From a Transcendental-Semiotic Point of View

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The unity of semiotics must be found somewhere else.

The Semiotic Perspectives of the Symbol

Not to overburden our argument, let us define a method as a series of operations which might be applied in ordered stages to an object of study, with the goal of yielding information of a particular kind about the object studied; and let us similarly decide that a model is a simplified, but still more or less iconic, representation of the object studied which can be more easily manipulated than the real thing, and which ideally has the advantage of representing classes of objects of a particular category, rather than a single object, so that, when methodological operations are applied to it, it yields information about the category of objects concerned.

Semiotics, just as all other sciences, contains a wealth of models, as well as a panoply of methods. It may rightly be said about French structuralism that it tried mostly in vain to apply a linguistic model itself abusively derived from the linguistic structuralism developed, notably, by Saussure and Hjelmslev , as well as to implement but completely failing to do so the method of the same linguistic school.

Sonesson ; ; a : instead of trying to exhaust any single text, it derives some binary properties from an imaginary variation and searches for texts which manifest them. After having borrowed its models from linguistics, philosophy, medicine, and mathematics, semiotics is now much in need to start the serious elaboration of its proper models cf. Sonesson The question then becomes what kind of models this might be. Petitot this volume argues for mathematical models as a substitute for what he calls formal models, inspired in logic and computer languages.

Such formal models, however, would seem to be a fact of cognitive science rather than of semiotics. The homemade formalism of the Greimas School probably would not qualify here. Interestingly, Bertrand and Canque this volume reject formal models precisely in the guide of the catastrophe theory propounded by Thom and Petitot.

Catastrophe theory has not been a success in biology, they claim, because life is meaning, and few meaning have any specific morphology. For my part, I think they have a point. But what kind of models you find adequate depends more, in my view, on the epistemological viewpoint from which you do semiotics than on semiotics as such. In the first place, there would be no reason more than a superficial terminological coincidence to amalgamate two such dissimilar doctrines as those represented by the elaborate but fragmentary philosophy of Peirce, and the marginal, if suggestive, annotations of Saussure.

But, more importantly, in adopting this point of view, we would be unable to account, not only for the semiotical work accomplished well before the time of our two cultural heroes, be it that of the stoics, Augustine, the scholastics, Locke, Leibniz, or the ideologues, but also for much of contemporary semiotics, some parts of which are not particularly indebted to any of the forefathers. The latter, he maintains, is not a science, but a philosophical activity, and this is in his view demonstrated by the very proliferation of different conceptions of what semiotics is.

Indeed, he goes on to say, it is a variety of the philosophy of language, which has the particularity of going beyond the study of statements, to the underlying activity, and which does not limit itself to a single semiotic system, verbal language. The study of verbal language, for instance, has long been known as philology or linguistics. The semiotics of pictorial signs is even more in need of being established as an independent discipline, because art history has never been interested in pictures as such, but only in a series of pictures considered each in turn, and the findings of recent perceptual psychology have to be brought into contact with more systematic studies, similarly to the way in which post-Chomskyan linguistics has been related to psycholinguistics.

The rudiments of a body of knowledge corresponding to a semiotics of pictures already exist; but it can hardly be considered a well-established discipline. Eco , himself points out that while the natural sciences are interpretations of the first degree, the semiotic sciences are interpretations of interpretations.

Here, Eco would seem to re-join classical hermeneutics Cf. Ferraris This characterization, undoubtedly, also applies to what archaeology does with artefacts left in some prehistoric burial; it may not apply to the radiocarbon dating of these artefacts, but it certainly applies to the interpretative frame in which the resulting dates are later inserted and given a meaning. Although Prieto is not very clear about the nature of this general semiotic theory, his own work within the domain seems to imply the conviction that it should not only furnish the semiotic sciences with a coherent framework, before the specific disciplines can accomplish their task, but that it would also be called upon to compare the results of these disciplines, in order to determine how different resources for conveying signification may differ.

If so, all these disciplines would only be valid, given a particular philosophical framework, and for someone not sharing this framework, all these particular domains of study would have nothing to contribute. In the end, then, specific semiotics would also be given over to the whim of philosophy. Actually, a much more natural conclusion would be that, just as sociology, psychology, archaeology, literary history, and so on, semiotics can be practised from the point of view of different philosophical conceptions.

