Monday, June 1, 2015

A Revised, Semiotic Definition of Technology - Take 1

I wrote in "The Disconnected Connecting Self" ( that technology may be defined as "a constructed (Not necessarily a tangible, physical construct; it may also be a mental construct, e.g. latitude and longitude lines) extension of humanity’s semiotic capacity to recognize and model the difference between subject and object" (2). But this definition seems too broad because of the ambiguous use of "constructed."

All objective reality, all experiential reality, is constructed according to the biological mechanism of the cognizant animal and then, for humans, further by the social structures that surround us. Hence we speak of social constructions but wouldn't necessarily call these technologies. Within this Umwelt, we may often have moments in which we recognize the difference between the objective and subjective reality of any particular object we are encountering, and this same capacity may model the difference between those two features through, for example, an exercise of the imagination. But surely, the products of our imagination do not count as technology. Imagined products may be the starting point for some particular technology, but otherwise the above definition includes the totality of the imagination.

Interestingly, some may want to call fiction a technology, but fiction in its produced form and not its seminal form in the imagination. Thus, fiction books and TV shows are technologies. Explanatory metanarratives that may take some shape in the imagination may also be a technology. But at this point, one wonders if the analogical use of technology is being stretched too thin.

A possible revised definition: technology is a produced application, whether physical or mental, of the human semiotic capacity in order to model some feature of subjective reality through a certain objective exaptation of that subjectivity.

This exchange of construction with produced application places technology within the traditional, Scholastic realm of the arts, that which is produced. Further, a general purpose is introduced: a modelling of some feature of subjectivity through exaptation, the "application of evolutionary adaptations to new ends beyond that one or ones in terms of which the adaptations originally emerged" (John Deely, Four Ages of Understanding [2001], 11). Thus technology is not simply the whimsical product of imagination, a random modelling of subjectivity for productive purpose; technology must be an art, a production that deliberately models some feature of subjectivity.

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