[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Oct 9 17:05:59 EDT 2014


	Let me reiterate, clarify, emphasize: It’s the dyadic grammatical pairing of subject and predicate that Deacon says is not “innate” in the human mind and human discourse, as in Chomsky’s universal generative conception, not the “symbolic” faculty itself.  No evolutionary, genomic, or neurological evidence exists for Chomsky’s view.  It’s mostly implicit in these shorter works by Deacon, but strongly implicit, that symbolization itself does come naturally to the Symbolic Species.  That is, you’ll recall, the title of his earlier book.

	You may wonder, too, at the claim that children pick up on their own a facility for indexical and combinatorial modes of symbolic reference, rather than learn that culminative syntax from the structures of the conventional language into which they’re socialized.  The fact is, Deacon asserts, “The infant already ‘knows’ the logic of these ‘rules’ of indexicality,” which bring noun subject and verbal predicate together.  Those necessary regularities are well absorbed the first year and a half by way of experience itself.
	Also, as he or she reads him, a Burkean might be taken aback by Deacon’s occasional reference to the “predicate frame” (the “comment” on the “subject” or “topic” that requires the careful “indexing”) as the “symbolic” part of a “complete” sentence or iteration.  This does not mean, for Deacon, that the noun subject and object, or referential parts, of the fully-formed utterance hasn’t been symbolically transformed by the symbolizing species.  Even proper names, which, unlike common nouns, can be indexically “mapped” a la Saussure, are still embedded a culturally conventional, artifactualized linguistic system.  What Deacon seems to be suggesting here is that distinctive symbolization “emerges” from nonsymbolic indexicality—the “pointing” gestures and vocalizations of lower animals that indicate some recognized “icon” that poses danger, potentially satisfies appetite, requires territorial markings or
 signals of aggression or subservience, etc.---distinctive symbolization emerges especially via an “expressive,” “mood”-generating, “sense”-making, meaningful, ultimately abstractive vocalization that characterizes how to conceive of, proceed toward, exploit, or retreat from the object or being so referenced.  As Burke has said, “The true locus of assertion is not in the DISEASE, but in the STRUCTURAL POWERS by which the poet encompasses it” (PLF, p. 18, emphasis not added), a redemptive “act”-centered predication.

	So, there seems to be an underlay of the presymbolic in the indexical not so present in the nonindexical.

	Constraining indexicality Deacon anatomizes into four aspects, only one of which I’ll mention here, the most basic, what he calls “semiotic constraints.”  These manifest themselves in “predication constraints (symbols must be bound in order to refer)”; “transitivity and embedding constraints (indexicality depends on immediate correlation and contiguity across the transitive)”; and “quantification (symbolized indices need re-specification).
	In elaboration, Deacon says, “To state this hypothesis in semiotic terms: a symbol must be contiguous with the index that grounds its reference (either to the world or to the immediate agreeing textual context, which is otherwise grounded), or else its reference fails.  Contiguity thus has a doubly indexical role to play.  Its contiguity (textually or pragmatically) with the symbolizing sign vehicle [see paragraph 3 above] points to this symbol, and their contiguity in turn points to something else.  This is an expression of one further feature of indexicality: transitivity of reference.”  Or, more “simply stated, a pointer pointing to another pointer pointing to some object effectively enables the first pointer to also point to that object.”

	Ultimate grounding in the real world seems vital to Deacon for complete and satisfying predication.
	Being the neuroscientist that he is, Deacon asks, by way of “transitivity” as he calls it, “How does this interaction between phases of sentence differentiation produce anything?  What sort of signals are being sent in each direction” from one area of the human brain to another?  To simplify, what’s happening is “counter-current information processing” that generally proceeds from “lower” to “higher” structures of the brain, and from back to front---from limbic, peri-limbic, and peripheral, to “specialized” cortical regions; from “posterior (attention-sensory) cortical systems” to “anterior (intention-action) cortical systems”; i.e., from reptilian brain structures like the thalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala, to the advanced cerebral components of mammalian, primate, and early hominid ancestry.  And, of equal importance, back again, from “higher” to “lower,” etc., as well.  These “counter-current”
 electro-chemical operations afford a kind of monitoring, provide checks and balances, generate “equilibrium.”

	Whether we’re neurologically examining sensory, or motor, or cognitive, or linguistic operations, they all look pretty much the same, I interpret.  They each exhibit similarly “emergent” characteristics, in terms of evolutionary origins and current sequential functioning.

	What remains to be dealt with is a summary of the complementary intersections between Burke’s dramatism/logology and Deacon’s semiotics, and also the challenge Deacon possibly poses to Burke’s action/motion dichotomy.