Thus, there may be a structuralist semiotics, a nominalist semiotics, a phenomenological semiotics, and so on — just as there may be, for instance, a processural and a post-processural archaeology, a positivist and a post-modernist art history, and so on. All sciences have once separated themselves from philosophy — a process that of course as we shall see always leaves a residue in the tureen.

Meanwhile, this is a fact that makes it difficult to compare philosophy as Bordron proposes to do here to other disciplines: if semiotics is ever being successful, another swig will have been taken out of the philosophical soup. In any case, a bigger gulp has already been taken by cognitive science. I find it difficult to see the point of this description. Either it means that people representing a lot of other more well-established disciplines come together at semiotic congresses; but, if so, it does not describe any situation which is original to semiotics, and there is no reason for this state of facts having to determine the future of any discipline.

If so, that is not particularly new either: from social psychology to cognitive science, other disciplines have been born out of such an intermediate space. So, at the very least, something needs to be added to this definition. We are still left with the question what the specificity of semiotics is. Of course, it may contain a class of more wide-ranging models. But in order to contain models, it must be something else: a discipline. Not simply the postulated concept of sign, as Eco suggests.

I would be the first to agree with Bouissac that the notion of sign is insufficiently defined in semiotics. In fact, I have often argued that both the central traditions, the Peircean as well as the Saussurean, simply presuppose the essential components of the sign cf. Sonesson ; b. Contrary to Bouissac, however, I think the concept of sign makes perfectly good sense, once it has been properly defined cf. Itself a fruit of meta-analysis, my definition abundantly refers to ontogeny, as well as to phylogeny.

However, this does not mean that the concept of sign is sufficient to define the domain of semiotics, which has to be much wider, at least because signs cannot be treated independently of a wider concept of meaning. On the other hand, Georges Roque, Jan Baetens, and Alain Eraly this volume all take for granted, in their comparisons of semiotics to other disciplines, that the sign is what defines semiotics. It seems that it has never occurred to anyone in this volume and outside of it that the sign, suitably defined which would imply a definition which would certainly have to include language but also some other kinds of meanings, such as, pictures and at least some gestures , may be a particular kind of meaning, leaving other and, at least, partly, ontologically and phylologically earlier meanings to be defined.

Outside of semiotics proper, of course, both Piaget and Vygotsky would seem to maintain such as view, and, rather more implicitly, it also seems to be corroborated by the work of more recent psychology and anthropology, such, as for instance, the work of Michael Tomasello ; and Merlin Donald ; Sonesson , I. Philosophy is made up of such tangles, and now and then some part of such a tangle is taken out of the mesh and made into its own particular strain, which is then called a science or a discipline. From an epistemological point of view, nothing changes. This research tradition would still be characterized by its peculiar point of view.

It would be much more like a discussion: a network of problems branching out ever further through the centuries. In the following, when I talk about semiotics as a science, it should be understood in this sense. Indeed, I would like to claim that a science is simply a research tradition, in the above-defined sense, which has been institutionalized within society Sonesson This would also seem to be the point of view taken by Bordron and Eraly this volume. It must not follow, however, that the division of the sciences is entirely arbitrary.

Introduction to Didascalic Semiotics

Now we face the even more daunting task of trying to determine what a science is. As a first approximation, one may want to say that a science is a particularly orderly and systematic fashion for describing and analysing or, more generally, interpreting a certain part of reality, using different methods and models. At this point we may want to introduce a division between natural sciences, on the one hand, and social and human or, better, semiotic sciences, on the other, which, following a traditional hermeneutical conception echoed by Eco , , separates the interpretation of facts from the interpretation of interpretations.

Normally, it is added that the first kind of knowledge involves phenomena for which laws may be formulated, while the second kind only refer to unique occurrences; and that while the second type may be understood, the first can only be explained. As we will see, this is largely a pre-semiotic conception. Social phenomena may be separated from psychic phenomena, but at some point they will inevitably overlap. And yet it makes sense to say that there are central phenomena which are specifically social or psychic. It might be said that there really is only one world, in which everything is continuous, although there may be clusters of characteristic properties forming prototypes, which slowly fade into other characteristic properties.

