Naturalizing Peirce's Semiotics: Ecological Psychology's Solution to the Problem of Creative Abduction

In W. Carnielli L. Magnani (ed.), Model-Based Reasoning in Science and Technology. pp. 31--50 (2010)
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"It is difficult not to notice a curious unrest in the philosophic atmosphere of the time, a loosening of old landmarks, a softening of oppositions, a mutual borrowing from one another on the part of systems anciently closed, and an interest in new suggestions, however vague, as if the one thing sure were the inadequacy of extant school-solutions. The dissatisfactions with these seems due for the most part to a feeling that they are too abstract and academic. Life is confused and superabundant, and what the younger generation appears to crave is more of the temperament of life in its philosophy, even though it were at some cost of logical rigor and formal purity." - William James (1904). Abstract: The study of model-based reasoning (MBR) is one of the most interesting recent developments at the intersection of psychology and the philosophy of science. Although a broad and eclectic area of inquiry, one central axis by which MBR connects these disciplines is anchored at one end in theories of internal reasoning (in cognitive science), and at the other, in C.S. Peirce’s semiotics (in philosophy). In this paper, we attempt to show that Peirce’s semiotics actually has more natural affinity on the psychological side with ecological psychology, as originated by James J. Gibson and especially Egon Brunswik, than it does with non-interactionist approaches to cognitive science. In particular, we highlight the strong ties we believe to exist between the triarchic structure of semiotics as conceived by Peirce, and the similar triarchic stucture of Brunswik’s lens model of organismic achievement in irreducibly uncertain ecologies. The lens model, considered as a theory of creative abduction, provides a concrete instantiation of at least one, albeit limited, interpretation of Peirce’s semiotics, one that we believe could be quite fruitful in future theoretical and empirical investigations of MBR in both science an philosophy.

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Alex Kirlik
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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