Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juni 2004

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Jeff Bernard (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Moderation / Chair: Jeff Bernard
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs

The Method of Conceptualizing Signs from Everyday Life
(On Charles S. Peirce's Marginalia)

Ivan Mladenov (Sofia)


Summary: "Conceptualization" will be developed as a method of representing the meaning undisclosed in the old philosophical metaphors and in the symbolizations we make in our everyday life. It rests on the understanding that in the nucleus of these metaphors lie concepts, or stored meaning able to represent itself anew, or to give birth to further theories. "Conceptualization" is an apparatus made of three macro-elements. As "technique", it represents, points or hints at the hidden meaning. It does this with the help of the seeking self, which refers to and actively evokes this "sleeping meaning". Finally, the layer from which the meaning is dug up was called by Peirce "effete mind". The objective of the method of conceptualization is a better orientation in the realm of ideas able to provide a clearer vision for human culture and conviviality.


We conceptualize the world of ideas in order to orient ourselves in it. Even at the most elementary level we do conceptualize. Any co-ordinate movement of our bodies' means that a lightning-fast concept has been performed in our mind and we have acted according to this short scheme received from the mind. We conceptualize symbols and signs we constantly perceive, which means that we are permanently de-coding and de-ciphering the realm of signs which comes towards us. That is, we try to make a successful leap between the two distant elements, out of which each metaphor consists (the traditional view of the metaphor has not changed too much from ancient times: a distant comparison between two elements, where "as if" is missing).

We wake up early in the morning and if we have a clear vision of what we are going to do today, this makes us happier. If we can ease the general order and hierarchy of our tasks, we might improve our lives. Peirce believed that he had found a clue for what we would try to explicate - the clue of his philosophy.


Metaphor - the trigger of thought

There are a growing number of authors today who are bound to view some of the most difficult philosophical problems as mere linguistic figures. Many of the theories are likened to scenery, movies, video-clips, computer software, theater, etc. Let us here only mention the titles of scientific books, such as In the Theater of Consciousness by Bernard J. Baars; or, works that claim the Self is a trope (Ronald G. Alexander). It is worth taking this yet unspoken characteristic of Peirce's writings more seriously and to pursuing it beyond its decorative function. The same group of philosophers - psychologists devised the term "supervenience", which will be used in a particular manner in this paper as well. In one of the recent discussions on Externalism and Self-Knowledge in a collection with the same title, Tyler Burge argues (in Ludlow/Martin 1998: 77): "Traditional philosophical accounts of mind have offered metaphors that produce doctrine and carry conviction where argument and unaided intuition flag". Highlighting some of the old philosophical metaphors and forsaken concepts can open up anticipated solutions and help unfold different perspectives.

"Conceptualization" will be developed as a method of representing the meaning that is undisclosed in the old philosophical metaphors and in the symbolizations we make in our everyday life. It rests on the understanding that in the nucleus of these metaphors lay concepts, or stored meaning able to represent itself anew, or to give birth to further theories. We will show that "conceptualization" works as an apparatus made of three macro-elements. Conceptualization "as technique" represents, points or hints at the hidden meaning. It does this with the help of the seeking self, which refers to and actively evokes this "sleeping meaning". Finally, the layer from which the meaning is dug up was called by Peirce "effete mind". We will use this notion in a much broader and modified sense. The entire analysis reflects on Peirce's marginalia in two ways: it enlightens some of Peirce's abandoned notions, but much more than that, it is based on those forsaken ideas and doctrines.

A careful study of these metaphors and vague hypotheses, which were mastered hundreds of years ago may surprise today's routine mind. Such images and tools have kept their masters' longings from flying over the contemporary horizons. To derive meaning from them is to scratch carbons or to sieve sand searching for diamonds or pieces of gold. The concept of the effete mind, for example, has not even been developed into a metaphor. It remained in an embryonic stage as a degenerate idea that did not grow wings because the context of the entire knowledge at the time was insufficient. Here are the only few words Peirce says on this subject: "The one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws" (CP 6.25). This is a very odd statement, but it is grounded in his synechism and evolutionary cosmology.

