Semiotics

Biology is the study of living organisms. Yet we also use this term to talk about the biology of the foot, say.

Psychology is the study of the mental functions, behaviors, and emotions. Yet we also use this term to talk about the psychology of employees, say.

In like manner, semiotics is the study signs, symbols, meaning, and communication. Yet we can also talk about the semiotics of automobiles, say. When we do this we mean all the signs, symbols, semantics, pragmatics, psychologies, and so on that can be meaningfully and significantly understood in terms of semiotics.

When we use the term semiotics in this way, we find that we can say interesting things about how people communicate, or fail to communicate. We can invent a term like “semiotic bundle” to indicate the rather messy tangle of signs, symbols, feelings, words, and so on that comprise some identifiable class or type of “meaning.” As in the example above, we can talk about the semiotic bundles that involve automobiles—racing cars, motorcycles, electric cars, small cars, trucks, etc. Each of these entities is a semiotic bundle that has identifiable clusters of meanings and psychologies associated with it.

You can study any semiotic bundle in great detail or you can move the whole mass around in your head in a way similar to how you may move the semiotic bundle of Chinese history around in your head. In Buddhist terms a semiotic bundle is empty, dependently originated, dependent on conditions, impermanent, and subject to delusion.

A problem with semiotic bundles is we become caught in them and can’t escape from them, especially on interpersonal levels. And this happens because the words we speak are always referring to one or more semiotic bundles; they are always right next to semiotic bundles, are generated out of semiotics bundles.

If I am not able to get you to explain what the semiotic bundle that underlies your words is, then I cannot know your meaning reliably. I have to guess. Go ahead and ask your partner or friend a question about the semiotic bundles underlying their words. You will almost always find their their semiotic bundle was not what you had thought. Your guess was wrong. In interpersonal/emotionally-charged communications, this is a crucial mistake.

Even if your guess is only sometimes wrong, it can produce big problems. If your interpersonal communications are not cleared of wrong guesses (mistakes), you will begin to have interpersonal problems based on those mistakes.

It follows, then, that clearing up mistakes as quickly as possible is of vital importance to a successful interpersonal relationship. If we don’t clear up the mistakes quickly enough (usually within a few seconds), we will forget the origin of the mistake. By ignoring small interpersonal mistakes, we force ourselves to depend on unexamined semiotic bundles. These bundles may be public (known to many people) or private (known only to you). Either way, if they are mistaken, the interpersonal relationship in question will become less true, more deluded, less satisfying, more dangerous.

There is no way around this because this is how language and semiotics actually work. They don’t work in some other way.

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