How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Date: Mon, 9 May 2005 23:35:12 +0800 (CST) From: Qichang Ye & Zhuanglin Hu Subject: Agency and Consciousness in Discourse: Self-other dynamics as a complex system
AUTHOR: Thibault, Paul J. TITLE: Agency and Consciousness in Discourse SUBTITLE: Self-other dynamics as a complex system SERIES: Open Linguistics Series PUBLISHER: Continuum YEAR: 2004
Zhuanglin Hu, School of Foreign Languages, Peking University Qichang Ye, School of Humanity and Social Sciences, Beijing Jiaotong University
The introductory chapter elucidates the notions of agency and consciousness by means of linguistics and discourse analysis (p.1). The general frame follows Peirce's semiosis: representamen, object, and interpretant. Producing and processing signs and making them meaningful are more than merely getting information out of them or making sense of them. It is a matter of an intricate interplay between what Peirce called firstness, secondness and thirdness. Firstness exists as possibilities, secondness emerges as actualities, and thirdness comes into the picture as potentialities for future signs becoming signs. The triadic relationships among the Firstness, the Secondness and the Thirdness correspond to those among representamen, object and interpretant. For Peirce, knowing is perspectival, and this perspective is built up from monadic, dyadic, and triadic hierarchy of icon, index, and symbol.
Agency and consciousness should be regarded as dialogical in nature. Agency always deals with such concepts as agent and subjectivity, while consciousness is always the consciousness of something.
The progression from icon via index to symbol takes the topological- continuous to typological-categorial direction. Therefore, the different stages of semiosis in human development are identified by the author, and the progression from one stage to another is time-space bound.
No matter at which stage of semiosis we are, "I" (subjectivity) is not an island, and it has to be treated as a split subjectivity, as the area the different meaning-making activities come across or integrate. It is these meaning-making activities that make agency and consciousness possible, since both consciousness and agency emerge in the individual in and through the individual's transactions with others (p.7).
With this frame as the theoretical background, Thibault begins to answer the question:
How to link consciousness and agency to the ecosocial semiotic system and its meanings?(p.13)
The whole book consists of four parts dealing with the different stages and relevant aspects of this problem.
Part One emphasizes that any forms of social semiosis are characterized by three very general parameters: indexical, intertextual, and meta- discursive practices (p.13-4, 19). These correspond to the three-level hierarchy of semiotic groundings, which in later chapters are designated: L-1, L and L+1(p.176, 195,220,223,238,249,257,299,305, 311).
Thibault asserts that consciousness is a construct for making meaningful the relationships between certain self-nonself transactions in the supersystem and the contexts which these transactions occur (p.167), hence, consciousness is always grounded relative to the notion of Self (p.20).
Iconic mode of grounding (L-1) relies on one's relation to the world on the basis of one's physiology and perception. It is perceptual-motor in character and a most primary form of iconic being-in-the-world. For this reason, it is vague but necessary, dependent on the here-now environment, it is the core of consciousness. The characteristic of this stage of semiosis is: there is no differentiation of meaning from experiencing. The exchange orientation is socioaffective, that is, in the mother-infant dyad. There does not exist stratal organization, it is a purely iconic mapping of one topological-quantitative variation onto another. "The relation between the two levels (i.e. continuously various energy flows and continuously various flows of attention, interest, engagement, and so on) is iconic in the sense that two topological modes are mapped onto each other" (p.59).
In contrast, indexical grounding (L) is a further closing of the loop comprising me-indexical sign-world-you (p.21, 235). It can be seen as an extension of the level (L-1), it is probabilistic but not necessary. The mode of semiosis on this level is experiencing of experiencing. The exchange orientation is dyadic, and the bistratal organization is required. As a transitional stage, it entails referent potential, therefore, it clearly denotes the relationship between a conscious source and the meaning-making trajectory (p.22). This stage typically emerges when the infant is in the period from six to twelve months. Thibault emphasizes the importance of this stage: "Here we see the transition from the potentiality of iconic vagueness to the actuality and specificity of indexicality. In turn, the semiotically salient distinctions of indexicality pave the way for the emergent generalities of symbolic meaning-making. Thirdness entails the mediation of instantiated sign- tokens by an ordered field of systemic regularities, which have the status of a habit or law for Peirce. Thus, sign-tokens with this status can be replicated from one occasion of use to another. The ensuing regularity allows for self-reference: a symbolic field of possibilities constitutes the Thirdness in and through which symbolic signs can be construed" (p. 24).
