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Human Lifeworlds

The Cognitive Semiotics of Cultural Evolution

Edited By David Dunér and Göran Sonesson

This book, which presents a cognitive-semiotic theory of cultural evolution, including that taking place in historical time, analyses various cognitive-semiotic artefacts and abilities. It claims that what makes human beings human is fundamentally the semiotic and cultural skills by means of which they endow their Lifeworld with meaning. The properties that have made human beings special among animals living in the terrestrial biosphere do not derive entirely from their biological-genetic evolution, but also stem from their interaction with the environment, in its culturally interpreted form, the Lifeworld. This, in turn, becomes possible thanks to the human ability to learn from other thinking beings, and to transfer experiences, knowledge, meaning, and perspectives to new generations.
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Göran Sonesson - Chapter One : Lifeworlds: The Cognitive Semiotics of Culture


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Göran Sonesson

Chapter One

Lifeworlds: The Cognitive Semiotics of Culture

Human specificity emerges in evolution and is reflected in the human brain and body. It has been suggested, however, notably by Merlin Donald (1991, 2001), that part of that which makes human beings different from other animals develops in history, and thus is transmitted, not from body to body, by means of genomes, but from mind to mind, using at least in part the intermediary of external memory devices (Donald’s “exograms”; see Donald 2010). As a parallel to children’s development it might be surmised that human history serves as an all-purpose bootstrapping mechanism (see Tomasello 2008). The details of such a process remain unclear, however. History, as here understood, is not exclusively that of war mongering, nor politics or statistics. It is the history of thinking and of the resulting artefacts. To clarify what is specific to human history, we need to adopt the approach of cognitive semiotics, which is a new field that integrates the cognitive sciences and semiotics (see Section 0.1). The aim of the present chapter is to introduce the particular version of cognitive semiotics cultivated in Lund, which is very much inspired in Husserlean phenomenology, to relate it to the evolutionary schema proposed by Merlin Donald, and to develop a more thick historical approach than is customary using the models of culture proposed within the semiotics of culture.1

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