If the hermeneutic view propounded by Eco is correct and I think it is, at least to some extent , there are really two worlds, however: that of facts, and that of interpretations. And if we take a phenomenological standpoint, the world of interpretations is primary. It is the Lifeworld, the world taken for granted. In this sense, all the human and social sciences are continuous, as is the world they study, and so are the natural sciences, although their continuity is such in reference to another world, the constructed world of the natural sciences.


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Ecological physics is part of the Lifeworld; physics as a science is part of the other world. French structuralism tended to interpret Saussure in a positivist manner, when saying, for instance, that it is the point of view which creates the object. On the contrary, he wanted to fix the attention of linguistics on the central cluster of linguistic properties. One may argue that he failed to do so in a proper way, as Chomsky more unambiguously failed to do later on. But that does not mean he set the task wrongly. The same applies to semiotics in general. There certainly are specifically semiotic phenomena.

Whether they deserve a discipline of their own is a different matter. It is essentially a matter decided by society at large 2. Not all sciences appear to have their own reserved piece of reality to study. It seems to me that sciences may be defined either as being preoccupied with a particular domain of reality, or as applying a particular point of view to the whole of reality which is really one and the same. Thus, French studies are involved with French language and literature, linguistics with all languages or what is common to all languages ; similarly, the history of religions describes a very particular domain of reality, religion, as it evolves through history and pre-history.

Even within the natural sciences, there are some sciences that have their particular domains, such as geography, astronomy, and meteorology.

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This seems to be even more obviously true of such applied sciences as medicine and dentistry. We find the same thing in the natural sciences: chemistry and physics often appear to be different points of view taken on the very same matter. This is not the whole truth: in fact semiotics, psychology and sociology only apply their points of view to the human world, or at least to the world of living beings in most cases, to animals, not to plants.

So the point-of-view approach is supplemented by a domain-approach. The domain of chemistry and physics is much wider: its goes well beyond the human world. But both apply the same point of view to the human world and what lies behind it, which is impossible for semiotics, as well as for psychology and sociology. Contrary to chemistry and physics, biology is not just another point of view, but it is also domain-specific: it only involves living creatures. This may explain that there is now such a speciality as biosemiotics but not at least I hope so chemical semiotics.

This point of view consists, in Saussurean terms, in an investigation of the point of view itself, which is equivalent, in Peircean terms, to the study of mediation. This is at least the way I have formulated the task of semiotics in my earlier work. For many reasons which have been clear with the emergence of cognitive science and biosemiotics , it now seems impossible to limit semiotics only to the way the human world is endowed with meaning.

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Even when discussing pictures, which are peculiar to human beings, we can only understand their specificity in contrast to meanings handled by other animals. It will therefore be better to avoid any kind of belief-predicates in the characterization of semiotics. Yet the point, which is a standpoint, matters more than the sense modality. For, in studying these phenomena, semiotics should occupy the standpoint of humankind itself and of its different fractions.

Analogously, it has been argued that we should have to adapt the point of view of the bat, let alone the tick, but it is not clear that this can be done in the same sense. But it does not follow, as Prieto a would claim, that we must restrict our study to the knowledge shared by all users of the system, for it is necessary to descend at least one level of analysis below the ultimate level of which the user is aware, in order to take account of the presuppositions underlying the use of the system.

Semiotics must go beyond the standpoint of the user, to explain the workings of such operative, albeit tacit, knowledge that underlies the behaviour constitutive of any system of signification cf. This is to say that, pictorial semiotics, like all semiotic sciences, including linguistics, is a nomothetic science, a science which is concerned with generalities, not an idiographic science, comparable to art history and most other traditional human sciences, which take as their object an array of singular phenomena, the common nature and connectedness of which they take for granted.

I would like to insist on this combination here, since it overrides the traditional divide between the humanities and other sciences, postulated by the hermeneutical tradition from Dilthey and Weber to Habermas and Apel: even a well-established semiotical discipline such as linguistics, including the study of any particular language, involves the establishment of laws and regularities, not individual facts. Just like linguistics, but contrary to the natural sciences and to some varieties of the social sciences, all semiotic sciences are concerned with qualities, rather than quantities — that is, they are concerned with categories more than numbers.