The L+1 grounding is the symbolic one. It concerns the symbolic or semantic topological-quantitative variation in the phenomena of experience as typological-categorial semantic or other distinctions. This phase, according to Thibault, possesses the following characteristics: (a) the emergence of a lexicogrammatical stratum between the expression and content of the bi-stratal (indexical) system typical of protolanguage; (b) the move beyond the I-you interpersonal dyad to a triadic I-world-you type of exchange; (c) the integration of both the interpersonal I-you domain of the prior indexical phase and the phenomena of experience in the world outside this domain that "I" and "you" attend to and interpret; (d) the access to the interpersonal and experiential domains requires their simultaneous mapping onto a shared system of semiotic (lexicogrammatical) forms; (e) both the "I" and the "you" have the means for construing and engaging with a plurality of different domains simultaneously; and (f) there is no longer any requirement that both "I" and "you" have or share the same sensori-motor access to the same domains or to the same meanings. "Scalar heterogeneity increasingly enters the picture here" (p.236).
To understand these three groundings in Peirce's three categories, Thibault writes: "Iconic vagueness corresponds to Peirce's category of Firstness. It is concerned with being and potentiality. Indexicality entails the creating of a boundary or a distinction between Firstnesses. In so doing, Secondness emerges. Secondness is concerned with here-now actuality and with individual existence, hence the creating of the distinction between self and nonself" (p.24).
The proto-interpersonal transactions in the mother-infant dyad, Thibault believes (p.28), are iconic and topological in character. This behavioural variability of the system means that the self has no meta-perspective on its own primordial experiencing. There is no sense of a self which is "separate" from nonself.
From the core level of consciousness to the symbolic level of consciousness, "the individual's cross-coupling to an emergent stratified linguistic system means, above all, that consciousness is increasingly de- coupled from its prior iconic and indexical modes and is now increasingly symbolic" (p.45).
Another important point revealed in this part is that meanings are always mediated and made in and through particular intertextual thematic formations, and from iconic, indexical, and symbolic dimensions, or in other words, life is a referent.
From the foregoing description, the entire process is dialogic from the outset and it is the resulting dialogic closure that allows for progressively more adaptive developmental change to occur.
Part Two contains 4 chapters. Chapter 3 focuses on early infant semiosis. Primary intersubjectivity emerges in this period. The mother-infant dyad is the beginning of human semiosis (i.e. from the organic to the symbolic). The two premises on which the author investigates the infant semiosis are: "First, the individual is only definable as a subsystem operating in some larger-scale ecosocial semiotic system. Secondly, the individual is only definable in dynamical terms as a trajectory which both develops and individuates through its interactions with its environment--- social and material---along its temporal (lifespan) trajectory" (p.55). Here, Thibault draws a distinction between the topological-continuous variation (unthematized knowledge) and the typological-categorial variation. The former refers to the bodily activities, such as looking, grasping, and manipulating of the infant, while the latter refers to the thematized knowledge. Since any communication demands at least two sides, what is the case with the neonates? Thibault contends that movement patterns of looking, grasping, and manipulating entail a proto-self in interaction with the immediate environment beyond its body and that the interpretation of others is an inbuilt evolutionary priority (p.58). These two are the conditions in which primary intersubjectivity emerges. However, what we should give attention to here is that intentions are not a pre-existing part of the child's mental equipment (p.61), since the attribution of intentionality to self and others is based on indexical and symbolic signs (p.60). But "meaning-making is an intersubjective process, it requires some shared bodily orientation along some vector of interest or attention" (p.59). Therefore, the guiding mechanism here is also the principle of dialogic closure (p.61). How does the dialogue take place in the mother-infant dyad despite the fact that mothers and infants do not have access to the same system of symbolic meaning-making possibilities?
