Nonsensical signs

“A tweeting egg! This struck Alice as very odd; she had only ever heard of birds being able to tweet. But then again, birds did come from eggs, so it made sense they should have this ability from the outset” (52). That’s Alice’s first impression of Trumpty Dumpty sitting on a wall in the satirical…More

Diagrammatics 101

Drawings, sketches and illustrations belong to the interpretative arts. Then there are diagrams. As iconic signs, diagrams make fewer claims in the realms of creativity and imagination, but they do have to be interpreted. Diagrams are in the company of charts, graphs and tables the authors of which extract the salient features of a phenomenon, show…More

Peirce decoded

Whether or not you agree with C.S. Peirce’s semiotic system, there’s something about his diagrams. A search on Google Images for “Peirce sign categories” reveals an industry of diagrammatic interpretations and reinterpretations that would appeal to anyone with an interest in the cryptographic. I’m going to add to that collection some further abstract diagrams, or…More

The power of ten

Ten is a good number. Ten of anything implies that the set is complete and finished. This, at least, is the account given by scholar Indra McEwen of the Pythagorean legacy on which the architectural theorist Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. 70-15BC) drew in writing his Ten Books of Architecture. McEwen argues that the division of…More

What does a theory look like?

What do theories look like? They are shaped like triangles. Theories are triangular. I am being glib, but according to one of the top OED definitions, a theory is a “collection of theorems forming a connected system.” The least number of entities that can be connected to create a number of relationships greater than the number…More


Many of us new to the details of C.S. Peirce’s sign categories find them difficult to define, identify, remember, recall and use. As Miss Brodie said of the use of the quarter hour, I refuse to be intimidated by Peirce’s fine semiological distinctions. I’m assuming Peirce’s system constitutes a kind of brain trainer, the understanding…More

Semiotic shock

In his 1903 article “Nomenclature and divisions of triadic relations, as far as they are determined,” C.S. Peirce outlined 10 classes of signs based on 3 combinations of 3 terms. Whatever his classifications tell us about categories of signs and meanings, there’s a seductive geometry to his formulation, and some anomalies. His three semiotic terms…More

Index fever

In writing about the post-digital condition, media commentator Florian Cramer identified a “semiotic shift to the indexical”(22) and away from symbols. The indexical relationship is a direct connection between an object and its sign, as if the sign is caused by its object (as smoke or soot are caused by fire). According to C.S. Peirce,…More

Calculating belief

In previous posts I referenced C.S. Peirce’s (1839-1914) concept of abduction, or evidential reasoning, i.e. establishing the support a particular proposition (hypothesis) has from evidence. The theories of the Presbyterian minister/statistician Thomas Bayes (1702-1761) has relevance here. Peirce knew of Bayes’s work on probability though he didn’t support Bayes’s approach to mathematical reasoning. Never-the-less, Bayesian…More

Climate change and doubt

Who could doubt, in the face of evidence from climate science, “that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (10)! That’s from the recent report by the US-based Global Change Research Program. The report maintains that from the…More