Colors, Semiotics, and Constrained Universes of Expression (cont.)

In the essay “How Culture Conditions the Colours We See,” from the collection On Signs, Umberto Eco uses the example of the Eskimos different words for various type of snow (four, as originally reported by anthropologist Franz Boas) to explain how “a given culture organizes the world according to given practices, or practical purposes, and consequently considers as pertinent different aspects of the world.” Eco continues:

To say that a signification system makes communication processes possible means that one can usually communicate only about those cultural units that a given signification system has made pertinent. It is, then, reasonable to suppose now that one can better perceive that which a signification system has isolated and outlined as pertinent.

In the case of colors, humans indeed see the difference between, say, orange and red, but one culture’s orange is another’s red. The signification system of the latter doesn’t isolate and outline as pertinent the color orange.

This reminds me of Kuhn and how an established paradigm affects what scientists practicing “normal science” within that paradigm can see. The paradigm isolates and outlines as pertinent that which make the foundation for normal science.

If there was a point in this, I’ve lost it. I like how he calls concepts “cultural units”—especially since my thoughts about constrained universes of expression has its roots in thoughts about team culture (which a software architecture is an expression of). See also my first post on this.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on December 22, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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