The answer lies in the fact that the mother adopts and takes up both the adult and the child positions in this action sequence and acts them out for the child. "That is, the mother is the agent who is, at this stage, connected to the higher-scalar system of symbolic meaning-making possibilities. She can make links beyond the here-now of the dyad to other space-time scales that are not available to the infant in the here-now scale of the dyad" (p.62). The child knows the world only indirectly through his/her mother. Nevertheless, there are also differences between a child's mental resources and those of an adult. "The child's mental resources are pre-cultural and protolinguistic and are limited to the primary consciousness of perceptual phenomena and early forms of elementary social relations. On the other hand, the adult's mental resources are cultural and linguistic; primary consciousness has been integrated to higher-scalar symbolic consciousness" (p. 64). In other words, primary intersubjectivity is characterized by the infant's orientation to the other in the mother-infant dyad, rather than to the self (p.169).
Based on the infant-mother communication, Thibault claims that bodily activity constitutes the interface between the body-brain system and its external environment. A sign is a perspectival representation of this interface, therefore, signs are always for someone (p.73). On this view, the definition of the sign as a relationship between a signifier and a signified is not sufficient, for it truncates and distorts beyond recognition the real nature of the processes and relations involved in the making of signs. Thibault thinks it necessary to reconsider the definition of a sign, and an adequate definition, according to him, should at least take into account the following factors: (1) the relationship between the conscious and the material domains; (2) the role of the body as interface between the two domains; (3) the perspective(s) of the selves without which there would be no sign; and (4) the meaning-making activity as dynamic, time-bound loop which integrates all of the previously mentioned components to its trajectory (P.74).
Chapter 4 discusses the birth of the other's viewpoint in the self with the explanation of children's play. The main function of play in enhancing children's links to both past situations and possible future is its de- location of activities and its re-location of them in new contexts (p.77). It is this aspect of ludic activity that explains "consciousness in all of its forms is a consequence of the self's dialogically coordinated engagements with the nonself, i.e. with the environment to which the organism is adapted. The relationship between self and nonself is one of complementarity; the individual is decentred with respect to the world in which the individual is immersed and which is meaningful for the individual" (p.93).
The function of play demonstrates that the prior stages are systemically subordinated to the later stages in a hierarchy of both implication and specification. But this does not mean that the prior stages are separated from the later ones. On the contrary, "the holistic character of the system is maintained as each stage integrates and reorganizes the prior stages in the formation of iconic-indexical-symbolic consciousness" (p.94).
Another important aspect of semiosis that play reveals is that agency implies both a point of action and a point of view from which certain effects derive and in relation to which these effects can be sourced. "An agent, as both point of action and point of view, is the result of semiotic and material constraints: it is like a semiotic-material figure against the ground (the friction) of all the things that resist and oppose its projects" (p.95).
Chapter 5 takes up the topic of egocentric speech, which is also one aspect of the question mentioned in Chapter 2(p.13). Thibault holds that this kind of speech is not independent of the whole ecosocial semiotics, it is a turn to the interpretation of the self and the self's relations to others in the context of the social processes in which the self participates.
Egocentric speech must be considered as "a situated or on-line form of reflexive interpretation of the self's linguistically mediated relations to the phenomena of experience" (p.101). In this sense, egocentric speech is important in the development of the child's situated capacity to view him- or herself a standing in a particular relation to the nonself (p.105). This is just the capacity an agent should possess, it is a transitional stage between indexical and symbolic levels.
Thibault writes "Agency means having the capacity to project such powers from some point of action. It means having the capacity to entrain matter, energy, and meaning flows through discourse and to project these beyond the self in socially meaningful ways. Without this capacity, one is not an agent" (p.102). Symbolic semiosis, unlike the prior indexical mode, invokes intertextual possibilities which go beyond the here-now scale of indexical relations.
Chapter 6 focuses on the developing capacity mentioned above to create semiotic links across an increasing diversity of space-time scales. The two principles regulating semiotic relationships across different space- time scales are: (1) Timescales on different levels are seen as distinct from one another; and (2) Processes on long timescales produce effects on much shorter timescale activities and processes (p.130). The episode to support these principles is the case of a six-year-old girl who enacts a solo performance in the form of a pretend concert recital before an imaginary audience.
Part III consists of three chapters and focuses on consciousness. In chapters 7 and 8, the emergence of a self-reflexive perspective is a central theme.
Chapter 7 argues that a "state" of consciousness is a relation between self and world: "Consciousness is a relation between self and world, not access to a state" (p.163). In this sense, acts of consciousness (1) can be represented as having Meaning System contextualization relations in some system of interpretance; and (2) are constrained by the supersystem (Interaction System) transactions in which they are embedded (p.163).
