Communication and sign systems
AN INSTRUCTION ATTEMPT FOR TRANSDISCIPLINARY
University of applied sciences Aargau, Educational Departement
Transdisciplinarity: Joint Problem-Solving among Science, Technology and Society, Dialog Sessions
and Idea Market, Workbook I. R. Häberli, et al (Eds.). p. 495-500. Zurich: Haffmanns Sachbuch
Verlag, 2000 Abstract
Our cognitive perception of the environment generates a science of disciplines and specializations.
For this reason, transdisciplinary orientation has, in spite of the recognition for its necessity and good
will, cultural limitations. One’s own disciplinary style of thinking has to make connection with other
styles of thinking. That is a big difficulty and an important factor for successful transdisciplinary
communication. A key to this affect-logical problem are favorable structures. The here presented instruction attempt for a transdisciplinary communication
develops a sound oriented starting point. The
auditive perception offers itself as mediator for different reasons:
(1) Musical parameters form an excellent connection with different disciplines and further dimensions
(2) Sound is a ordinary and subliminal phenomenon.
(3) Contrary to the mainly visual orientation, the acoustic perception promises unusual insights. Introduction
An old saying tells us that “we just have eyes and ears for things we know” – the knowledge controls
our perception. This fact is shown by our cultural and technical developments and inventions. Humans
pushed the limitations of perception further and further. One does not have to be clairvoyant to foresee
that the process will continue like this and that it will significantly change human existence.
At the same time this aphorism gives us another indication. It shows us that we have difficulty to see
what does not correspond with our thinking. The human talent to limit the perception is an important
basis for our highly differentiated disciplinary specialization – the possibility to fade out what distracts
us also carries the risk that we lock ourselves up in specialized thinking collectives. Communication
beyond these limits becomes almost impossible (Fleck 1935, Kuhn 1979, Ciompi 1997).
We recognize today that specialized knowledge causes blind spots: the social, economic and
ecological questions of most explosive nature. None of the disciplines can give a satisfactory answer
to all these issues. Denn es ist ein grosser Unterschied, von welcher Seite man sich einem Wissen, einer Wissenschaft
nähert, durch welche Pforte man herein kommt. (There is a big difference in ways to approach
knowledge and science; it is a big difference through which gate you enter.)
J.W. Goethe, Entwurf einer Farbenlehre, Einleitung
If we try to promote the understanding between the subjects we should be able to approach the
questions without disciplinary bias. A transdisciplinary style of thinking would be a big help in the
matter. Such a language would emphasize emotional and rational aspects at the same time. Theory
and experience would be considered a unit. The gates would be open for all imaginable sign systems
of our communication. It would be a way of thinking that prevails over the dichotomies of our cultur.
When we start looking for such a way of thinking it would be obvious to search where we limited our
knowledge through the experienced culture of searching and developing: with eyes and ears. The first
priority has to be that we consciously start a new relationship with our surroundings.
The Connection Human – Environment
The biologist Jakob von Uexküll (1906) created the word functional circle. He said: Every organism
can only orient itself in this world with its own perceptive means and it can only influence the world by
its own creative means. These characteristics are not established permanently. Experiences and
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awareness processes collected during our life time can influence each one of us in the perception and creative possibilities. The psychologist Alfred Lang (1993) extended the functional circle from two areas into four. In relation to humans he formulated it explicitly as a semiotic circle. Our perceptive potential (IntrO) is organized and determined through the senses and their limitations and regularities. Contrary to the senses there are the possibilities of expression (ExtrO) Acoustical:
Voice, breathing and body sounds, instrumental expressions (fist on the table, musical instruments)
Material and pictorial manifestation, writing
Proxemic/kinaesthetic: Movement, corporeality (closeness, size) Haptic:
Our perceptive and expressional means are
also the interface that enables us to
experiment with technical aids and other
cultural achievements (ExtrA). The IntrO
semiotics always produces a mental process
(IntrA). “As soon as I talk, make a gesture,
draw a picture or make a sound to somebody, I
start using a certain set of rules that I have
learned, so that the other person can
understand what I mean. There are different
channels of communication that differ in their
(Eco 1972). The degree of
the cultural complexity seems to be connected
in certain ways with the emphasis on emotional and rational expression. The codes for feelings are
assigned to a more animalistic culture, while rational sign-systems are connected with civilized
cultures. Sign-Systems and Intelligence
In the last few years intelligence has been defined as an assortment of capabilities that enable the
person “to solve real problems and difficulties and to lay the foundation for new knowledge through
discovery and creation of problems.