Thus, semiotics shares with the social and natural sciences the character of being a law-seeking, or nomothetic, rather than an idiographic, science, while retaining the emphasis on categories, to the detriment of amounts, which is peculiar to the human sciences. Being nomothetic and qualitative, pictorial semiotics has as its principal theme a category that may be termed pictoriality, or picturehood — which is a peculiar version of iconicity 3.

In this sense, semiotics is certainly a science. This, however, is all he has to say about semiotics. The bulk of the text is taken up by a much more classical discussion: whether linguistics is to be considered part of the Geisteswissenschaften or the Naturwissenschaften. Phonology, then, and the whole of linguistics, is a Geisteswissenschaft. Nowadays, it may be added that, as linguistics has now been generalized to a series of particular semiotical sciences, such as pictorial semiotics, gesture studies, cultural semiotics, and so on, the result of neglecting these domains of study in the theory of knowledge are even more dire.

In fact, many of these thinkers as is also true of Dilthey attribute much importance to language in other respects as does, for instance Habermas, with his ideal speech situation , and yet they do not take the peculiarities of the semiotic sciences into account. They fail to realize that linguistics, and other semiotical sciences conducted on this model, do not really correspond to either the description of the natural or the cultural sciences.

In another publication, which is specifically dedicated to the study of the nature of the cultural sciences, Cassirer , 63ff takes exception to the simplistic opposition usually proposed between the natural and cultural sciences, claiming that general concepts are needed also in the latter. Whether linguistics is concerned with universals of language mentioned by Cassirer , 83, with reference to Jakobson , or it simply has the aim of formulating the phonological, grammatical and semantical rules of a given language, it is involved with something general, not with individual facts.

But even in the pioneering days of Grimm and Paul, historical linguistics was very much dedicated to formulating rules of language change. That is why art history is not pictorial semiotics. They are not nomothetic, he says, because in the cultural sciences, individual phenomena cannot be deduced from general laws. And they are not ideographic, because they cannot be reduced to history.

This is of course the distinction I have tried to account for in distinguishing the nomothetic and qualitative sciences of semiosis from the nomothetic and quantitative sciences of nature. In the case of semiotics, it may simply be the case that semiotics has so far failed to demonstrate its usefulness to wider groups within society.

However, society as such is certainly also at stake: for some reason, the fortune of semiotics has been very different in Latin, and in particular Latin American, countries, than in the Anglo-Saxon, and more generally Germanic, world. People in the latter part of the world would no doubt tend to think that this is so because Latin culture is more susceptible to intellectual fads.

There may be some truth in this, if semiotics is identified with intellectual fashion statements such as structuralism, post-structuralism, and post-modernism. But this is a very limited, and uninteresting, way of looking at semiotics. Like semiotics, cognitive science is often conceived as an interdisciplinary perspective that sometimes no doubt more often than semiotics has gained the position of an independent discipline. Curiously, it might be argued that cognitive science and semiotics cover more or less the same domain of knowledge — or rather, to apply the observations made above, take a very similar point of view on the world.

This in itself is controversial, since semiotics and cognitive science offer very different characterizations of their domain or, strictly speaking, the point of view taken on the domain. In some sense, however, both are concerned with the way in which the world described by the natural sciences appears to humans beings and perhaps also to other animals and some robots. Indeed, in an earlier phase, cognitive science seemed more susceptible of being described by a simple model: the mind as computer.

At present, however, even cognitive science has several models, one of which could be described as involving the mind as brain. Cognitive science is often described as the result of joining together the knowledge base of rather disparate empirical disciplines such as linguistics, cognitive psychology, philosophy, biology, and computer science. Thus, instead of one research tradition connected through the ages, cognitive science represents a very recent intermingling of several research-traditions having developed separately until a few decades ago.

toasacogure.cf Semiotics has, in a more classical way, developed out of the amorphous mass of philosophy, and still has some problems encountering its empirical basis. It might be suggested that the basic concept of semiotics is the sign, whereas that of cognitive science is representation — even though there is a long tradition in semiotics for rejecting the sign concept, and recent cognitive science has marked its distances to the notion of representation 4. These differences partly may explain why semiotics and cognitive science rarely are on speaking terms.