As to the relation between mind and brain, Thibault also explains them in Peircean terms. He says, "the infant interpreter is a firstness who engages with the nonself qua secondness. In the process, he or she discovers and constructs higher-level thirdness in the form of the system of interpretance which mediates and makes possible the transactions between first and seconds. In actual fact, we have seen that, for the infant, secondness is historically primary. Its sense of self---its firstness---and the differentiation of self from others emerge in the course of the proto-self's engagements with the secondness of others. Moreover, the construction of thirdness in the process of doing so enables the increasing differentiation of different kinds of selves and others and different kinds of self-other relations" (p.165). In this way, the observer's brain and the world of the nonself co-develop and co- individuate.
Though consciousness is a highly specified form of Meaning System in the perspective of a self, it can only arise from prior biological and social systems.
Consciousness is not a state, but a construct for making meaningful the relationships between certain self-nonself transactions in the supersystem and the contexts in which these transactions occur (p.167). At the same time, consciousness is a system which we (ourselves) are inside: it is concerned with how we, as observers, give meaning to experience from the perspective of the self that we are (p.171). This reflexive capacity to posit the self (or the other) as the one who undergoes a given experience, according to Thibault, is a semiotic capacity to interpret self-world relations. It is a self-reflexive interpretation of some self's relations to the world. The self's relation to the world (nonself) is a dialogic one. Thibault indicates that "consciousness is always consciousness of self-in-interaction-with-nonself" (p.169).
Naturally, along this ecosocial semiotic line of thinking, "the ontological firstness of the self" is no longer the dictum of "I think therefore I am", but the result of a culturally particular semiotic polarizing of self-nonself, that is, "I am because others interact with and interpret me" or "Others interact with and interpret me therefore I am" (p.171).
In human semiosis, Thibault tells us, the system of interpretance (i.e. meaning) can be understood as a historically specific higher-scalar social- cultural formation that enables potentially meaningful configurations of information to be interpreted as meaningful in the perspective of the observer.
Along the line of social semiotics, Thibault argues that language acts on and potentially transforms the consciousness of self and other.
Consciousness generally takes the form of self-reflexive ability, the position(s) of the nonself. "The self-reflexive ability to evaluate one's own actions and states of consciousness from the inner perspective of the self as others see the self is vital for the development of moral consciousness and, hence, to our ability to decide on (right or wrong) courses of action on the basis of the self's evaluation of their goodness or badness, rightness or wrongness, and so on" (p.179).
The self-reflexive ability mainly embodies the perspectives the self is able to adopt. "The capacity to look at oneself and one's states of consciousness as others do entails the self-reflexive ability to place oneself in the position of the other" (p.180). In discourse, this ability is reflected in the metafunctions of language.
Thibault emphasizes repeatedly that Agency implies a self whose meanings not only constrain specific action trajectories; but also implies a self who has the ability to self-reflexively choose from and evaluate conflicting courses of action and their associated values (p.181). This capacity even determines the agent's moral consciousness.
Whatever perspectives an agent takes and whatever is the relationship between the self and the nonself, this kind of account theoretically demands the dialogic basis of consciousness.
Chapter 8 emphasizes just this dialogic basis of consciousness. Consciousness is not an intrinsic non-inferential awareness, on the contrary, the perspectives and associated values which the self acquires along its trajectory are selective re-envoicements of voices and their associated values in the system of social heteroglossia of some community. "The underlying structures of human discourse are, generally speaking, implicit dialogic structures that do not only regulate the contribution-the dialogic moves-of interactions; they also have the capacity to act on and change the consciousness of both self and other" (p.187).
Thibault also asks the questions: How is the distinction between self and nonself punctuated and construed? How are these two levels of 'reality' placed in a meta-semiotic relationship with one another (p.193)? To the first question, Thibault claims that interpersonal meaning is about the dialogically constituted relations between self and nonself. It is about semiosis as action and dialogically organized interaction between these two poles of experience. While the answer to the second question can be found in the mood system of English, "the mood categories are an attractor space for the organization of transactions between self and nonself" (p.193). These two aspects of language---metafunctions and mood---show there is a dialogical complementarity between the perspectives of Self and Nonself. The case is the same with propositions and proposals. In systemic- functional terms, propositions, like proposals, are forms of action that only exist in the context of dialogic transactions between self and nonself. This means that higher-order linguistically mediated thinking is always self and nonself.
