Ontological Semiosis

Rosa_Iceberg_1In “Course in General Linguistics,” Ferdinand de Saussure proposed a new science.

“It is … possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would be part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeion,’sign’). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge.” [1]

Charles Sanders Peirce – another pioneer – said [2]: “The entire universe is perfused with signs.” Peirce used the term ‘semiotics’ instead of ‘semiology.’  He defined it broadly: “Semiotic…is the formal doctrine of signs.” [2]

Daniel Chandler’s definition [2] of Semiotics is very helpful:  “Semiotics is concerned with meaning-making and representation in many forms, perhaps most obviously in the form of ‘texts’ and ‘media.’ Such terms are interpreted very broadly.” 

The roots semio (Latin transcription of Greek root semeio), sema, seman have been the basis of various terms in semiotics and semantics. Semiotics is helpful in understanding the signs that humans interpret, both in the experience of physical reality and in metaphysical reality.

Is semiotics relevant in spiritual philosophy? The answer is yes. I have pursued semiotics in spiritual philosophy from two different angles: a) sound archetypes, b) ontological semiosis. For (a) please see my Sound Archetypes article. In this article I will focus on (b).

In the new phase of human development, signs and symbols are being de-constructed and de-naturalized. This is necessary because the oral traditions are dying. The original insights and knowledge need to be decoded and transferred into written form for preservation. There is also hope that this process of decoding will lead to further insights and new levels of understanding.

Decoding of the sound archetypes should be done in a semiotic framework. Certain root sounds carry hidden information of ancient spiritual insights. These sounds have power over human beings. The influence is very subtle. The effect is small in force but great in power. The prolonged application of the small force results in a powerful effect. I have given 3 examples in my earlier writings.

The pioneers of semiotics were linguists. This created the impression that semiotics was a branch of linguistics. Semiotics is actually much broader than linguistics. Semiotics is concerned with the study of symbols or signs in a wide variety of contexts. The subject of mathematical symbols should be a field in semiotics. Scripts such as the Egyptian Hieroglyphic, Sumer, Japanese, Chinese, Cyrillic, Greek and Roman alphabets should be interesting subjects in semiotics.  Brand names and logos should be studied as part of semiotics. Unfortunately, these subjects are being neglected in semiotic studies.

It is also possible to extend the semiotic framework to spiritual philosophy. A synthesis of semiotics and spiritual philosophy will be a major advance. There are many discoveries to be made in this field. The particular area of interest is the sound archetypes or acoustic roots which are also known as Biija Mantras in Indian spiritual traditions. Acoustic roots carry the seeds of spiritual philosophy. They should be examined in a semiotic framework.

Ontological semiosis, which can also be called the semiotics of creation, has nothing to do with textual analysis. By textual analysis, I am referring to Daniel Chandler’s definition mentioned above. The ontological (study of the nature of reality) semiosis is very different from the linguistic semiotics also. I use the term semiosis to refer to a fundamental, ontological and universal process.

Ferdinand de Saussure introduced the concepts of ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ and defined the term ‘sign’ as the dyad of the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified.’ Chandler [2] mentions that the modern commentators describe the ‘signifier’ as the ‘form’ that the ‘sign’ takes and the ‘signified’ as the ‘concept’ to which it refers.

Saussure was concerned with linguistic signs only. He did not address the spiritual interpretation of signs. The reason I bring up his dyadic definition of the “sign” is to point out that the ‘sign dyad’ contains a pure mental component which is the ‘signified.’ Saussure’s ‘signifier’ is not exactly physical either.

“A linguistic sign is not a link between a thing and a name, but between a concept [signified] and a sound pattern [signifier]. The sound pattern is not actually a sound; for a sound is something physical. A sound pattern is the hearer’s psychological impression of a sound, as given to him by the evidence of his senses. This sound pattern may be called a ‘material’ element only in that it is the representation of our sensory impressions. The sound pattern may thus be distinguished from the other element associated with it in a linguistic sign. This other element is generally of a more abstract kind: the concept.” [1]

Saussure’s dyadic ‘sign’ is a self-contained mental construct. Let’s compare it to Charles Sanders Peirce’s triadic definition of the sign. Peirce’s definition has three parts [2].

