener - Topic set of relationships.
>>>One thing that strikes me is the fact that these two sets of
>>>relationships (Symbol-Concept-Symbolized and Speaker-Listener-Topic)
>>>have traditionally been studied by different disciplines -- and the
>>>knowledge has been compartmentalized and expressed in different terminology.
>>>Meaning as a process (in Jay's sense of the word) does not have coincide
>>>with syntactical units like "word", "phrase", "sentence" or even
>>>"utterance". Meaning can be distributed between several people in an
>>>interaction, and even over greater periods of time than just a single
>>>event. But on the other hand, and in difference to other communicative
>>>tools, language can also pack concepts, even whole universes into a
>>>single "word". That is why I think that it should be very interesting to
>>>put these different aspects of the study of meaning together.
>>>Peg Griffin wrote:
>>>>The best way I know of to think about 'speaker meaning' actually has been
>>>>recently reported in the NY Times Magazine year end obituary about Sidney
>>>> "The most widely circulated tale -- in many renditions it is even
>>>>presented as a joke, not the true story that it is -- was his encounter
>>>>the Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin. During a talk on the philosophy of
>>>>language at Columbia in the 50's, Austin noted that while a double negative
>>>>amounts to a positive, never does a double positive amount to a negative.
>>>> >From the audience, a familiar nasal voice muttered a dismissive, ''Yeah,
>>>>[Ryerson, J. 12/26/04 "Sidney Morgenbesser [ b. 1921 ]; Sidewalk
>>>>NYT ]
>>>>While the utterance meaning of "Yes" and "Yeah Yeah" might have been (at
>>>>least near) synonyms; the speaker, Morgenbesser, exploits connotations (of
>>>>the informal/slang), discourse role conventions, and expressive intonation
>>>>(at least) to mean the antonym of 'yes'. Austin was working on sentence
>>>>meaning (and that itself is more than combinatrics of the lexicon) in
>>>>language as a cultural tool that can yield utterances when speakers use it.
>>>>And I wonder, too, about Vygotsky's sense/meaning and the three
>>>>I noted. I think that the sort of dead or at least dormant prepared
>>>>part is
>>>>'meaning' in the one paradigm and 'sentence meaning' in the
>>>>other. Then I'm
>>>>thinking 'sense' for Vygotsky has two aspects for others, both are lively
>>>>constructed constrained and effected by the dead 'meaning/sentence meaning'
>>>>tool but 'utterance meaning' makes it communal/social and the 'speaker
>>>>meaning' makes it populated idiosyncratic open-ended unpredictable creative
>>>>and misunderstood (but gets us to those same things as a part of
>>>>history --
>>>>Bakhtin/Volosinov's "previously occupied -- in spite of the golden arrow of
>>>>Going back to Mike's other question (1. Are all tools only symbols and
>>>>signs?), I think that's a better question for Jay and others. Like Jay, I
>>>>think of symbols as a kind of tool and I think some tools are not symbols.
>>>>Rakes and typewriters are just tools, but once computers came along, hmmm
>>>>not clear where tool leaves off and symbol comes in since its a new kind of
>>>>exploitation/expression of mathematical systems.
>>>>In the water example, I think two different ideas about symbols are
>>>>intertwined there, but again something probably better for others to answer
>>>>than me.
>>>>(By the way another wonderful Morgenbesser conversation is reported in the
>>>>same article: ''Let me see if I understand your thesis,'' he once said to
>>>>the psychologist B. F. Skinner. ''You think we shouldn't anthropomorphize
>>>>----- Original Message -----
>>>>From: "Mike Cole" <><>
>>>>To: "Xmca" <><>
>>>>Sent: Sunday, January 09, 2005 11:32 AM
>>>>Subject: signs/symbols etc
>>>>>Jay-- This summary was helpful to me:
>>>>>For Peirce, and usefully for many influenced by his semiotics, SIGN is the
>>>>>most general term, and SYMBOL is a special case (contrasted usually with
>>>>>"index" and "icon") where the interpretation or construal of a relation
>>>>>between the symbol (as form, i.e. signifier, aka representamen) and what
>>>>>it's taken to be a symbol of or for is based on a culturally conventional
>>>>>and otherwise arbitrary relationship unrelated to any physical-causal
>>>>>connection or to any formal similarity.
>>>>>SIGNs are not just symbols, but all possible types of 3-way relationships
>>>>>in which something (1) interprets a relationship between (2) one item
>>>>>(form, event, thing, whatever) and (3) another, which is not reducible to
>>>>>simple sum of pairwise relations.
>>>>>So, would it be fair to say that Vygotsky really was talking about
>>>>>sign mediation of at least the index and symbolic subvarieties? (I am
>>>>>not so sure about icons because of his writing on "natural"
>>>>>psychological processes where images are precursors of signs). Then
>>>>>when he slips into using the term symbol as in "symbolic activity"
>>>>>(see index of collected works) he is not making some new point we
>>>>>should focus on?
>>>>>And, what should WE really be talking about? From an earlier message,
>>>>>Peg, in November,
>>>>>wrote in response to a note from Peter:
>>>>>The definitions you found for sign and symbol make me think of Grice's
>>>>>discussion of natural and non-natural meaning. "These spots mean measles"
>>>>>is an example of natural; "Three rings of the bell means the trolley is
>>>>>about to
>>>>>stop" is an example of non-natural.
>>>>>Tools and symbols would both be non-natural. Signs would be natural.
>>>>>For language, there is also a tripartite distinction among sentence
>>>>>utterance meaning, and speaker meaning. Maybe that distinction would come
>>>>>in handy when thinking about symbols that re-present in/for a
>>>>>socio-historical community of users.
>>>>>So, Peg, if we talk about a word like "water" it can operate as a
>>>>>sign in the sense of Jay's para 2, but also as both "a culturally
>>>>>and otherwise arbitrary relationship unrelated to any physical-causal
>>>>>connection or to any formal similarity" and "symbols that re-present
>>>>in/for a
>>>>>socio-historical community of users." It operates as a sign if I say
>>>>>"The rain in southern
>>>>>california is finally filling our reservoirs with water" but as a
>>>>>symbol when I say " Water reminds us of the cycle of living matter, of
>>>>>the fragility of life in southern california, and of life
>>>>>But if this is a reasonable way to think two questions come to mind:
>>>>>1. Are all tools only symbols and never signs?
>>>>>2. The three kinds of meaning you mention do not map easily for me
>>>>>onto the sense/
>>>>>meaning distinction in vygotky, in particular "speaker meaning."
>>>>>Wouldn't speaker meaning be sense?
>>>>>As usual, confused in southern california.
>>>Hegel Summer School: 18th February 2005 -
>>Jay Lemke
>>University of Michigan
>>School of Education
>>610 East University
>>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>Tel. 734-763-9276
>Hegel Summer School: 18th February 2005 -

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