Therefore, "dialogic structures and transactions are transindividual processes and systems" (p.194). At the same time, this also brings into sight the limitation of the view to treat consciousness as a private and unique experience of the individual's mind (p.201). Thibault declares that his view of consciousness is the interaction one. This view stresses that " consciousness is borne out of and always exists as a form of highly specified Meaning system in the perspective of a self. Yet, the self and his or her meanings in consciousness come from interaction. The interaction view stresses that consciousness is always embedded in supersystem transactions which put the self in some kind of (dialogically) organized relation with the nonself". In this sense, moral necessity can be understood as semantic in character, "the language of moral necessity determines what we can and cannot do in a given social situation" (p.204).
Thibault believes that there are the underlying and more implicit structural principles and dynamics of the exchange process behind agency:
"These principles of structuration and their dynamics perform the following functions: (1) they stabilize and regulate physical-material and semiotic-discursive cross-couplings; (2) they organize, constrain, and direct the flow of meaning and matter-energy; and (3) they position social agents at the intersection of the cross-coupling patterns referred to in (1) in ways that allow the ecosocial dynamics of agency to emerge in the activities whose implicit structure is a condition of their enablement" (p.204).
In accordance with these principles, Thibault attempts a logical reconstruction of the historical emergence of the self in terms of the developmental emergence of self from historically prior self-other transactions. The self, in this sense, can be regarded as a totality of integrities in various historically emergent semiotic order (p.210).
Chapter 9, by relying on Lemke's (1999) Principle of Alternation, further demonstrates that both agency and consciousness are fundamentally semiotic in character. The material matter-energy base of semiosis requires to think that matter and information are in a dialogical relationship. "Matter is inherently also information. Matter and information dialectically interact with each other" (P214).
The theme that "Consciousness is a meaning-making process" is re- emphasized here. Instead of simply interacting with some object energetically, consciousness is a process of construing some mental image as a sign of this object. This mental image is what Peirce called representamen, R; and what we take it be a sign of is called the object, X. R does not directly refer to X, the relationship between them is and should be mediated.
Thibault points out that "even at the most basic level of core consciousness, there are principles of interpretation which mediate the relationship between mental image and object. This means that there is a system of interpretance---some principle of thirdness---which makes this possible" (p.217). Higher-order consciousness does not stay outside the process of semiosis, it is still the consciousness of something. The problem here is of how to map the higher-order consciousness onto the three-level hierarchy. Thibault discusses this problem by exploring the text of wine tasters' evaluations of commercially sold table wines (p.221). The analysis illustrates that "the material activity of perception is itself dependent on practices of meaning construal that link it to other meanings and practices in the ecosocial semiotic system. Perception is a material activity which is based on biophysical interactions between individual and environmental event in the ecosocial semiotic system at the same time that it is entrained to and construed by the meaning relations of the community as having links with particular social practices in the community" (p.224). That is to say, consciousness is a dialogic act which links self and object along a relational trajectory, it is an integration hierarchy of semiotic levels: iconic, indexical, and symbolic dimensions.
Part IV goes on with a further discussion of the Principle of Alternation against the background of metaphor. It shows that metaphor can be seen as semiotic reorganization across levels. Contrary to the embodied realism of Lakoff and Johnson (1999), Thibault contends that the physical transactions between an infant and its environment do not provide the primary impetus for development and individuation. Instead, the infant's transactions with the mother are in the outset socially organized and constrained from birth. "…the very earliest manifestations of proto- imperative sign-making are intrinsically social from the outset" (p.278).
The embodied realism's focus on the sensorimotor interaction between embodied individuals and the world, Thibault points out, suggests that the individual body-brain qua firstness is prior.
While Thibault's study demonstrates that it is the world qua secondness, construed as the ecosocial environment in which body-brains are embedded, which is prior both phylogenetically and ontogenetically. On this view, the ecosocial environment precedes the self and provides the self with something to interact with, in the process discovering and elaborating its own sense of self. The Gestalt, sensorimotor and other embodied basic level categories discussed by Lakoff and Johnson are the derived result of the emerging agency of the individual.