	At a later date.

	And a P.S.  If you object to my use of the singular form of the verb “to be” in the “what remains” sentence, do read the Fowler-Nicholson “Dictionary of American-English Usage,” pp. 374-75.  Fowler and Nicholson don’t explain it well, but they do get it right, unlike billions of publications I’ve read, including the New York Times.  I’m still a grammarian of a kind at heart, even after the Deacon-struction.


On Mon, 10/6/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
 To: kb at kbjournal.org
 Date: Monday, October 6, 2014, 3:34 PM
     I’ve already said
 that Terrence W. Deacon’s semiotic theory partly supports,
 partly enhances, and partly challenges Burke’s
 dramatism/logology, in my view.  Burke surely, we would
 maintain, enhances Deacon, as well.  Before I get to the
 “challenge”---as the song goes, “Don’t know where,
 don’t know when”---let me add to the themes of support
 and enhancement.  Here I’ll be referencing, in
 particular, two of Deacon’s shorter works, the journal
 article, “The Emergent Process of Thinking as Reflected in
 Language Processing,” and Deacon’s book  chapter,
 “Beyond the Symbolic Species,” The Symbolic Species
 being the title of the anthropologist/neuroscientist’s
 tome that preceded Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from
 Matter, about which I previously bloviated.
     I would judge Deacon’s explanatory
 “god-term”/”rome-term” to be “emergent,” as per
 the title of the here-featured treatise.  The word
 “emerge” plays a similar role, I think, in “Beyond the
 Symbolic Species.”  All roads seem to lead from
 “emerge”/”emergent” to the two sets of dialectical
 opposites subsumed below:
     The primary polar matchup term
 “emergent” is pitted against, is “innate,” as in the
 pre-processed, genetically-programmed and “engineered”
 universal generative grammar of Noam Chomsky and his
 epigoni.  No evidence of such a special facility can be
 found in the human genome or in the structures of the human
 brain, which actually look not that much different from
 those found in a mouse, let alone a chimpanzee.  (I’m
 referencing Incomplete Nature as well as “Emergent.”) 
 We have here a “process of coming out,” a “rising . .
 . out of a surrounding medium,” even “an effect produced
 by a combination of causes but unable to be seen as the sum
 of their individual effects” (The Shorter OED), except
 through careful, detailed scrutiny of the natural history
 and evolution of living organisms, pathways of
 electro-chemical discharge in the brain, the very neurology
 of sensory, motor, thinking, and linguistic development and
  animal communication generally,
 even the listening and reading, as well as the speaking and
 writing, of symbolizers like us---all these operations
 recapitulating the same sequential steps.  (It’s
 appropriate here to note what Susan Greenfield and Christof
 Koch, both neuroscientists, said in an exchange in
 Psychology Today: Electrochemical discharges in the brain
 can occur within time frames of 1/14th of a second.)
     From this dialectical
 emphasis on “emergent” rather than “innate,” there
 is derived the contrasting concepts of
 “subject/predicate.”  They assume more independent
 “roles,” if not do “battle” with each other,
 seemingly asymmetrically, in a way that Chomsky would not
 likely entertain.  “Subject/predicate”; “noun
 phrase/verb phrase”; “”topic/comment”; “indexical
 support/predicate frame”; “’pointing’”/desired or
 undesired result; “orientation component”/act to
 accomplish in respect to that “orientation”;
 “function,” as in functionary/”argument”;
 “reference/sense”; “indexical operation/symbolic
 operation”; “slots” for “pointing,” or
 “addresses”/”operation”; “(embedded) bound
 indexes/symbolic operation”; “disambiguating” the
 “indexical”/successful “symbolic” action toward a
 desired end---these serve as various expressions of the
 “process” of
  “emergence,” left to
 right, in communication, part of which, the
 “indexical”-founded-on-the-“iconic” preliminaries
 I’ve already spoken of, homo loquax/dialecticus shares
 with other living creatures.
     The major point Deacon makes is, there
 is no built-in genetic-neurological template by which the
 symbolic species gets from subject to predicate.  That
 aptitude, that enabling juxtaposition, resides not in our
 biology, nor in our cultural conditioning.  It is a faculty
 humans learn in early childhood via the bound and required
 “logic” of successful symbolization. 
 “Disambiguating” indexicality---i.e., “:pointing”
 via gestures or indexical words to what it is we are
 symbolically talking about---is a requirement for successful
 human communication.  We must put those two communicative
 elements together somehow to get what we’re after, or tell