” (Gardner1983) The mental connection to our surroundings works
through the linguistic (1), logical – mathematical (2), musical (3), spatial (4), physical – kinaesthetic (5)
interpersonal (6) and intrapersonal (7) intelligence. The basis and with it an important criteria for the
declaration of such intelligence is, amongst others, their relationship to sign-systems.
Umberto Eco shows us a broad “field of semiotics”. It is easily seen that the correlation between the
different codes is interdisciplinary. The following list is a hierarchy from the most natural and
spontaneous, from the least cultural to the most complex cultural processes.
The analysis of the semiotic fields shows a lot of overlappings: Vladimir Karbusicky (1986) observes: “Eco’s system essay shows clearly that the area of musical semantics is not a closed system. Even zoosemantics are an important factor in music-semantic research.”
It is also shown that paralinguistics have a lot in common with music. All sounds and tones that do not have a linguistic structure possess musical structures – they are based on the musical parameters tone color, time structure, tone level, volume and harmony. The musical code labels all audible aspects just like the relation between visual communication and visible phenomenons. Due to the fact that all audible things can be visualized through notation lets them move also into the field of visibility.
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Sound – A Transdisciplinary Phenomenon
The reduction of music to its parameters leads us to an expansion of the word “music” to the area of
ordinary sounds and tones – and then to the discovery of the presence of the musical parameters also
in non musical sign-systems. Sound and music in this elementary definition can become a meeting
point for all kind of realizations. That presents a certain danger that the sound is not taken seriously
any more. Due to its transdisciplinary component, the dialogue with it is often moved into the area of
art, the incomprehensible or esoterics. „Ganze Welten und Systeme scheinbar gesicherter Erkenntnis sind in unserem Jahrhundert
zusammengebrochen. Zeit und Materie bilden das Fundament: exakt meßbar, wiegbar, berechenbar -
das Sicherste, was wir hatten. Heute stehen die Physiker vor dem Trümmerhaufen dessen, was Zeit
und Materie einmal gewesen sind. In dieser Situation ist der Klangcharakter der Welt eine der
wenigen Sicherheiten, die wir besitzen: Die Welt ist Klang, ist Rhythmus und Schwingung.“ (“Whole
worlds and systems of seemingly assured knowledge have broken down during our century. Time and
matter are the foundation, measurable, weighted and calculable – the safest thing we had. Today’s
physicists have to start over again in explaining what time and matter used to be. The only sure thing
in this situation is the sounding character of the world. The world is sound, rhythm and vibration.”
Joachim Ernst Berendt (1985), Musician and publicist: Nada Brahma – Die Welt ist Klang.
The transdisciplinary components of sound are also shown in the results of the actual neuro-biological
research (Petsche 1997) and the findings in schools with music profiles (Spychiger 1995/1999,
Cslovjecsek/Spychiger 1998). Sound is connected to emotional and rational aspects of learning with
subject specific contents from other disciplines, with individual and social questions, with theories and
ordinary experiences. It does this mainly in the actively physical and mental exchange. Transdisciplinary Parameters
The parameters of sound related expressions also form non musical areas. The phenomenon rhythm
can be observed in movement, gesture, cutting, interior decorating and rhetoric. It is also observed in
questions of population development, landscaping, work scheduling, planning of spare time activities
and many others. Through sensible transformation the musical parameters like harmonics (tone color),
time structure (pulse, rhythm, articulation), amplitude (volume), ground frequency (tone level) and
harmony (consonance, dissonance, relations) can describe qualities of semiotic processes in different
It is obvious that every use of signs is based on several of these elements. The focus of observation of
these overriding structures can bring unusual insights into running processes and real experiences.