  1. The representamen: the form which the sign takes.
  2. An interpretant: not an interpreter but rather the sense made of the sign.
  3. An object: to which the sign refers.

Peirce defined semiosis as the interaction between the representamen, the interpretant, and the object. According to Chandler, the representamen is similar to Saussure’s signifier while the interpretant is similar to Saussure’s signified. There is one important difference between the interpretant and the signified concepts, however. Peirce’s interpretant is itself a sign in the mind of the interpreter. This may lead to infinite semiosis. Umberto Eco used the phrase ‘unlimited semiosis’ to describe this potential semiosis ad infinitum. In Peirce’s framework any interpretation can be reinterpreted. Chandler says that Peirce emphasizes the process (semiosis) whereas Saussure emphasizes structure.

Other philosophers created different versions of the “semiotic triangle” (Peirce’s triad). It gets confusing very quickly. In Chandler’s words the quick summary is the following: “the signifier or the representamen is the form in which the sign appears (such as the spoken or written form of a word) whereas the sign is the whole meaningful ensemble.” [2]

Academic semiotics is a wonderful field. If I was not meant to be a physicist I would have chosen semiotics as my academic discipline. I am fascinated with semiotics. I just wanted to point out the differences between the conceptual frameworks of Saussure and Peirce. This is relevant to my proposal for ontological semiosis.

In Definitions and Summary of Soul Monism I wrote about the two-stage reflection.

Mind reflects the soul and the body reflects the mind. Body is the object of the mind. Mind is the object of the soul. Without this two-stage reflection the soul cannot complete its spiritual journey. The two-stage reflection principle applies to the Cosmic Soul as well as the individual souls. The Cosmic Soul needs the Cosmic Mind and the Cosmic Mind needs the Cosmos to play out the Liila.

I remind you that the Cosmic Soul is the ultimate subject; it is the subject of the individual soul. The soul is the subject of the unit mind and the unit mind is the subject of the material body. The Cosmic Soul substantiates the physical universe through the Cosmic Mind. The individual soul which is a reflection of the Cosmic Soul substantiates the physical body through the unit mind.

The unit mind cannot function without a body (subtle or material). The Cosmic Mind, however, can exist and function without the physical universe. This is the fundamental difference between the Cosmic Mind and the unit mind.

The soul, the mind and the body form a triad. There is interaction between the components of this triad. My definition of ontological semiosis refers to the fundamental process of ‘reflection’ and ‘reversion’ involving the triad of the soul, the mind and the body.

In Definitions and Summary of Soul Monism I wrote about the ‘reversion’ briefly and described the process of ‘Cosmic Inversion’ where the Cosmic Mind is inverted to form the individual mind.  I reserve the term ‘reflection’ to refer to the special connection between the individual soul and the Cosmic Soul and use the term ‘inversion’ to describe the relationship between the human mind and the Cosmic Mind.

Soul is a reflector. Soul reflects the Cosmic Soul. Human mind is a different kind of reflector. Human mind can reflect but it can also originate. The human mind can model and therefore create meaning from the physical stimuli by reflecting them but it can also generate conceptions.

Conceptions are created inside the human mind without any external stimulus. In recent articles titled Receptivity and Internalizing ideas and theories I made a distinction between the ideas received from the “outside” and the ideas received from the “inside.” In my terminology, an idea received from the “inside” is called conception. The “inside” is the supra-mental and spiritual layers of our being.

My point is that the human mind is not just a mirror. When the human mind holds an image of the physical stimuli we call it a perception. When the human mind holds a vision of an idea received from the “inside” we call it a conception.  Conception comes from the Cosmic Mind through the connection that was established by the Cosmic Inversion.  The human mind is in the middle of the “inside” and the “outside.”

