Sara Cannizzaro

Sara Cannizzaro

  • London Metropolitan University
  • Sir John Cass department of art, media and design
Participant in 2008

Phd Projects


Cognition, Modelling and Culture: A Systems Theory Approach

The focus of this PhD project is the study of cultural systems as semiotic systems. The project starts from considering the existing debate in semiotic studies that concerns the nature of language and the role it plays in the formation of culture. During the past century, the structure of the linguistic system has been the key focus of research works from de Saussure (1983), Barthes (1977), Zaliznjak (1977), Chomsky (1957) and Lotman (2001), who envisaged linguistic structure as the basis of all other systems of signs. Taking his cue from Tartu Semiotics, Sebeok put forward the innovative idea of semiosis taking place, at root, in communication between cells (1979), a notion which lies at the basis of Biosemiotics (1991) and Modelling Systems Theory (2000). According to MST, cultural systems evolve out of natural language, a primary cognitive system which is present in all living beings. Human cultures therefore would be ‘kept together’ on a first level by imitative processes of representation (Primary Modelling), on a second level by syntactic rules (Secondary Modelling), and would become established with the formation (and evolution) of tertiary paradigmatic structures (Tertiary Modelling). The method that I propose in this research project consists in the systematic integration of Sebeok’s Modelling Systems Theory into other conceptions of systemic theories, particularly those of Luhmann (1995), Lotman (2001),, and Serres (2007). The aim is to trace the archaeology of common concepts (Deely, 2008, forthcoming) in the attempt to provide the ground for the synthesis of a newly implemented semiotic systems theory. Specifically, starting from the premises that cultural systems can be conceived as systems of communications, this project seeks: 1/ To explore the relationship between semiosis, cognition and communication. 2/ To qualify the role of natural language within a general systems’ theory. 3/ To focus on both the relationship between natural language and technology, and between technology and culture in order to understand their contribution to the process of emergence, sustainment and evolution of cultural systems. Particular attention will need to be given to the problem of translation of fundamental concepts – entropy, work, identity, homogeneity, heterogeneity, harmony, noise etc., from the physical and information sciences to the field of human communication – which entangles the problem of interpretation – and vice versa. In the attempt to bring together the benefits of both reductive and non-reductive approaches to philosophy, system semiotics will be framed as a discipline bridging the gap between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences.

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