Semiotic Ennead

C.S. Peirce (1839-1914) very much realised himself that something fundamental was still missing in ‘his’ Semiotic Triad. But he didn’t really manage to develop a structural solution to fill in the gap. Peirce, however, did articulate an essential relationship between the Sign and its ever accompanying environment; the “Ground” – as he called it.

P.E. Wisse (1952) substantially advanced Peirce’s concept of the Ground. He developed Peirce’s semiotic triad into a semiotic ennead (2002). Wisse evolved the three elements of Peirce’s irreducible triad – Meaning, Object and Sign – into dimensions of the same name and populated each dimension with three elements, yielding an irreducible semiotic ennead with, of course, nine elements. Please do have a look at the semiotic ennead as pictured and explained below:

Meaning: Motive – Focus – Concept.
Humans are Motivated beings. A human being is able to Focus his attention to something, thereby concluding to a certain Concept – depending on his Motive. In this way the Meaning dimension carries subsequently Motive – Focus – Concept as its three elements. Focus can be seen as a movable point on the Meaning dimension. Moving Focus yields differing Motive/Concept ratios. The more developed ones Motive, the more clear-cut the emerging Concept which, in turn, leads to effective Behaviour. The other way around: a limited or vague Motive yields a rather blurry Concept from which a variety of Behaviours can/will come about.

Object: Situation – Identity – Behaviour.
Interpretation of Signs leads to particular Behaviour. Particular Behaviour never happens an sich, but is always closely related to the Situation at hand. In other words: Behaviour is outright Situational. Behaviour is linked to Situation by means of a movable point on the Object dimension: Identity. On this Object dimension subsequently appear: Situation – Identity – Behaviour. The more clear/detailed the Situation, the less room there is for Behavioural variety. The other way around: A vague/unrecognised Situation leaves much room for ineffective (unintended) Behaviour.

Sign (information): Context – Signature – Intext.
Via a continuous stream of Signs (information) there is an ever ongoing interplay between the dimensions Object and Meaning. The dimension Sign gets its three elements analogue to the other two dimensions assigned as Context – Signature – Intext respectively. Over here, Signature is the movable point on the Sign dimension that connects the various and varying Context/Intext ratios. If we do not understand each other – caused by a poor Intext, we ask for further explanation, i.e. for additional Context. The other way around: A word (tiny Intext) is enough to the wise (having a rich Context).

Next you find (just) one example of how to ‘read’ the semiotic ennead presented in this article. If you, finding yourself in a certain Situation – which is Sign-ed to you as Context, for one reason or another (Motive) Focus on something; an Object – being Sign-ed to you as Intext…, you develop an interpretation (a Concept annex Meaning) of that something (Object) in that Situation. Developed Meaning yields Behaviour; Behaviour being Situation-ally dependent. Identity – the identification of Object in a certain Situation – functions as a kind of hinge point connecting as well as distinguishing Situation and Behaviour in reality (Object dimension). We take Signs (information) regarding Behaviour as Intext – connected to Meaning in our brains. Signs regarding the Situation are taken as Context – connected to Motive in our brains.

In case two individual human beings mutually behave themselves (communicate, collaborate etc.)… each individual can be, informationally speaking, seen as a semiotic ennead. Together – dia-enneadically – they continually produce and observe (sense) and interpret (make sense of) signs: they ‘do’ sign exchange.

Each individual semiosis (a mainly internal process) ends with an external Sign; a Sign that, when observed, starts a next semiosis at the sign observer – also ending in an external sign etc. etc.

Well… What do you think? You might think of the semiotic ennead as a complicated (looking) model. But… I sincerely hope that you also had a bit of an eye-opening experience, since the model makes crystal-clear the vast and true dynamics of human information processing.

How do current information systems support this human way of information processing – being dia-enneadic to the core? Well, our modern and advanced information systems only explicitly bother themselves with processing… Intext. Thereby simply discarding the dynamics of human information processing. Context is left largely implicit – if at all present. And deprived from its Context, the meaning of the decapitated Intext soon becomes muddled and obscure – to say the least. Intext can not meaningfully ‘live’ without its accompanying Context. It’s Context that fuels Intext’s Concepts annex Meaning. It’s Situation that incites Motivated Behaviour (please, do check this out yourself with the model presented above).

Sign traffic between humans becomes meaningful – Sign-ificant – if the sign observer is able to understand, to construct the intended meaning of the sign producer. The addition of Context to Intext optimally enables human beings to become pragmatically interoperable when using digital technology. Intext all by itself cannot provide pragmatic, or, say, human interoperability.

What do you think? Does human/pragmatic interoperability explicitly need the Context-Intext association? Are you willing to take a next step on the path of Meaning-ful information provisioning? Or… do you rather stick to the familiar Intext-only way?

September 2011, Copyright (c) 2011 – Jan van Til/Information Roundabout

1. The model of Wisse’s semiotic ennead I used in the picture above, originates from Wisse’s book (and dissertation) Semiosis & Sign Exchange – Design for a Subjective Situationism, including Conceptual Grounds of Business Information Modeling (2002): figure 4.5.2 at p146. Later on Wisse refined his semiotic ennead; see, for instance, figure 6 from his article Victoria Welby’s significs meets the semiotic ennead (2003).
2. The Dia Enneadic Sign Exchange model originates from Wisse’s article Dia-enneadic framework for information concepts (2003): Figure 4, Framework of information concepts.

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