The notion of the effete mind is among the less developed by Peirce. The most natural approach to studying it is to compare it to the living mind, but Peirce did not work at all on such a comparison Only indirect methods of investigation are possible and a study of the margins of his manuscripts is needed. Not only his original cosmology is at stake here but also his profound understanding of time, music, literature and art, notwithstanding that these never became chief subjects in his philosophy. The problem of the effete mind is one of the keys for elaborating on Peirce's work towards a contemporary perspective. It arose from the thesis of "objective idealism", which levels mental and physical phenomena to a single ideal system.

The manner in which the topic of self-knowledge is framed by contemporary philosophy of mind forces it into an unseen dichotomy of subject/object dualism despite the frequent claims of the group of authors working on it. Whereas the hallmark of Peirce's thought in this regard is evolutionism and synechism. The latter notions add the missing dynamic to the definition above. For this purpose Peirce opposes the dualism to evolutionism, under which he understood the tendency to regard everything as continuous. He does this at a very early stage of his development. In 1893 he tried to apply his doctrine of synechism to the question of immortality ("Immortality in the Light of Synechism") and found that we only have carnal life. But the influence of our carnal consciousness does not cease when death comes. According to the synechistic theory, the carnal consciousness is but a small part of the man. We have to take into consideration the social consciousness, "by which a man's spirit is embodied in other, and which continues to live and breathe" (CP 7.575) much longer than we could suppose. Thus, Peirce touches upon the problem of personal identity, which he solve in quite a modern manner. Synechistic doctrine claims that there is no such thing as a pure and infinite Self. "All communication from mind to mind is through continuity of being" (CP 7.572).

If Peirce believes that the universe is made up entirely of effete mind and develops towards a crystallized mind, it follows that he puts in this term something different than just "exhausted mind", something, which ultimately grows, becomes mature and crystallizes. When this something is a mind, questions arise as to what has been chosen to be accumulated and saved, and how. What can activate this "frozen mind", and for what purposes can it be awakened? Applying this notion to literature, art and music can widen our contemporary view of a number of problems, such as the relationship between the cliché and metaphor, practice and ideas. It can help to avoid the problem of mind/body dualism.


A guess at the reading

The meticulous reading represents the core of what we call "conceptualization" metaphors, or any signs. It is a loose technique of guessing (in Peirce's manner of the term) how metaphor or abandoned notion may be developed towards a new concept, or paralleled to a contemporary problem. Then the real work may begin. This consists of distinguishing a number of components surrounding the poetic image or the philosophical insight, and comparing them to related elements from both close and more distant circles. The contemporary achievements serve as photographic negatives to contrast the positive silhouettes of the newly emerged thought. In turn, the revealed concept is metaphorized and opened up towards an anticipated theory, which functions as an interpretant of the initial one.

Metaphorizing is a manner of thinking, not a property of thinking. It is a capacity of thought, not its quality. It represents a mental operation by which a previously existing entity is described in the characteristics of another one on the basis of some similarity or by reasoning. When we say that something is (like) something else, we have already performed a mental operation. This operation includes elements such as comparison, paralleling and shaping of the new image by ignoring its less satisfactory traits in order for this image to obtain an aesthetic value. By this process, for an instant we invent a device, which serves as the vault for the comparison's jump. Once the jump is made the vault is removed. This device could be a lightning-speed logical syllogism, or a momentarily created term, which successfully merges the traits of the compared objects. It gives us the confidence that we will get over the high bar, but immediately thereafter we loose it. One more characteristic of the method of conceptualizing metaphor is that it is a search for the disappeared "vault of the comparison's high jump".

