Living by Models
An Interdisciplinary Study in Modeling Systems Theory
Aims and Scope
This book provides an intensive interdisciplinary study of Modeling Systems Theory (MST), a significant post-modern theoretical framework that transcends the long cold war between the Saussurean and the Peircean traditions of the studies of the sign.
In most academic attempts to adopt a semiotic approach to complex diverse human cultural phenomena, academics generally tend to choose discretely from the Peircean and the Saussurean traditions and conduct dispersive analyses from isolated perspectives via such basic concepts as sign, text, code and metaphor. This practice not only leads to the frequent occurrence of repetitions, contradictions and partiality, but also excludes the semiosic Subject. However, as this book attempts to argue, the late world-renowned American scholar Thomas A. Sebeok (1920-2001), with his unique thought on semiotic modeling, created an integrated research framework and provided semiotics with a unified theoretical system that transcends both traditions and particularly accentuates the dynamic pluralism of the Subject.
One of the most important contemporary semioticians, linguists and masters of cultural studies, Sebeok made enormous contributions to the progress of world semiotics through his distinguished theoretical achievements and practical activities, which have extended a determinative influence on laying the groundwork and pointing out the directions for the development of semiotics, especially biosemiotics, in the second half of the 20th century. The scope of Sebeok's trans-disciplinary semiotic thought is extraordinarily large, in the center of which lies Modeling Systems Theory. As this book will show, MST has perfectly demonstrated a dialectic globality and an open dialogism and has already become a significant subject matter of contemporary international semiotic studies.
Sebeok's reformation of the critical Lotmanian concept of modeling has indeed made a significant contribution to our common cause of semiotic inquiries, especially cognitive semiotics. However, contemporary studies on Sebeok's thought on modeling are largely confined to introductions and applications. Seldom has the possibility arisen that they can also be tested, expanded and refined through interactions and collaborations with other research findings in order to remain a living system and become a more functional one. This conviction has directly inspired the author to incorporate into semiotics the latest confirmed discoveries in neurocognitive sciences, particularly cultural neuroscience, and thus formulate that the process of semiosis has an effective deep-shaping power over the individual human modeler. Put another way, aside from the long established Pericean belief that signs philosophically and epistemologically make us what we are, it should be noted that the behavior of modeling actually influences and even alters the organic make-up and biological structure of the human body, in particular the human brain. In a nutshell, we literally live by models.
This book argues that the birth of MST actually underwent two critical transformational phases, from Sebeok's early responses to the Tartu-Moscow School in the 1970s, all the way up to the eventual proposal of the concept of models as the forms of meaning in the year of 2000. In addition, through a diachronic contrast between the two developmental phases of the Sebeokian view of modeling, and in-depth analyses of the taxonomy and the dimensionality of modeling, this book shows that MST has achieved the first genuine systematic merging and creative transcendence of the Saussurean and the Peircean traditions in the history of semiotic inquiries, successfully actualizing an internal-external semiosic integration.
MST views meaning as an internal model and the generation of the former as the working of the latter. Based on this ground and some latest relevant findings of neurocognitive sciences and social psychology, this book holds that the generation of meaning is a dynamic Subjective process of semiosis. This conclusion consists of two closely interrelated facets: the semi-autonomy of meaning generation and the deep dynamic co-shaping effect between the Subject and its models in meaning generation. Extending this conclusion, this book proceeds to argue that there is a relationship of co-shaping coevolution between culture and humans. Meanwhile, this book comments on and analyses the methodological features of MST and Sebeok's contradictions and also provides a corresponding solution as well as directions for future research.
The whole book also features critical analyses of quintessential Eastern and Western sociocultural practices and fictional narratives through the conceptual framework of Modeling Systems Theory, based on the author's own recent researches on MST, as a critical application that sheds new light on modeling, communication and cognition, which highlights the significance of subjectivity, the plurality of meaning generation, the dynamic nature of Umwelten, and shared emotions in human modeling activities. Two representatives have been chosen as cases in point to study fictional narratives, viz. fiction and movies.
The above-mentioned interdisciplinary critiques, synthesis and applications in this book bring to light sa hidden fundamental mechanism that underlies the diversified manifestations of sign activities in and across different human societies and cultures. It is also believed to be able to facilitate the understanding of human cognition and communication from a dynamic semiotic perspective.
The book can be used as a reference book for readers who are interested in the fields of semiotics, linguistics, literary theory, cognitive sciences, communication, cultural studies, and so on.