published on May 23, 2019
The Psammetichus Syndrome and Beyond
Five Experimental Approaches to Meaning-Making
Thanks to Bruno Galantucci, “experimental semiotics” is usually nowadays taken to mean the study of “novel forms of communication which people develop when they cannot use pre-established communication systems”. In spite of Galantucci’s claim to have picked the label because it was free, it has actually been used in different ways at least twice before: by Colin Ware, who takes it to be involved with “the elucidation of symbols that gain their meaning by being structured to take advantage of the human sensory apparatus”, as opposed to conventional meaning-making, and by Kashima and Haslam, who apply it to complex social situations. The label could also conveniently be used to describe the kind of experiment that we have realized at Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, which are classical psychological experiments which have been enriched with a focus on the particular semiotic resources involved, while also applying phenomenological analysis to both the experimental situation and its outcome. These are all reductive uses of the terms “experimental” and “semiotics”. In fact, although Galantucci himself refers to Psammetichus’s famous experiment as being roughly analogous to his understanding of experimental semiotics, there are important differences, the Psammetichus experiment, in spite of its intentions, being more unbiased, if it could really be accomplished. Pursuing the principle that I have called the dialects of phenomenology and experiment, and what Jordan Zlatev has termed the conceptual-empirical loop, I will suggest, in the present paper, that these different experimental approaches can be related to different varieties of semiosis, thus helping us to spell out the full task of the discipline termed cognitive semiotics. This, in turn, will help us determine the full scope of cognitive semiotics, while also highlighting the importance of the semiotic part, that is, the attention to meaning, revealed by phenomenology.