As a term "conceptualization metaphors" is understood to be merely the search for the reappearance of something that has not yet emerged through such an operation - such as the manifestation of a "third element", the one that served as a barely sensed basis of the comparison. By this approach we are spared the difficulties of passing through a long set of modifications as we name the new image, which preserves the characteristics of the initial one and opens out a new perspective for further comparisons. (It is the same mechanism as telling anecdotes, in the Freudian sense). By conceptualization metaphor, say, of the "ground", the search is for further or different development of the same thought. We try to display the core of mental operation that has led to the metaphorized image. Then we have a new starting point to derive a new meaning from the same thought. The process continues from the fresh meaning to new concepts - and then - to original guesses.

The only rough "thought" given to us is our verbal (memorable, "saved") experience. This given thought is like a formatted disc, ready to be used for the copying of new files. We place the experience onto the lattice of clichés, which we throw against the future. Language is our lattice, our desperate appeal for clarity. Thoughts do not mirror all the facets of the network; they are the sum of the "fractal" ones and the still-to-come meaning of the guessing. They tear off strips of meaning from the effete mind and try to fit it onto the language lattice. Many "pieces" remain hanging from the lattice; these are as-yet unread signs, which, together with language, form the network of thinking.

The main question of the thinking process is "how is meaning possible"? In each metaphor there is a nucleus of "effeteness". This is the code of similarity. The general law of frequent likenesses, accumulated and compiled as an experience of making comparisons, is "saved" there. The rest of the metaphor consists of the thread ("the vault") that connects the effeteness and the comparable "image-object". It is the active element of the process of building a metaphor. By its flight over the gap between the effeteness and the comparable object, "the thread" (the very operation of comparing) must "remember" the way back to the effeteness. This thread is a "movable picture", which "memorizes" the way back.

The method of conceptualization metaphor is helping to de-code this picture and to regain as much effeteness as possible, i.e., a bigger part of the contextual meaning that has generated the entire process of building metaphor. It also focuses on the "reach of the pendulum" between the compared and the comparable objects as a source of retracing the performed operation of metaphorizing. It is a universal approach for re-conceptualization of the embryonic meaning of the metaphors, although there is no guarantee that the result of its application will be successful and predictable. It is only an analytical hint for deriving meaning from coded and unfinished philosophical concepts frozen into distant comparisons. In this regard conceptualization metaphor is to be understood in two senses: firstly, it is an attempt to reveal the unexplored meaning in some of Peirce's abandoned notions; secondly, it might be used as a general tool for different goals. The entire suggestion of "conceptualization metaphors" is based on Peirce's claim that the whole universe consists of the mind by which it follows that the all-embracing evolution of the mind can reveal its code at any step in its development.


The third element

In the following paragraph we will see that this "thread, or "vault" is nothing else but our own Self. The concept of the supervenience as originally outlined by Donald Davidson in his philosophy of mind (back in 1970) and modified recently by Ronald G. Alexander and others corresponds to the principle of conceptualizing metaphor. The classical definition of supervenience postulates that mental characteristics are, in some sense, dependent, or supervenient, on physical characteristics. This means that two equal physical events cannot be different in some mental respect, or an object cannot be altered in a mental respect without altering in a physical respect. The usual example for supervenience is given in the relations between the acceleration, velocity and position of an object in space. An object cannot change its acceleration without changing its velocity and vice versa.

The doctrine of supervenience is an advanced version of the broader type-identity theory, whose earliest advocates, U.T. Place, Herbert Feigl, David Armstrong, and others, postulate that at least some types (or kinds, or classes) of mental states are, as a matter of contingent fact, literally identical with some types (or kinds, or classes) of brain states. The type-identity theory has been in constant trouble since the crucial objection of Hilary Putnam, who wondered whether it is likely to accept that physically possible life forms can be in the same mental state without having brains in the same unique psychical-chemical state. (Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Mind-brain-type-identity theory holds true). Neither view will be taken utterly and non-critically, but an attempt will be made to outline a dynamic understanding of the supervenient Self.

