Constructing Representema:
on the Neurosemiotics of Self and Vision


Donald Favareau

University of California, Los Angeles

3300 Rolfe Hall, Los Angeles, California, 90095 U.S.A.



Portions of this paper have been previously published in Sign Systems Studies Volume 30.1 entitled “Beyond self and other: On the neurosemiotic emergence of inter-subjectivity”


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Convergent evidence from research into the neurobiology of vision reveals that the visual image is not something received whole from the environment and then presented to the mind. Rather, the evolution of the eye itself rests upon the evolution of a cell that over eons of interaction has been tuned to respond selectively to a range of photon configurations in the surrounding environment. Such cells in the aggregate interact with a vast distribution of other selectively specialized cells in the human brain to actively co_construct and result in a visual image that is not the product of brute mechanical reception and transmission, but of semiosis. This paper explores the suggestion that at the eye, like the entirety of the sensory sheet, functions as a sign_vehicle, the proper significate effect of whose cell_by_cell activity is not brute presentation in the dyadic sense, but an entire cascade of top_down and bottom_up, recursively generating semiosis mediating multiple levels of interpretive and life_sustaining activity and interaction. Using the neurobiology of vision as a paradigm case of neurosemiotic organization and interaction, then what is true for the eye is also, as Wittgenstein remarked, true for the ‘I.’ That is to say that on the neural level, Self _ ‘the Subject felt’ _ no less than ‘the Object seen’ is an ongoing, emergent product of sign_exchange activity which is embedded in cells which are embedded in brains which are embedded in bodies which are embedded in worlds _ a rich construction of internally biological, externally physical and historically situated and semiotically sedimented conceptual elements none of which enjoy a privileged or autonomous causality in structuring or determining the resultant symbolic relation which is then presented, seen, or bought to mind.

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