This paper reconsiders semiotic modelling in light of recent scholarship on Charles Peirce, particularly regarding his concept of proposition. Conceived in the vein of Peirce’s phenomenological categories as well as of his taxonomy of signs, semiotic modelling has mostly been thought of as ascending from simple, basic sign types to complex ones. This constitutes the backbone of most currently accepted semiotic modelling theories and entails the further acceptance of an unexamined a priori coherence between complexity of cognition and complexity of signification. Following recent readings of Peirce’s post-1900 semiotic, we engage in a discussion as to what are the limits of this approach. From Stjernfelt’s conception of the dicisign in nature, we derive a perspective that affords understanding the practice of modelling as a reciprocal interplay between (top-down) decomposition of complexity and (bottom-up) recombination into further complexity. This discussion is facilitated by the recent extrapolation of the (initially) constructivist concept of scaffolding in biosemiotics research. Cognition, we argue, begins with a fundamental irritation of trying to make sense of a structure that is more complex than what can directly be derived from experience and, in so doing, urges meaning-seeking (abductive) processes. The yet unknown object is decomposed into more tangible objects and is subsequently reassembled from these more manageable conceptions of the object. In support of our argument, we discuss the notions of semiotic competences and resources in light of such a naturalized account of meaning-making.
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Note how recent research in cognitive semiotics and cognitive linguistics often models and observes some developmental progression from firstness to secondness to thirdness, or iconic modelling to indexical modelling to symbolic modelling. For example, see the cognitive/ontogenetic perspectives of Zlatev (2009, 2013), Zlatev and Andrén.(2009). See Campbell (2019), who addresses the relevance of Sebeok and Danesi’s Peircean influenced modelling for education and edusemiotics.
Case in point: the interpretation of Peirce in Derrida´s On Grammatology (1976: 49–50). Derrida was clearly fascinated with the idea of unlimited semiosis, but not receptive to the idea of the dependence of semiosis on the dynamical object and its terminus in habit. For a Peircean critique of this view, which is outside of the scope of the present paper, see Eco (1995). Some of us have previously commented on this issue, e.g. Feil (2017: 232) and Feil and Olteanu (2018: 207).
Olteanu and Stables (2018: 421) explain further: “from its beginning, biosemiotics was defined by Sebeok [e.g. 1991, 2001a]… as a modelling theory and, while useful for cognitive theories as well, it does not impose any particular assumption about cognition. Thus, from this perspective, a theory of learning does not necessarily imply a discussion on cognition. An educational theory and system can conceive learning in terms of signification only”.
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For this research, Alin Olteanu received funding from the Estonian Research Council (MOBJD346).
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Olteanu, A., Campbell, C. & Feil, S. Naturalizing Models: New Perspectives in a Peircean Key. Biosemiotics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-020-09385-w
- C. S. Peirce
- Diagrammatic reasoning