Jaegwon Kim's positive answer to his own question "Does Consciousness Supervene on Physical Properties?" will be taken into consideration, as well as his claim that "without qualia supervenience there may well be no hope of providing with a place in the network of causal relations of this world" (Kim 1996: 172). Another thesis to be considered as well is Ronald G. Alexander's understanding of the Self as a supervenient trope. According to his view the supervenient Self should not be understood as a static, timeless quality, but as that which serves as the "pattern" or "narrative identity" (the last term was coined by Paul Ricoeur).

Rather, the self is a supervenient abstract particular or trope that arises from and is dependent upon the mélange of properties constituting a human being. Yet, this supervenient trope is not identical with any of these properties constituting any given human being. The supervenient trope in this case - the self - is dependent upon a collection of physical and psychological properties (Alexander 1997: 10).

This is a rather mysterious description that can serve perfectly well as a "third element", a temporal one, which, after solving the problem, is removed. Only after the demystification of the concept of the supervenient Self will it be able to produce meaning. Our suggestion is to put it together with the notion of the effete mind. "Abstract particular", "qualia", and "mental property" are nothing but timid refusals to acknowledge the possession of an active power by an immaterial entity. To put this power to work we have to link it with a potential, or sleeping matter - with the effete mind. Then, like the sound of the gramophone needle hitting the track, "music of meanings" will be produced. In this regard "a supervenient self" can be better explained as a genetic and generative trope, or rather as a "seeking self", a self that searches for similarities (or tropes) to revive the frozen meaning of our past experience. Here, we will modify Alexander's view in that the supervenient self is not a trope; by its motion it generates tropes. The searching Self is indeed the "third element", or "the vault", with whose help the tracks of the effete mind creates new meaning. It is safe to say that unlike Bakhtin's postulate that our consciousness is imprisoned in our bodies, it seems that it rather enjoys the freedom of a metaphor in its relation to the body. However, it does this with all limitations of a specific connectedness with it, for example the most frequent images it takes are of "other" consciousness' that it plays. Very often the searching self emulates someone else's self in order to sink into the tracks of the effeteness.

From a physical point of view it seems that metaphorical thinking precedes (or follows) the building of hypotheses. Perhaps, a metaphor comes before any act of reasoning. To begin to prove this thesis, let us start by examining the work of metaphors in the modern concepts of mind. When explaining the nature of our mentality, the great American psychologist Jaegwon Kim gives the following example: "Just try to imagine how something that isn't anywhere in physical space could alter in the slightest degree the trajectory of even a single material particle in motion" (Kim 1996: 4). He then concludes that the inability to explain how mental processes can make a causal difference to the world doomed Cartesian dualism. This example exhibits a literal truth and, at the same time, is completely untrue if taken literally. It is literally true in its own context of proving something obvious from the physical world. But it does not represent a literal truth if we do not forget that every coordinate movement of our bodies is a result of altering their trajectory by something that is not anywhere in physical space. Of course, Kim is completely aware of this fact: "It seems essential to our concept of action that our bodies are moved in appropriate ways by our wants and beliefs" (Kim 1996: 8).

Conceptualizing metaphors as a cognitive process should start from the above reached point but does not continue along a psychological pattern. For example, what else alters the trajectory of the body if not a set of movements striving towards a new desired state? ("State of metaphor" in this sense takes up the literary meaning of the word "metaphor" in Greek - "carrying").


Mere feeling and actual thought

Before we tackle the task of conceptualization, let us see the whole process of carrying and revealing ideas from its reverse side, from the side of thought. Peirce tends to equate thought and mere feeling in the sense that both are unique in their appearances.

No thought in itself, then, no feeling in itself, contains any others, but is absolutely simple and unanalyzable; and to say that it is composed of other thoughts and feelings, is like saying that a movement upon a straight line is composed of the two movements of which it is the resultant; that is to say, it is a metaphor, or fiction, parallel to the truth (CP 5.289).