 others more or less accurately what we want them to know. 
 Nonsymbolic animals have no such indexical problem, because
 their communication doesn’t get beyond the “iconic,”
 the “:arousal” to “attention” a significant
 “form” will evoke for them---and the “indexical,”
 the gestural or
  vocal “pointing” to
 that feared or desired object.  “Symbolization” via
 predication complicates, potentially, actually practically,
 interrupts, erects barriers in succession to making clear,
 what we are talking about, who or what we have in mind, what
 we want others to “do” in order for our interests to be
     How human thinking, sensory and motor
 skills, and language production get to happen involve
 similar, if not identical, neural continuities.
     And how all this
 dovetails so nicely with Burke’s dramatistic philosophy,
 yet broaches an issue Burke may not have adequately dealt
 with, remains.
 On Tue, 9/16/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
  Subject: [KB] "The
 Symbol Concept"
  To: kb at kbjournal.org
  Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 1:08 PM
      Thanks, Bob, for your
 response on Burke,
  rhetoric, and
 “repetition.”  I hope to get back on
 that one later.
 posted a few weeks ago on Terrence W.
 Deacon’s book Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from
  Matter.  I said, in effect, and sought to
  summarize how, Deacon’s
 philosophy of language part
  supports, part
 enhances, and part challenges Burke’s
 dramatism/logology.  Ronald Soetaert of Ghent U.
  seconded that take on Deacon’s relevance to
      Since then, I’ve been in further
  dialogue with Professor Deacon.  He sent me
 three of
  his published articles, then
 later, a fourth, later still an
  essay now
 in press.  Two of these pieces have to do
 with his mentor, Gregory Bateson, whose work I referred
  in at least one of my posts as being a
 clear precursor of
  Deacon’s semiotics. 
 The other of those first three,
 encyclopedia chapter entitled “The Symbol Concept,”
  I’d like to summarize in this post and maybe
 one or two
  more.  The chapter appears in
 The Oxford Handbook of
  Language Evolution
 (Oxford University Press, 2011).  If
 you’re interested, please read on.
      (And as you read, do keep in mind
  Incomplete Nature has made a profound
 impact, judging from
  multiple reviews
 easily accessed on the internet.)
      First, Deacon’s confirmation of
  formerly unbeknownst to Deacon, as I
 noted: Deacon’s in
  anthropology and
 neuroscience, not communication and
 literature, the prime sources of Burkean interest and
  scholarship.  From the perspective of
  Nature, I pointed out how
 Deacon’s critique of the
 “scientific lens,” maybe epitomized by
 behaviorism’s notion of the human mind, any “mind,”
  a “black box” we ought to prescind
 from our motivational
  calculations, is
 faulty and inadequate.  Input and
 neural stimulus and response, reduction of mind to
  biology, then to chemistry, then to physics,
 are the
  requisite foci for useful data and
 explanation, so much of
  hard science, at
 least, seems to suggest.  Deacon says
 we have to factor in, indeed highlight, a necessary
  “absential feature”(similar to Burke’s
 negative) that
  becomes the basis for human
 purpose, trial and error---we
  can genuinely
 label it all the
   aspects of “action,”
 expressive of a chosen
 that cuts across “spontaneous” causes
 in nature and orients persons toward “work” that
  organizes, directs life
 Symbol Concept” further
  underscores the
 dramatistic relevance of Deacon’s
 thought.  Deacon once again takes issue with regnant
  scientific/technological terminologies that
 confuse what a
  “symbol” actually is. 
 A symbol is not, Deacon
  claims, mere
 “code,” “sign,” “icon,” or number,
  that is, symbols are not mere pointers ,
 markers, gauges, or
  portraits of the kind
 so often denominated
 Actual “symbols” refer, abstractly
 generally, “irrespective of any natural
 affinities.”  In other words, as per Burke, symbols
  synthesize, synthetically, disparate beings,
 entities, or
  events for seemingly
 pragmatic, culturally-conditioned
 that transcend mere appearance of similarity. 
  Contra Saussure (with the exception of proper
  symbolic reference cannot be
 “mapped.”  To the
  extent that a common
 word or symbol “maps” anything, it
 “maps” a position in a given lexicon in relation to
   terminologies in that
 symbol system.
 airy, diaphanous character of
 equivalent notion of symbolic action/reference
  finds peak expression in his chapter, “What
 Are the Signs
  of What?---A Theory of
 Entitlement.” in LASA.  There
 maintains what he said in the Grammar about how common
  symbols refer to “nothing” in the real
 world, only here
  he follows up with how
