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Meaning, Mind and Communication

Explorations in Cognitive Semiotics

Edited By Jordan Zlatev, Göran Sonesson and Piotr Konderak

This volume constitutes the first anthology of texts in cognitive semiotics – the new transdisciplinary study of meaning, mind and communication that combines concepts and methods from semiotics, cognitive science and linguistics – from a multitude of established and younger scholars. The chapters deal with the interaction between language and other semiotic resources, the role of consciousness and concepts, the nature of metaphor, the specificity of human evolution and development, the relation between cognitive semiotics and related fields, and other central topics. They are grouped in four sections: (i) Meta-theoretical perspectives, (ii) Semiotic development and evolution, (iii) Meaning across media, modes and modalities, (iv) Language, blends and metaphors.

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Chapter 15. Symmetrical Reasoning in Language and Culture: On Ritual Knots and Embodied Cognition (Jamin Pelkey)


Jamin Pelkey

Chapter 15

Symmetrical Reasoning in Language and Culture: On Ritual Knots and Embodied Cognition

1. Introduction

What are the origins of symmetrical reasoning? This is a salient question. Not only is it focal to the research introduced in this paper, it also happens to be the final question posed to the closing plenary lecturer, rounding out a recent high-profile gathering on cognitive semiotics.1 Before addressing the question or its response, it will be helpful to pose (and answer) a prior question: What is symmetrical reasoning? Technically speaking, symmetrical reasoning appears to be the inverse reciprocal blending of a sign vehicle and a semiotic object in some process of heuristic learning relevant to the ends of a given (human) interpretant. To illustrate, consider Helen Keller’s famous awakening to linguistic communication. Her breakthrough was not merely a realization that the sensation of water on her skin was related to the arbitrary hand-signals of her caregiver (a unidirectional mapping) but, more importantly, that the caregiver’s hand-signals could also be generalized to evoke water, even when water was not physically required or present to the senses.2 The latter mapping is dynamic and ambidirectional, involving inverse antisymmetries, or “chiasmus” patterning, that can be formally rendered water : signal :: signal’ : water’. In short, Keller’s famous realization is not so much an awakening to the existence of symbols as it is an awakening to the reflexive, symmetrical potential of symbolic activity for modeling possible worlds.


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