Let us take an example. Chess has been played since the sixth century, when it was invented in India. Almost all kinds of variants were re-played, especially the debuts. But the “end spiel” differs so much that the specialists assert there are no two absolutely equal finals. The best players say that the supremacy of one player over the other lies in the patience to wait for the only move that can decide the game – the more surprising, the better. But the rules of the play did not change – they are strictly defined. So, can any surprise occur? All moves are fixed, although the situations differ. Paradoxically, the surprise can only be hidden in what was forgotten, in other words – in the past; something that is known but has slipped out of the mind at the very moment the player needs it.
I would like to clear up further the method of conceptualization by taking one more example from the reverse side. I have heard general semioticians who teach Peirce quote him saying that “man is a sign”. Never mind how this sounds but the entire beauty of Peirce’s thought here is lost. A widened citation would reveal the depth of his thought.
Conceptualizing metaphors can take place at each moment of our everyday life. It is involved in every instance of behavior or thinking. Just as there is no such a thing as an interpretation “for itself”, there is no concept or term that can fully exhaust its object. To understand the significance of a sign means to be illuminated as regards an aspect of its meaning, not to unveil its wholeness. The method of conceptualizing metaphors considers this property of the sign to be the most important one. Even the simplest sign, say a qualisign, is virtually inexhaustible by any interpretation, because each interpretation represents only one possible approach to its relevance. Even the simplest of signs needs to be conceptualized in order for it to act upon the sensations. We follow the footsteps of sign building with coded (recognizable) instructions for acting. Any sign contains traces of its creation; i.e., it represents an outcome of something that resembles the device of metaphor. There is something general in every sign, which makes possible its reading. So, by conceptualizing a sign-system (for example, a metaphor) we do not attain the same results each time we approach it.
We try to prove this claim from several different perspectives. Let us first discuss a strange but probable objection. In computer operations, the punch of a certain key evokes a certain response. This is so because the key as a sign works in an artificially created environment. But even in this case we could go deeper in defending the limitlessness of interpretation and the need of conceptualization by pointing to Peirce’s century-old claim on a similar phenomenon: “...it requires mind to apply any formula, or use any machine. If, then, this mind is itself only another formula, it requires another mind behind it to set it into operation, and so on ad infinitum (CP 5.329).” The mind behind the machine is a final interpretant, presented by any stroke of the key. This giant interpretant is in no way fully exhausted by this single stroke. In nature and life, we never reach two identical results by two equal approaches.
What is the difference between interpretation and conceptualization? Do we need the latter as one more theoretical tool? One of our assumptions was that while interpretation resembles more or less a reading or free-association process that seeks meaning, conceptualizing might be defined as a flexible scientific method. At its core lies a search for “effeteness” that unfolds from any metaphor. We can refer to the effeteness directly, or we can devise a concept to search for it at every layer from our past experience. In both cases we deal not with mental entities but with signals or stimuli, which activate the mass of sensations in consciousness, and from which we receive a symbolized (metaphorized, conceptualized) response. Conceptualizing metaphors is a method of representing, referring, or evoking meaning with the help of seeking ourselves from stored experience. Thus, it represents a process-model, which can provide explanations and derive meaning, but above all, which is applicable to diverse situations of decoding symbols from our everyday life.
In this respect, conceptualizing stands for a search for an inactive, effete mind that gives rise to any metaphor. The effete mind provides patterns for acting. To bring to mind these patterns requires another active element, and this is the seeking self. In general, here we are outlining a process model of thinking, which shows how knowledge grows. It rests on the fundamental claim that we learn something new by making clearer something that is already known. The same is valid for the way we approach the Other. If we do not look deeper into our own consciousness, we cannot know the consciousness of the Other.
Let us try to answer another strange question: why was the computer created? Was it not because of a desperate need for a more effective way of closing the gap between past and present? Today’s most advanced technologies try to emulate the way the human being learns. The newest robots can memorize, save and apply what they have learned. These machines learn by storing memories, making mistakes, trying not to repeat them... In the near future the most advanced computer will surely be the one that produces an immediate past – a pure effeteness.
It will be computers that can make the past occur each time the needle of the seeking Self touches upon the grooves of the effete mind. Then the animated past will be a step taken before being annihilated by the living present. We still do not know to where this will lead – perhaps to a combination of virtual past and real present? The two cannot merge because the past occupies real time in order to be realized as such. As for the present, we cannot have a concept of it; we simply live in it. The past can provide concepts for the future, and this is its main function; but it cannot correct our future, and this is an argument for why we cannot exert control over our present. In the present, we act by being pushed by the conceptualizing past that reflects on our action.
We can now propose a new explanation of the limitlessness of thinking and the need for its conceptualization. Any sign that signifies a segment of action from reality is inexhaustible by another sign that interprets it. This is obviously true, since an action occupies a present moment, whereas interpretation grips a past one. Action is also divided into numberless atomic segments, which were first comprehended in the past and then realized in subsequent present moments. Action and thought-action are synechistic phenomena that mirror each other but do not overlap. This is what makes knowledge a continuous process. The mediator between these two processes is our dynamic self, and it supervenes onto the temporal characteristics of both. By acting, we simply follow the patterns provided by the effete mind. By thinking we are saving the recognizable traces from our action through metaphorizing (or, conceptualizing) them. We are pushed forward by the concept devised by the past. And we dream of the coming of the inexperienced future.