Reading this, is it reasonable to question how we are able to understand each other, if no thought is similar to any other? Of course, Peirce is well aware of this danger: "Whatever is wholly incomparable with anything else is wholly inexplicable, because explanation consists in bringing things under general laws or under natural classes" (CP 5.289). The solution lies in the fact that thoughts and feelings bear some general meaning. Everything that is thought-like, however momentous its appearance is, should be explicable by a mental operation. Feelings are "all alike", according to Peirce, because they contain only what is universal. The distinction between thought and feeling consists in the way we recognize them in their appearances. Only that what we cannot reflectively know, remains inexplicable - feelings. An actual thought, which for Peirce is also a mere feeling, has no explanation either, but it has the ability to affect another subsequent thought in which it is interpreted.

Finally, no present actual thought (which is a mere feeling) has any meaning, any intellectual value; for this lies not in what is actually thought, but in what this thought may be connected with in representation by subsequent thoughts; so that the meaning of a thought is altogether something virtual (CP 5.289).

Actual thoughts are recognizable through their interpretations into other subsequent thoughts. It turns out that what we know about an object is its actual appearance. We cannot reflect on whether or not the same knowledge is always present if the object has no such appearance. This claim drew a lot of criticism against Peirce. It seems though, that he had anticipated such trouble and that is why, in his late years, he accepted the reality of the relation, which allowed him to elegantly avoid this objection.

At no one instant in my state of mind is there cognition or representation, but in the relation of my states of mind at different instants there is. In short, the Immediate (and therefore in itself unsusceptible of mediation - the Unanalyzable, the Inexplicable, the Unintellectual) runs in a continuous stream through our lives; it is the sum total of consciousness, whose mediation, which is the continuity of it, is brought about by a real effective force behind consciousness (CP 5.289).

What can we say, in conclusion, about a metaphor, which has an "as if" construction? On the one hand, it can preserve the appearance of a thought by paralleling it to another appearance. On the other, the metaphor connects it to a subsequent image, or thought-sign. In other words, it contains an embryo of an ever-changing thought, a code ready to unfold towards a new cultural milieu. Expressed in a different manner, one can say that the metaphor supervines on the basic thought, originating from the effete mind (our frozen experience). Elsewhere Peirce says that each Self is "incongruous as the metaphor is", which makes metaphor the ideal tool for conserving meaning and de-actualizing it by creating a new net of thought-connections to a different framework. A persistent follow-up of this direction can lead us into a hypostatic claim that we live in a kind of metaphorical continuum. Rather, let us stick for the time being to Peirce's hypothesis that we live in a giant thought: "Should every mind cease to think it for a while, for so long it ceases to exist. Its permanent existence is kept up by its being an idea in the mind of God" (CP 8.830).

In a recent monograph on the mind from a psychological point of view Bernard J. Baars writes a chapter, called Scientific Metaphors. It opens with the following paragraph:

Aren't metaphors pretty crude for thinking about difficult scientific problems? Actually, they have a long and honorable history in science as tools for making the perilous leap from the known to the unknown. The clockwork metaphor of the solar system was of great help to astronomers in the sixteen century, as a way to think about the swirling interplay among sun, earth and moon. About 1900 physicists found the Rutherford model of the atom as a tiny solar system useful for generating testable hypotheses. Darwinian evolution was a powerful qualitative metaphor for its first century of existence, and it is often still used today. Many scientific theories begin in this humble fashion. (Baars 1997: 53)

Why "metaphor"? Simply because most of our thinking flows as a permanent substituting process and we know something by comparing and relating it to something else, which is more familiar to us. Then we conceptualize the newly received knowledge, that is, we "store it" in our memory and it becomes a part of our previous experience.

