Volume 12 · Number 3 · Pages 342–352

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Music as Semiotic Eigenbehavior

Douglas Walter Scott

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Context: There is a long-running dispute within musicology regarding the relationship between music and language. The widespread acceptance of the position that music and language are distinct communicative modalities has encouraged the development of semiotic approaches that are similarly distinct. Problem: What would a semiotic theory look like that, while accepting the distinction of the modalities, unifies the semiotic approach under a single banner, together with logic? Method: The theory proposed for this role is that of the “semiotic eigencycle,” the workings of which are explored in terms of von Foerster’s trivial machines by considering musical temperament, and then in terms of non-trivial machines through an analysis of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony nr. 6 “Pathétique.” Results: The result is a view of music as an expression of a cognitive modality alongside those of natural language and logic, each of which constitutes irreducible phases of a single cognitive semiotic process. Such an approach allows music to inform semiotics as much as semiotics informs musicology. Implications: One of the unexpected implications of this view is that it suggests a way to understand the objective/subjective dichotomy as a construction, which may be of assistance in the maintenance of a methodological rejection thereof in more general discourse. Constructivist content: The article relies on the ideas of eigenforms and eigenbehavior, first proposed by von Foerster. The radical constructivist framework of von Glasersfeld is adopted throughout and forms the basis of much of the reasoning.

Key words: Music, semiotic eigencycle, non-trivial machines, radical constructivism.


Scott D. W. (2017) Music as semiotic eigenbehavior. Constructivist Foundations 12(3): 342–352. http://constructivist.info/12/3/342

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