In thinking of Christmas we usually imagine snow-covered lawns, houses, and woods lying in complete stillness. We think of family reunions, cheerfulness, going to church, singing songs, feeling cozy and peaceful. On a deeper layer rests another cliché – this is the time when somebody prepares to go somewhere, most commonly back home. The cliché in Europe visualizes this trip made in a wooden sleigh (the variant in Russia, for example, is the famous troika – a sleigh pulled by three horses). In Scandinavia, Britain and America, this is the reindeer sled with Santa Claus in it. We have to hear or otherwise “sense” the jingle of the horses’ or reindeers’ bells. This is a jolly sign that somebody is coming back.
On Christmas Eve we sing or listen to “Silent Night”, and we feel safer than we do at any other time of the year. Safety and hope – these are the two dominant emotions on this evening. This is what we expect to feel, again and again, no matter how old we are. This is the time we celebrate the myth of our childhood – that we were born to grow up in peace and joy and to have children of our own, which we will raise with the same myth. We go back to our mythological phase, and for a short time we turn into mythological creatures, careless and cheerful.
As far back as 1816, when the priest Joseph Mohr penned the verses and the composer Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the music of the unforgettable “Stille Nacht”, they were driven to do this by similar impulses. Both were serving in the then extremely poor area of Salzburg, in the small village of Oberndorf, where hope and joy were desperately needed. They made up their composition so that it emulated a cradle carol. It was not even a myth, but an allegory that they composed. It is an allegory of something lost, for which we will soon be generously rewarded. Both author and composer dig very deep into the effete mind, reaching a numberless cell, which keeps memories for genetic human development. Their seeking selves fall into the right groove of longings and expectations. Somebody’s return is the climax of the celebration. Something will happen, and it will be good. Something or somebody will step over the threshold, and s/he may stay at home until the next year. Or forever. S/he will bring something good for this home. God, perhaps?
For a newborn child only a few things matter. As the child grows, the number of things that matter to him increases. As old age sets in, a person’s range of interests naturally narrows down again. For a man on his deathbed almost nothing matters. But who defines the values that matter? For example, how did the myth arise that what is real matters and what is fictional does not? If we jump ahead to the near future when, thanks to genetic engineering, even brain cells will be replaceable, can we be sure that the same values will matter for these half-artificial human beings? Why do we ask such a question? Is there any unveiled relationship between ethics and philosophy? This is an old question, which seemed to have been solved long ago, but which is soon to be asked anew.
We now need to examine the question, already posed above, what do we mean by “effete mind” and “effeteness”? We saw that Peirce did not provide an explanation. He employed the term without clarifying it. The term played into his seemingly vague concept of the universe: “The one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws” (CP 6. 25). He soon gave up this notion, which was tidily linked with his earlier view about objective idealism, and rarely returned to it later. What is the kernel in this short remark that makes us think that it is capable of elaboration? It is a notion with the potential to be elaborated further in many ways. It is also general and vague, as Peirce intended. In just one part of his sentence – “...inveterate habits becoming physical laws” – he managed to place an enormous amount of meaning: that matter is ruled by habits and develops from a less orderly to a more ordered world, to a crystallized mind.
This is another strange and poetic explanation of how Peirce viewed the way we think. The somehow non-dead matter is a kind of exhausted mind, a bulk of past thoughts – the effete mind. It provides us with models or patterns of action. We do not attain complete ideas from anywhere. “Symmetry, tender color and refined odor” participate in the magical combination of creating a sense that can be conveyed and communicated. By virtue of our seeking selves we activate these traces from the past and conceptualize them. We make our own meaning.
Does such a view not correspond to recent discoveries of genetic engineering? Today we know that our cells (even those that do not belong to the brain) have “memories” about their origins as human organs, along with other “memories” about this particular human body of which they are a part. But we have to be very careful. What we call “memories” is material. These are not tactile traces, but rather genetic codes of information. Still, there must be a vital thought, a sum of rules, an ultimate law that governs our life. Somewhere in our consciousness must exist a kind of aggregation of thoughts from the time before we were born. One very important way that things “matter” is by constant reference to this mere “mind, hidebound with habits”, to the effete mind.
Let us now try to answer what might at first seem to be a remote question. Why do some events from our lives, such as Christmas, not lose their significance? Do we really like to live in an allegory or in a myth? What makes us feel safe in poetic figures? I think the answers here (if any) must be supralogical, or rather, “pre-logical”. We have to accept the fact that there is something higher and more important than meaning, or that there is a kind of ultimate meaning. Perhaps we are looking for pre-existing moods of our collective mind, something like an undiscovered myth, by which we will save ourselves. This is similar to huge depositories of effeteness, where everything that is occurring has already happened.
We do not need to reflect on this latter example. It denies any reasoning for itself, being made openly in a metaphysical course of thinking. It can only become significant by closing with one more remark by Peirce: