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The American Journal of Semiotics


published on August 23, 2019

Martin Švantner

Inferring Ears
Cognitive Semiotics and Musical Anthroposemiosis

This paper draws attention to two important and fruitful anecdotes from history useful for the development of a cognitive semiotic approach to music. The first is from Peirce’s writings, describing a complete structural change of understanding, perception and listening to music. Peirce describes the invention of a specific cognitive pidgin and the emergence of new social, embodied and cerebral habits. This emergence is shown in the example of Peirce’s friend who allegedly lost his sense of hearing but still enjoys music—no thanks to his ears. The second case study considers the “inferring ear” of Jimi Hendrix and his cooperation with Miles Davis, who taught Hendrix how to codify what he heard. Hence these anecdotes open pathways into the problem of the nature of musical perception, useful for exploring the codification and learning of music in particular. The nature of these abilities may be seen as intersubjective mimetics that are mediated through suprasubjective, triadic, embodied relations (signs). The article analyzes these topics from a point of view of a Peircean framework (with detours into the work of T. Deacon, V. Colapietro and G. Deleuze), aming to show the interconnections between such perspectives and some examples of contemporary neuroscientific research in this field.

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