The Forms of Meaning: Modeling Systems Theory and Semiotic Analysis

The Forms of Meaning: Modeling Systems Theory and Semiotic Analysis

The Forms of Meaning: Modeling Systems Theory and Semiotic Analysis

The Forms of Meaning: Modeling Systems Theory and Semiotic Analysis

Synopsis

"This book presents a methodological framework, developed from the field of biosemiotics, for studying semiotic phenomena as modeling processes. It presents a descriptive system for uniting semiotics and biology so that the "modelling instinct" can be studied in terms of its manifestations in various species. The book is written in an accessible textbook style, and can thus be used as a manual by both professional semioticians and students taking courses in semiotics, biology, and the communication sciences. It is composed in such a way that a broad readership can appreciate the fascinating research going on in a relatively unknown area of interdisciplinary study." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

One of the traits that distinguishes human beings from other species is an instinctive ability to make sophisticated, ingenious, resourceful models. Model-making typifies all aspects of human intellectual and social life. Before building a house, a constructor will make a miniature model of it and/or sketch out its structural features with the technique of blueprinting. An explorer will draft a map of the terrain s/he anticipates traversing. A scientist will draw a diagram of atoms and subatomic particles in order to get a “mental look” at their physical behavior. Miniature models, blueprints, maps, diagrams, and the like are so common that one hardly ever takes notice of their importance to human life; and even more rarely does one ever consider their raison d'être in the human species. Model-making constitutes a truly astonishing evolutionary attainment, without which it would be virtually impossible for modern humans to carry out their daily life routines. All this suggests the presence of a modeling instinct that is to human mental and social life what the physical instincts are to human biological life. Now, what is even more remarkable is that modeling instincts are observable in other species, as the relevant literature in biology and ethology has amply documented. The intriguing question that such deliberations invariably raise is the following one: What is the function of modeling in life forms? This question begs, in turn, a whole series of related ones: How is human modeling similar to, or different from, modeling systems in other species? What is the relation between modeling and knowing?

The purpose of this book is to present and describe a methodological framework that can be used to seek answers to questions such as these–a framework developed on the basis of the work that has been conducted in the field of inquiry known as biosemiotics. This is a movement within semiotics aiming to study the manifestation of modeling behaviors in and across all life forms. The framework is called modeling systems theory (MST), developed by one of the authors of this book–Thomas A. Sebeok–over a lifetime of research on the interface between the biological and the semiotic sciences (see, for instance, Sebeok 1994). This book is intended to be both a synthetic overview of MST and a compendium of illustrations . . .

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