Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 11, No 2 (2015)

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Streams Touching Consciousness: Sensoriality and the Ontology of Repetition

Katja Pettinen, Myrdene Anderson


The nature and the role of sensation sit at the heart of classic enlightenment debates about the nature of knowledge.  While these debates, in their modern form, came into being several hundred years ago, many key words from them remain with us today.  As a result, a number of culturally particular assumptions also remain as part of the semantic composition of these words (e.g. Wierbicka 2010).  In the following, we examine such assumptions, particularly in relation to sensoriality.  We contrast the classic empiricist and rationalist views on sensation, including their broader epistemological stakes, and bring forth a third account through Peircean semiotics.  We suggest that the classic debate between rationalists and empiricists can be re-examined by asking how repetition exists in the world.  By thinking about the ontology of repetition, and by highlighting some of the basic semiotic principles of this, we suggest that sensoriality needs to be recognized as a dynamical system rather than a system that exists for the documenting of "what there is".  In this account, neither sensoriality nor the nature of existence, including the physical world, are anchored toward absolutes on any level.  This point, however, does not lead us toward rationalist claims about the non-importance of senses or the body, but toward recognition that while patterns and stability play a significant role in living systems, there is always room for plasticity and open-endedness.  It is in this space between stability and change, where meaning is brought into being.

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