The "formatted" experience is placed onto the giant mass of clichés (the effete mind) and between both combinations of almost immediate comparisons, measurements and relations, activated by the interactive Self, begin to flow. This is the phase of agapistic interpretation. New final or logical interpretants, produced as consequences, become re-active and create further habit-taking tendencies. The meeting of the effete and living minds through the mediation of the searching self opens up a process of producing incompleteness and vagueness, which are needed for fresh interpretation. Incompleteness and vagueness are just other names for generality, which is inherent in signs. All general terms (words, signs) are types: e.g. they have objects and interpretants, which generate an infinite number of new signs. But what do we recognize in the effete mind, how do we read its programs? How much are we helped by the substitution of "effete mind" with "a massif of clichés"? We experience its "thought-like" effects, produced as physical reactions to our searching selves. We do not hold any conversation with it, although we try to. This is again the desperate attempt to guess the future by asking ... the past. Let us turn to Peirce's own assessment of his theory:

I have thus developed as well as I could in a little space the synechistic philosophy, as applied to mind. I think that I have succeeded in making it clear that this doctrine gives room for explanations of many facts which without it are absolutely and hopelessly inexplicable; and further that it carries along with it the following doctrines: first, a logical realism of the most pronounced type; second, objective idealism; third, tychism, with its consequent thorough-going evolutionism. We also notice that the doctrine presents no hindrances to spiritual influences, such as some philosophies are felt to do (CP 6.163).

Can we not think of the effete mind as a mediate stage between mental and natural? Something, which is not yet nature, but is already different from a human phenomenon? Would it not be best to call it "mediate reality"? Such an assumption will repeat the vicious circle of the durated and indurated organisms. In some stricter Peircean terminology, effete matter could be named "sleeping Thirdness" in a paradigm where "Secondness" would be "immediate reality". Let us summarize its characteristics as derived by following Peirce's thought and by adding some contemporary achievements. The effete mind is an exhausted consciousness; it is real "beyond" reality, in the way in which the horizon always remains beyond the line where earth and sky meet. But it exists, and its existence is perceptible, just as thought is, by a human sense. And we have to stop to think of thought as something which is not alive. On the contrary, thought is "warm", like the warmth of the human body, and sensible like the susceptibility of human feeling.

The first character of a general idea so resulting is that it is living feeling. A continuum of this feeling, infinitesimal in duration, but still embracing innumerable parts, and also, though infinitesimal, entirely unlimited, is immediately present. And in its absence of boundedness a vague possibility of more than is present is directly felt (CP 6.138).

Peirce once uttered the following phrase: "The work of the poet or novelist is not so utterly different from that of the scientific man" (CP 1.383). Both introduce a fiction, which is not an arbitrary one. The artist's achievement evokes the approval of the audience, which pronounces it "beautiful", and this quality possesses a kind of generality. The geometer draws a diagram, which, although not fictitious, enables the viewer to trace unforeseen relationships between elements, which before seemed to have no necessary connection. Peirce repeats and deepens this comparison throughout his work. The main goal of conceptualization is a better orientation in the realm of ideas able to provide a clearer vision for human culture and conviviality. Like in Peirce's famous metaphor on the "consciousness as a bottomless lake", we may improve our togetherness by obtaining transparent ideas of our near future.

© Ivan Mladenov (Sofia)


Alexander, Ronald G. (1997). The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity. Aldershot/Hants: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Baars, Bernard J. (1997). In the Theater of Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Bakhtin, Michail M. (1987). Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist eds. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press

Davidson, Donald (1980). Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Clarendon

- (1984). Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon

Ludlow, Peter & Martin Norah (eds.)(1998). Externalism and Self-Knowledge. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications

Kim, Jaegwon (1996). Philosophy of Mind. Providence, RI: Brown University / Westview Press

Peirce, Charles Sanders (1931-1966). Collected Papers of ... 8 vols. Eds. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss & A.W. Burks. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press [cited CP vol. & paragraph]

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Moderation / Chair: Jeff Bernard
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

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Ivan Mladenov (Sofia): The Method of Conceptualizing Signs from Everyday Life. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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