Peirce’s synechistic understanding between mind and matter

Following Peirce’s principle of continuity (synechism) minds are understood in Peircean process semiotics as continuous to other minds and to environments. Peirce adopts a monistic view of matter and mind as different states of the same process: “matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws” (Peirce CP 6.25). There is no ontological distinction, here, between mental processes and material processes. The distinction that Peirce’s semiotics makes is between dyadic and triadic processes, but not between mental and material. The synechistic understanding between mind and matter is well exemplified in the quote below, in which Peirce formulates his own version of a parity principle (Clark & Chalmers), anticipating distributed cognition and extended mind thesis:

A psychologist cuts out a lobe of my brain… and then, when I find I cannot express myself, he says, ‘You see your faculty of language was localized in that lobe.’ No doubt it was; and so, if he had filched my inkstand, I should not have been able to continue my discussion until I had got another, Yea, the very thoughts would not come to me. So my faculty of discussion is equally localized in my inkstand. It is localization in a sense in which a thing may be in two places at once. (Peirce CP 7.366)

In this quote, Peirce considers a cognitive function as simultaneously materialized in the brain and in a material artifact. Peirce’s theory of mind is encapsulated in the thesis: all thought is in signs (MS[R] 654:3; EP 1:30; CP 1.538, 5.265, 6.338). The definition of mind is indistinguishable from the definition of a system that can embody semiosis: “a mind may, with advantage, be roughly defined as a sign-creator in connection with a reaction-machine” (MS [R] 318:18, quoted at Bergman…Paavola…). A mind is a sign interpretation process (Ransdell 1977). 

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Joao Queiroz & Pedro Ata

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