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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2015, Issue 205


Semiotic analysis of the observer in relativity, quantum mechanics, and a possible theory of everything

Vern S. Poythress
Published Online: 2015-05-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0006


Semiotic analysis of the role of the observer in the theory of relativity and in quantum mechanics shows the semiotic function of basic symmetries, such as symmetries under translation and rotation. How can semiotics be relevant to theories in physics? It is always human beings who form the theories. In the process of theory formation and communication, they rely on semiotic systems. Included among these systems is the semiotics involved in our pre-theoretical human understanding of space, time, and motion. Semiotic systems thereby have an influence on theories in physics. As a result, key concepts in fundamental physical theory have affinities with semiotics. In terms of Kenneth Pike’s tagmemic theory, applied as a theory of theories, all symmetries take the form of distributional constraints. The additional symmetry under Lorentz transformations introduced by the special theory of relativity fits into the same pattern. In addition, constraints introduced by the addition of general relativity suggest the form and limitations that might be taken by a “theory of everything” encompassing general relativity and quantum field theory.

Keywords: theory of relativity; quantum mechanics; symmetry; theory of everything; perspectives; tagmemics


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About the article

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress (b. 1946) is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. His research interests include hermeneutics, mathematical linguistics, and theology. His publications include The gender-neutral Bible controversy (2000); Redeeming science (2006); In the beginning was the word: Language – a God-centered approach (2009); and Redeeming sociology (2011).

Published Online: 2015-05-19

Published in Print: 2015-06-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2015, Issue 205, Pages 149–167, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0006.

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