Having stated the main differences between the present study and Lakoff and Johnson's embodied realism (p.280ff), Thibault continues to sketch out an ecosocial semiotic account of metaphor in accordance with the frame of the three-level hierarchy of thinking introduced above. "Metaphor in language is dependent on its ecosocial environment and cannot be reduced to -- either causally or explanatorily -- its lower-level sensorimotor schemata" (p.281). Thibault points out that the proto-semiotic dialogue structures of primary intersubjectivity suggest that the newborn's consciousness is continuous with that of mother. At this stage, there is no a clearly cut distinction between the two: "the infant's developing consciousness is closely dependent on the socioaffective flows characteristic of the mother-infant dyad. The dyad is based on topological- continuous variation such that there is no strong insulation of the child's self from the mother's. It is only when the child begins to be entrained into the typological-categorial distinctions of language and other symbolic resource systems that he or she develops a consciousness of him- or herself as having a distinct consciousness which is separate from that of mother" (p.285). In this view, human consciousness, as well as human semiosis, at all levels from perceptual to symbolic is embedded in, and is a part of, higher-scalar ecosocial semiotic systems and their dynamical, time-bound processes.
In the way as play functions, which is mentioned above, "the emergence of metaphor affords the possibility for de-construing and re-construing the categorical distinctions of the lexicogrammar of natural language as topological-continuous variation. This variation can, in turn, be related to less specified, less differentiated levels of semiosis in the specification hierarchy of iconic, indexical, and symbolic modes of semiosis. In this way, the typological-categorial distinctions made by lexicogrammar can be related back to antecedent semiotic primitives" (p.313).
From this viewpoint, the three-level hierarchy paradigm is necessary and powerful in explaining semiosis of metaphor.
Agency and consciousness have been the themes of two relentless debates pursued by philosophers, semioticians, psychologists, and sociologists. The central problem of agency is to understand the difference between events happening in me or to me, and my taking control of events, or doing things; while the problems concerning with consciousness include: Does consciousness have a causal role? If so, what is it? Are all mental states conscious? What is the relation between consciousness and intentionality? What is the philosophical importance of the raw feel of conscious states? Do persons have privileged access to their conscious states?
To these problems, Thibault's project certainly can not provide all answers. In this sense, Thibault's research is only a new step in an old dance. New is in the sense that he treats them in the level of eco-social semiotics. Old is in the sense that the problems discussed here have already received much endless attention from different branches of science, thanks to the places in humanity occupied by these questions, as well as their nature escapable of any complete solutions. Nevertheless, they are worth asking.
As Thibault points out, agency and consciousness have a common character: they begin with an inner perspective (i.e. the self). Agency is the perspective to look at oneself, especially from the position of the non- self, while consciousness is always the consciousness of something (Husserl 1962). Both agent and consciousness are not islands far away from the biological foundation and the society. Hence, knowing is perspectival.
If perspectival can be understood as belonging to a particular agent, or community, then the notions of agency and consciousness should be investigated in their social environment, and meaning is and should be treated as trajectories taking place on different scalar levels.
Admitting that we are thrown (Heidegger 1962) is one thing, acknowledging that no one is a full human at the earliest beginning is another. These two is not separated but closely related in Thibault's project. Both social and ecological are the fate of human being. We are phylogenetically and ontogenetically positioned. It is in this respect that Thibault provides an important angle to understand ourselves as well as a theoretical alternative to observe semiosis of human being.
Analogous to Heidegger, sign is the house of being. Heidegger held that facticity comprises the concrete situations and the cultural and historical contexts into which Dasein (i.e. human being) finds itself thrown a priori and which constitutes the concrete limitations of human possibilities. As one component of care, facticity is a mode of Being of Dasein. In contrast, Heidegger called what are merely material and non- human conditions factuality. Dasein exists not factually, but factically. Its facticity indicates that Dasein cannot transcend its concrete situations as a free-floating spirit, but must have its Being in the world. "The concept of 'facticity' implies that an entity 'within-the- world' has Being-in-the-world in such a way that it can understand itself as bound up in its 'destiny' with the Being of those entities which it encounters within its own world" (Heidegger 1962: 82).