 “reference” is reversed, in terms
 customary suppositions: “Things are the signs of
  words,” rather than vice versa.  In so
  on” to the symbol’s
 concept, so to speak, tangible
  entities and
 “objects” “materialize” the
 “spirit” of the symbol, participate in its
  “pageantry” (pp. 361, 379).
 here’s where Deacon gets into
 and semiological issues foreign to Burke’s
  dramatism, i.e., the “enhancement” I
 the whole gamut of concepts related
 computer algorithms and “encryption,” come to bear in
  undergirding the higher-order cognitive
 process we call
  human symbolic
 communication.  Like love and marriage
 (for the traditionally minded, anyway), you can’t have
  without the other.  The symbols of
 human language are
  fashioned out of sounds
 and written or printed characters
  the roots
 of which are presymbolic, and prehuman, for that
  matter.  Such “iconic” and
 “indexical” sources
  of communication
 are evident in the activites of nonsymbolic
 animals, as well as in the “symbolic actions” of you
  me.  Thus, add “iconism” and
 “indexicality” to
 “absential feature” and Bateson’s
 “difference that makes a
 (that results from some pre-ethical sense of
  negation, and occasions a form of “trial and
 error” in
  the service of a kind of
 “preference,” a capacity for
  which all
 living things show signs of possessing and
 explaining this “hierarchy” of
 he uses in explaining how human symbolic action
  works, Deacon borrows from the philosophy of
 Charles Sanders
  Peirce.  Peirce coined the
 term “legisign” to refer
  to iconic,
 indexical, and symbolic signs in general. 
 The locution “sinsign” refers to a specific instance
  an iconic or lexical sign (there can be
 no such thing,
  actually, as a “symbolic
 sinsign,” as will become clear,
  I hope. 
 “Natural affinities” characterize
 sinsigns; not so, anything that attains the level of
  “symbolic,” based on, as Burke and Deacon
  arbitrary, conventional, culturally
 reflective origins of
  reference.)  A stick
 figure drawing on a restroom door
  is an
 iconic legisign.  It “portrays” in
 general.  A picture of a famous person is an iconic
  sinsign.  It portrays in particular.  A
  alarm sound is an indexical legisign,
 as is the position of
  a needle on a
 pressure gauge.  They “point” or
   toward an action in the large.  A
 particular smell of
  smoke is an indexical
 sinsign.  Spoken or written
  words, in a
 syntactical context or not, are symbolic
 legisigns.  The reference is to “a general concept or
  type of object.”
      Proper names might seem to be a bit
  symbolic sinsigns, but they are not. 
 Their reference
  can be mapped, one-to-one
 Saussure-like, but “the
  sign-vehicle is a
 conventional form.”  Therefore
 would call them “indexical legisigns.” 
  “Dolphin signature whistles are indexical
  (Deacon, e-mail message,
 9/9/14).  Symbolic signs of
  the most
 abstract or merely potential kind of reference
  Peirce calls “qualisigns.”
      Symbolic reference,
 then, functions like
  this: “A written
 word [for instance] is first recognized
 an iconic sinsign (an instance of a familiar form), then
  an indexical legisign (a type of sign vehicle
  with other related types), and
 then as a symbolic legisign
  (a conventional
 type of sign referring to a conventional
 type of reference).
     Deacon employs the text message “smiley
  face” and Aristotle’s take on how a
 “signet ring”
  functions in
 communication as examples of this hierarchal
  progression in the production of meaning for
  one of Deacon’s most
 salient points being: This
  “dependency of
 symbolic reference on indexical reference
 [and iconic reference]” mirrors the dependency of human
  symbolic action/communication on the
 “genetic,” even
 capacities for iconic and indexical
 communication of a sort in “living organisms” in
  general, a theme of Deacon’s (and
 Bateson’s) I
  emphasized in my previous
 posts on Incomplete Nature.
      So, for further review and/or
      What do
 Deacon’s semiotic distinctions,
 especially unifications, mean for Burke’s signature
  “(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action”
  (1978/2003)?  Is some sort of
 modification in order
  along the lines of
 Jim Chesebro’s complaint that Burke did
 not pay enough attention to nonsymbolic motive s (Burke
  panel at the ECA Convention, 1992)?
      Does Deacon’s
 critique of Chomsky’s
 Generative Grammar as the innate “constraint”
  on syntactical linguistic relationships in
  communication, in favor instead of
  constraints, tend to
 support Burke’s notion of the
  negative as
 “the engine of intentionality” and the very
  dawn of human symbolism (1952/1953/1966)?
      Maybe something on
 those issues later.
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