Cognitive science can be practiced, and indeed has historically been practiced, from very different points of views. Indeed, the fact that mental life could be simulated on a computer was supposed to show that mental notions could be dispensed with altogether. Consciousness was, in this view, not in any way more difficult to explain than the possibility of having snippets of code making the same kind of calculations as the human brain.

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Too much should not be made of these notions, however, because, as mentioned above, they apply to computers as well as to human beings. It is no doubt true that they served to bring inspirations from phenomenology and other traditions involved with consciousness into the fold of cognitive science, which is in itself a remarkable feat, if we remember that, before that, many phenomenologists, such as most famously Hubert Dreyfus, and a notable representative of the British style of the philosophy of mind such as John Searle, were violently opposed to cognitive science.

However, both situatedness and embodiment can be given — and have been given — other, more mechanistic, interpretations. The preoccupations with notions such as agency, intentions, consciousness, empathy, intersubjectivity, etc. In fact, these notions are anathema to much of cognitive science, both in its classical version and, in a more implicit and confused way, in what nowadays may be described as mainstream cognitive science, associated with the work of Lakoff and Johnson, Dennett, Fodor, etc.

The body which forms the context is not the body as lived, that is, as a meaning, but the body as studied in the neurosciences. Lakoff, Johnson, Rohrer, and their likes today form the core of what is meant by mainstream cognitive science. Although their work is extremely confused and contradictory as shown most clearly by Haser , and even though it contains superficial references to part of the phenomenological tradition, a close reading of, in particular, their most recent publications, shows that in actual fact, they are back at a conception identical in practice to that of classical cognitive science, with the brain being substituted for the computer.

As soon as they get down to business, the body they are talking about is reduced to the neurons and synapses of the brain. Thus, embodiment, in this tradition is certainly not part of context. This is also true if their work is interpreted in terms of the kind of influence they have had. At least prototypically, or as a goal state, it involves rational operations, such as those that are characteristic of argumentation or problem solving. Unlike most of the venerable semiotic tradition, I have always argued against the autonomy postulate, basing my own work to a large measure on an interpretation of experimental results most notably in Sonesson In that sense, without using the term, I consider myself to be one of the initiators of cognitive semiotics.

What cognitive science needs, however, is to take into account even more research traditions, one of which is no doubt semiotics.

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However, meta-analysis taking a semiotic as well as a cognitive point of view might perhaps better be called semiotics. In the end, there may be no meaning without cognition, and no cognition without meaning, at least given the wide definition of cognition characteristic of cognitive science. It might perhaps be said that semiotics differs from cognitive science simply by putting the emphasis on meaning rather than cognition.

The Signs of Our Times: Semiotics in 2016 and Beyond - Michael Mills - TEDxSUNYGeneseo

What seems to be lacking, most of the time, in semiotics, is real empirical research. What is severely missing in cognitive science is a conception of meaning. But it is also the kind of cognitive science which continues the tradition of cognitive psychology from Bartlett to Neisser. It is the kind of cognitive science which also relies on experiment. The most obvious reason for this is, as we saw, that semiotics, if it is not erroneously identified with French structuralism, can be seen to have been using many different models and methods, as well as being practiced from different philosophical points of view.

It is interdisciplinary and meta-analytical with a twist, because it takes meaning as its perspective on the world.


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Terrence Deacon is a researcher in neuroscience whose work has been particularly acclaimed within cognitive science. Yet he has chosen to express some of his main arguments in a terminology taken over from Peirce, who is perhaps the principal cultural hero of semiotics 7. It seems to apply even more to Tomasello , less, in the end, because of his epigraphs taken from classical semioticians such as Peirce and Mead as well as Bakhtin and Vygotsky, than because of the general thrust of his analysis, which consists in separating true instances of interpreting actions as intentional from those which may merely appear to be such.

His main argument for having recourse to cognitive science, however, seems somewhat confused to me: when he criticizes semiotics for leaving out mental concepts, he puts on the same level the physicalist reductionism of behaviourism and the recognition, on the part of the tradition of Saussure, Cassirer, Husserl, the Prague school, and others, that there is also a third level of meaning, the social one — which does not exclude the mental world as its mode of access 8.