The term ‘inversion’ points to that mechanism where the unit mind emerges from the physical. Remember the physical universe is a condensed form of the cosmic citta (primordial fabric) which is the objectivated portion of the Cosmic Mind. After the cosmic bounce (where the saincara phase ends and prati-saincara phase starts)(please see definitions), the physical is converted into a countless number of unit minds. In other words, the singular Cosmic Mind inverts itself into countless unit minds. The term ‘reversion’ points to a later stage in the cosmic evolution when the unit mind can conceptualize the Cosmic Mind.

The development of the ‘reversion’ stage is as remarkable as the ‘inversion’ stage. One of the outcomes is the symbolic thinking ability. When did the humans start thinking symbolically? This is related to the development of languages. I would also speculate that along with the ‘symbolic thinking’ the ego structure of the human mind developed. This is an interesting connection between the ego and the symbols. The ‘reversion’ stage involves ego, languages and symbols.

More fundamentally, I would define ‘reversion’ as the ability of the human mind to hold the soul as an object.

Is this a contradiction? Normally, the human mind is the object of the soul. How can the soul be the object of the human mind? It seems that we can actually turn our minds towards the soul. We humans can actually make the soul the object of our mind for a short duration. This can happen in meditation, or it can happen in dreamless sleep. It partially happens in times of prayer, writing poetry or prose, creating art and composing music. Whenever humans ‘ideate’, or come to be in awe of creation, behold beauty or feel mystery, the ‘reversion’ is happening. This ‘reversion’ is a gift. It is a grace from God. All humans can achieve ‘reversion.’

The ‘reflection’ is automatic. The soul reflects the Cosmic Soul always and this is the basis of existence and life. The ‘reversion’ is not automatic. It is an evolutionary process. It starts slowly and develops slowly. It takes effort. The ‘reversion’ process started tens of thousands years ago in the minds of our ancestors in the form of symbolic thinking.

Symbols help people revert attention to the soul. The symbol is a proxy for an idea and that idea can be a proxy for the soul. Under normal circumstances, in everyday life, the mind does not turn its attention to the soul because for that to happen the mind has to suspend itself. The mind has self-preservation instincts so it does not normally do that.  The human mind finds it difficult to turn its attention to its cause, because it fears annihilation. But, because of the great attraction of the Divine Center there is an impetus towards sentiency and the mind wants to transcend itself.

If you focus on a symbol of beauty such as a rose, and ideate on the source of beauty, the mind soars. If you focus on a symbol of love, such as the face of a baby, and ideate on the source of love, the heart burns with ecstasy. These are examples of ‘reversion’ through the use of a symbol. If you chant a sound archetype and ideate on the source of that vibration the mind may resonate with Divine Power.

The symbol reflects the conception. When the conception is reflected from a symbol such as the type of beauty that is in the nature of a rose, it is semiosis. Remember, symbol/sign is a mental form; it is not a physical object. Through the mechanism of semiosis we may see a glimpse of the soul, a glimpse of that divine light. The ‘reversion’ (making the soul the object of the mind) can happen through semiosis (reflection of conception from a symbol).

If semiosis is the process of ‘reflection’ and ‘reversion’ then the ultimate semiosis is between the soul and the Cosmic Soul.  ‘Reflection’ is one of the mechanisms for the liberation of Consciousness from bondage. So if transformation of Consciousness through Cosmic Soul is one mechanism, reflection of the Cosmic Soul as infinite number of souls is another. Ontological Semiosis is about the liberation of Consciousness.

[1] Ferdinand de Saussure, “Course in General Linguistics”, McGraw-Hill Paperbacks (1966) ISBN: 07-016524-6

[2] Daniel Chandler, “Semiotics: The Basics”, Routledge (2002), ISBN: 0-415-35111-1


About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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