WHAT IS SEMIOPHYSICS?
©1997 Dennis Leri
What is SemioPhysics? The term originates with the French mathematician Rene Thom, developer of Catastrophe Theory. As Thom characterizes it: To begin with, why the neologism, Semiophysics? I wanted to refer to an expression used by Jean Petitot in his thesis (1) where he presented the use of models in catastrophe theory as the "physics of meaning" -(physique du sens).
At the time, the expression hardly appeared justified to me, since physics has very precise quantitative laws (they are its characteristic feature...) whereas the same could not be said for models of signification. However, a deeper analysis of the notion of genus in Aristotle's sense revealed to me a richer structure in these "semantic fields" than I had at first suspected. In these spaces there reigns a certain generativity, incomplete and abortive to be true, but present all the same.
What then is the object of this Semiophysics? Semiophysics is concerned in the first place with the seeking out of significant forms; it aims to build up a general theory of intelligibility. In fact the problem is quasi-experimental. Put someone in a projection booth and project a film for him that represents some abstract morphology in evolution. Then ask your guinea pig whether what he sees has any meaning for him, and, if so, to describe it. The hypothesis put forward here is that only certain configurations of elements really make sense and can be used as a basis for an intelligible construction that allows linguistic description. It's a question of picking out of the spectacle stable elements in the shape of balls that will interact through contact, merge together, separate, be born and die (fade away) like living beings. These are salient forms. Such beings will also be able to interact at a distance thanks to invisible go-betweens like light and sound. If morphology presented only a tangled mass of teeming and ramifying forms, then it would be difficult to discern meaning in it -- except by assimilating into it luxuriant plant proliferation or the chaotic disorder of the raging sea. In this direction we find what I call pregnances, propagating from salient form to salient form which they invest as they go; the invested form consequently suffers a change of state (figurative effect) and can, as a result, re-emit the pregnance which may or may not have been modified, (the coding effect).
I have found it useful to put apposite Thom's notion of a quasi-experiment and Feldenkrais' notion of a lesson whether it be an 'awareness through movement' (ATM) lesson or a Functional Integration© (FI©) lesson. Each ATM lesson is a kind of experiment in tinkering with how it is that we construct experience. The lessons are a mixture of action, thought, attention and intention. Lasting 45 minutes to an hour a participant interprets a series of verbal indications designed to set up a process of sensori-motoric enquiry. That enquiry not only concerns itself with what we are doing but, more importantly, with how it is being done. There is no visual modelling of the actions to be performed. The learning is not imitative. No student is held to any standard other than their own. On the student's side, the learning requires sensitivity to one's own limits. ATM lessons, from their side, provide the means to exceed habitual limits by reorganizing one's patterns of action. Rather than using more effort in one's present patterns one reduces the effort so that the action becomes virtually effortless. One, in effect, learns how to learn. The participant thereby enacts for her or him self a new view of themselves and their world. Functional Integration lessons are one to one sessions with essentially the same dynamics. An FI© differs in that the practitioner will use his or her hands and/or words to tailor the lesson to the needs of the student. Not only will one find some forms, patterns and sequences of movements more intelligible and more compelling than others, but one can also inscribe them in one's behavior. That is, the evocation of possible forms of movement by one's actions has itself undeniable import on one's ability to act. The change one may experience is not linear or univocal. New behaviors are precipitated via the lessons, which given that they were not put forth beforehand, make them more of the student's creation. The student will qualitatively get a 'feel' for the increase of possible states for their nervous system and the degrees of freedom permissible with the human form. The main object of the lessons is to introduce the student to the process of learning how to learn. As Aristotle said, "The greatest of all pleasures is the pleasure of learning."