The latter, contrary to the former, makes use of semiosis in the most central sense of the term: the intersubjective structures which make meaning possible. In meaning and cognition in the very general sense of cognitive science are connected, than semiotics and cognitive science, as we suggested above, may simply be different emphasis attributed to the same field of study. But this is a point of view which cannot be sustained. However, as we saw above, it would be even more natural to conclude that, just as sociology, psychology, archaeology, literary history, and so on, semiotics can be practiced from the point of view of different philosophical conceptions.

The kind of semiotics which I propose, which would permit us to organize an encounter with cognitive science of the consciousness studies brand, in particular, is a decidedly phenomenological and empirical semiotics. However, by using such a term as cognitive semiotics, I am clearly implying that semiotics it not just any tradition worthy of taking into account in a reformed cognitive science. Such a term clearly involves taking for granted that meaning is the primary issue of human beings and, beyond that, of all life-forms.


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From the point of view of semiotics, cognitive semiotics is rather a perspective from which semiotics may be elaborated. Without semiotics, cognitive science is not complete. As Peirce said, we have to get out of the philosophical soup shops. Let us now turn to consider some of philosophical residue left in the tureen. Basically, French structuralism was characterized by a positivistic conception of the world and of scientific method, taken over less from Saussure than coming out the subsequent development of linguistics prior to the advent of Chomsky and forming the background of distributionalism and behaviourism.

As all French intellectual fads at the time, Structuralism in this sense obviously also had to take Freud and Marx into account, which could only be done by tempering the positivist conception, or rather, concomitantly rendering it rigid and inoperant. Something which is less well-known, however, is that Structuralism, appearing on the French intellectual scene, also had to define itself in relation to Husserlean phenomenology, at least in its French, subjectivist, variety, known as Existentialism. At least the early work of such well-known French structuralists as Greimas, Barthes, and Foucault contains explicit phenomenological references.

None of them really reflected on the epistemological incompatibility of phenomenology and positivism though at least Foucault clearly marked his distances to phenomenology later. Accordingly if narrative-didascaliae as a meta-textual or extra-textual immediacy necessitates a singularity of omniscience whether fictive or non-fictive according to which methods of quantifications are circularized, didascalic-semiotics should suggest dual-omnisciences of those objects themselves, which necessitate as an introduction towards transcendental logic on a same field, an exclusion of narration or a precedence of didascalic signals according to which rhetoric is equalized.

In other words, the entailing methodization of didascalic semiotics through a quasi-reader of a given sign should propose a statistics of Omni-directional logic where irreversibility is not the privilege of an anthropological space but the equal growth of its timing. Such critical consideration treats narrative didascalia as a commutative semiotics with singular omniscience as a coefficient of rhetoric.

This should consider henceforward that such singular omniscience might include multiplicity of direction, but which itself is not dualized or transcendentalized. Yehia Abd El Azeem Author. Add to cart. Table of Contents All figures are self-illustrated 1. Introduction 2. Disassembling of Narrative Method 3. Introduction to Dual Omniscience 4.

Towards Didascalic Chronology Imminence 5. The Ir-referentiality of Dual Omniscience 7. The Royal Chronology to Didascalic-Audience Reading Force Or Narrative Inertia? Didascalic Audience Suggestion of an Un-Liberated Didascalic Energy Works Cited 1. Introduction By the virtue of an experimental non-fictive interjection in didascalia, basically as a meta-textual liberation from narrative Drama scripts read rather than performed and which is in due to be tackled in this essay on a verge of criticism ; rhetorical inference, that which is intrinsic within the ideal scarcity of dialogical perlocutionary acts since stage directions are mostly descriptive could be claimed —under formal theoretical parameters-to propose one of independent chronologies or otherwise a differed diegetic timing against the original immediacy of authorship-if we could estrange the absent author from ontological audience.

Disassembling of Narrative Method In the process of such chronological shift from fictive semiotics to didascalo-sphere didascalic semiotics , the unsettled meta-textual method of narration in didascalia presents itself as a viable overture towards another chronology of omniscience.