From this respective, Thibault's study can be regarded as an extension of the study of being on the eco-social semiotic level, no matter whether the striking resemblance between them is accidental or inherited.
Moral necessity is an important aspect of the notion of agency. As to this aspect, Thibault really claims that "Moral necessity is semantic in character" (p.203). However, it is here that the present reviewers agree with Thibault with some reservations, for morality, not in all cases, can be reduced to semantics [i.e. "To be" is not equal to "Ought to be".].
Just as the author himself says, "The perspective afforded by the three- level hierarchy view as presented here does not, of course, resolve all of the problems of consciousness…However, it does provide a perspective in which the tight linkages across the different scalar levels are seen as linking our material interactions with our inner and outer environments to our categories and ways of making meaning such that the body-brain complex is linked to the larger scales of ecosocial processes and their dynamics, including the always constructed trajectory of the self" (Thibault,2004: 313).
It is highly commendable that Thibault has really provided a new way of thinking and talking about human semiosis by means of "not so much interdisciplinary as transdiciplinary" (Halliday 2004: xii) study. The reader will benefit a lot more if he or she may read the present volume with Thibault's another book: Brain, Mind, and the Signifying Body (2004).
Last but not least, it will be obviously necessary to say a few words more on the theoretical relationship and the internal link between these two.
The latter volume mentioned above (Henceforth: Brain) is, to use the author's statement (Brain: 314), an attempt to rethink meaning-making activities from the perspective of the body-brain system (i.e. the signifying body) enmeshed in its ecosocial semiotic environment. Brain is complementary to the present volume mainly for its theoretical accounts. The theme in the present volume is to explore the ways in which agency and consciousness are created and enacted in and through transactions between self and other (p. xi), while that of Brain is to provide, as the subtitle denotes, an ecosocial semiotic background for the understanding of ourselves (i.e. agency and consciousness in social practices). These two themes can not be separated from each other, and they are composed of the organic parts of the same project. Therefore, Brain doubtlessly deals with the eco-social basis of the semogenic processes.
The schema for the exploration of these processes is the same with that of the present volume, i.e. the Peircean theory of semiosis. The nature of semiosis, according to Thibault, is intrinsically biologically inherited, socially positioned, and time-bound.
In line with Gibson's (1979) ecological approach, as well as with the statement that meanings are formed out of the impact between our consciousness and its environment (Halliday & Matthiessen 1999:17), Brain claims that "the intrinsic organization of language has evolved in the species (phylogenesis) and develops in the individual (ontogenesis) so that it cross-couples both with the biological architecture of the body- brain system and with our ecosocial semiotic environment in ways that closely related to the kinds of social activities that humans perform and the meanings they make in and through these activities" (Brain: 48).
Logogenetically speaking, "the behaviour of the system as it unfolds in time is the changes it undergoes as the system changes from one state to another" (Brain: 149), that is, from iconic to indexical to symbolic. These changes are "a qualitative leap to a new phase state such that the entire attractor landscape is reorganized" (Brain: 246). Nevertheless, Thibault reminds us of the fact that the symbolic level does not transcend both the indexical and the iconic levels but integrates them. In this respect, what he stresses, together with Kress and Leeuwen (1996), is that discourse in its earliest beginning is multimodal in character.
As Halliday (2004: xi) points out, the most significant feature of Thibault's many faceted approach reflects in the following two aspects: language in its relation to the human condition and linguistics in its relation to human knowledge. Such comment is suitable for Brain as well as for the present volume.
In summary, Brain, together with the present volume, demonstrates that the dialogical orientation of the self to the nonself is intrinsic to our biological inheritance from the outset. Since " (Self-)consciousness is necessarily and irreducibly a dialogical and semiotically mediated relation between self and nonself" (Brain: 317), these two volumes, in common, are to provide signs with worlds: towards a process ontology of social being-in-doing.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS
Zhuanglin Hu is Professor, School of Foreign Languages, at Peking University. His main areas of interest are semiotics, pragmatics, functional linguistics, discourse analysis and the studies of metaphor.
Qichang Ye is associate professor, School of Humanity and Social Sciences, at Beijing Jiaotong University. Last year he received his doctorate degree in linguistics and applied linguistics from Beijing Normal University under the supervision of Professor Hu. His areas of interest are semiotics, functional linguistics and discourse analysis.