The musical parameters are predestined to describe time related sequences in several dimensions.
Their transdisciplinary openness facilitates the translation into acknowledged values, in different
disciplinary languages and with it a discussion without limitations through styles of thinking.
In this sense we arrange our thoughts to the old demand of: “a hyper formalized language that is
formed out of empty signs and that has to be able to describe all possible languages.”
Eco gets this
from the research of Linzbach and Kristeva (1967). They foresee axiomatics: “The semiotics will use
the remains of linguistics, after it has prepared the field for semiotics and it will prove the isomorphism
of the semiotic practices with the other structures of our world.”
Steps over the boarder
In order to walk over the boarder of the traditional perceptions and the conscious repertoire of
expressions we need help. The development of new and unusual abstractions can be forced through
different view points.
• Music consists of this parameters. Therefore it is a reproduction of the meta language and
predestined to be a fundamental experience. The difficulty is that the traditional interpretation of music limits our perception. In order to bring our sounding environment together with the meta language we have to separate “music” from the limiting artistic interpretation and to lead it also to ordinary sound experiences. (Spychiger 1995, Cslovjecsek/Spychiger 1998)
• In a second step we have to understand and recognize that silent phenomenons can be “musical”
(movement, time, visuals), that sound is also movement, odor, pictures, structures and touch.
• We experience the transdisciplinary parameters all the time independently from our styles of
thinking. It is impossible to escape from them but normally they remain neglected. Once we begin to perceive those basic elements consciously, we develop a new sensibility for the delicacy of
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ordinary life and for the dialogue with our surroundings. The connections to our own style of thinking start to develop.
• Even now, without the systematic experience in the dialogue with this meta language, we
recognize different perceptions and systems of expression in a long row of aspects of their effect. “Music as a teaching principle” expresses it in connection to the teaching situation in school. (Cslovjecsek/Spychiger 1998)
Further steps to realize this style of thinking are:
• development and consolidation of a systematical approach • formulating specific parameters, intentions and methods to the understanding of transdisciplinary
• Collaboration with different institutions • building of a network “transdisciplinary thinking and acting” • development of didactics for transdisciplinary classes (preparation of teaching aids, didactic
• musical research, incentive for open and integrating music didactics
This is the theme of a congress of the “Nordwestschweizer Erziehungsdirektorenkonferenz” (NW
EDK) under the title “Schule statt Fächer? – transdisziplinäres Denken und Handeln” on May 24/ 25
2000 in Solothurn.
Further information: www.achaos.ch/schulestattfaecher www.achaos.ch/transdisciplinarity Literature
Cslovjecsek, M. (1998) Kommunikation und Zeichensysteme. In: Moving from Teaching to Learning
(Kongressbericht) Stockholm: Kungliga Musikhögskolan
Cslovjecsek, M./ Spychiger, M. (1998) Mus ik oder Mus ik nicht ? – Musik als Unterrichtsprinzip.
Ciompi, L. (1997) Die emotionalen Grundlagen des Denkens, Entwurf einer fraktalen Affektlogik.
Eco, U. (1972) La struttura assente (dt: Einführung in die Semiotik, München: Fink 1972) Eco, U. (1993) La ricerca della lingua perfetta (dt.: Die Suche nach der vollkommenen Sprache,
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Karbusicky, V. (1986) Grundriss der musikalischen Semantik. Darmstadt: wissenschaftliche
Kuhn, T. (1962) Die Struktur wissenschaftlicher Revolutionen. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Lang, A. (1993) Zeichen nach innen, Zeichen nach aussen – eine semiotisch-ökologische Psychologie
als Kulturwissenschaft. In: Rusterholz, P., Silvar, M. (Hrsg): Welt der Zeichen - Welt der Wirklichkeit (S. 55-85), Bern: Paul Haupt
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