Semiotics, defined

Thanks to Umberto Eco and the Foucault’s Pendulum, as well as Dan Brown’s Robet Langdon from the Da Vinci code, semiotics gained a bigger place in the mainstream noosphere.

From Wikipedia’s entry on Semiotics.

Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is made and understood. Semioticians also sometimes examine how organisms, no matter how big or small, make predictions about and adapt to their semiotic niche in the world (see Semiosis). Semiotics theorises at a general level about signs, while the study of the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics.

The term, then spelt semeiotics (Greek: σημειοτικοσ, semeiotikos, an interpreter of signs), was first used in English by Henry Stubbes (1670, p. 75) in a very precise sense to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs. John Locke (1690) used the term semeiotics in Book 4, Chapter 21 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Here he explains how science can be divided into three parts:

All that can fall within the compass of human understanding, being either, first, the nature of things, as they are in themselves, their relations, and their manner of operation: or, secondly, that which man himself ought to do, as a rational and voluntary agent, for the attainment of any end, especially happiness: or, thirdly, the ways and means whereby the knowledge of both the one and the other of these is attained and communicated; I think science may be divided properly into these three sorts. (Locke, 1823/1963, p. 174).

Locke then elaborates on the nature of this third category, naming it Σημειωτικη (Semeiotike) and explaining it as “the doctrine of signs” in the following terms:

Nor is there any thing to be relied upon in Physick, but an exact knowledge of medicinal phisiology (founded on observation, not principles), semeiotics, method of curing, and tried (not excogitated,[1] not commanding) medicines. (Locke, 1823/1963, 4.21.4, p. 175).

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