Structuralism and the Plant Kingdom

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Frodsham (Chester), Cheshire, United Kingdom
Interests: Philosophy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Buddhism, Psychosynthesis, Hypnotherapy and R.E.B.T.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Can we learn from Semantics and Semiotics?

Introduction to the Structure of Language - General Semantics and Homeopathy.


Structural Theorists regard language as a network of systematic relationships between semantic units. The basic semantic unit is a lexeme - which is the main dictionary definitions of each word. These lexemes naturally belong to a semantic field, which is an array of words having a similar meaning. The lexemes for the various sensations in Homeopathy form a semantic field. This logic can be seen in the construction of Roget’s Thesaurus (1852).

Alphabetic ordering of lexemes destroys semantic structure, as in the the Thesaurus and in the Repertory. To go further into semantic structure we need to describe how lexemes are related by meaning. The first attempt was Mirillis Thematic Repertory. Semantic structuralists recognise several paradigmatic relationships:

Synonymy - the relationship of “sameness” of meaning.
Hyponymy - the relationship of “inclusion” - Familes are included in Orders.
Antonymy - the relationship of “opposites” (which can be quite complex).
Incompatability - mutually exclusive groups or the same category.


The study of meaning takes us by degrees through the linguistic framework of the whole of a language (I have studied English, French and Sanskrit). Interpretation of meaning is further complicated by aspects that cannot be covered simply by the analysis of lexemes.

Prosodic Meaning - describes the emphasis placed on parts of the sentence; the way it is stressed.
Grammatical Meaning - Subject + Verb + Object (e.g. I go home) gives the semantic role.
Pragmatic Meaning - describes the function. Is it a statement of fact or an implied command?
Social Meaning - describes the roles of the participants e.g. polite or rude.
Propositional Meaning - an approach which describes and test the subject matter logically (is the statement a value judgement or a fact?).

To sum up the debate on meaning, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote “The meaning of a word is its use in language”. Ogden and Richards observed that there is no direct relationship between words and things - the relationship only exists in our mind through and associated concept (Sassure - semiotics : signified + signifier=sign). O. & R. described the process as an “semiotic triangle” of Thought<>Symbol<>Referent. The difficulty lies in identifying the active concept.
According to Jacques Derrida we have to deconstruct the expression and analyse all the hidden assumptions, preconceptions and even "myths" that are implied or inherited from the philosopical, cultural or political context.

Global Exceptions?

The interesting thing about Sanskrit is that it is the root of many languages and there is supposed to be a relationship between the name, the sound, and the form - hence the 'magical' chanting of Vedas by the Pandits.

So, in Sanskrit the word "Bound" carries/invokes the sensation?

This is opposite to the structuralist (Saussure) view - that there is no inherent relationship between that which carries the meaning - the signifier/symbol and its sign.


Semantics has difficulty in describing how language refers to the outside world. Real-world notions are indeterminate… Our images of a beauty spot may vary. You would have to visit that place! Words are not enough (a picture is worth a thousand words). Semantics therefore restricts its focus to the relationship of words within the framework of the language. Sankaran’s Levels should take us beyond the restrictions of Semantics into the world of feeling, sensation and energy.


In homeopathy we are advised to use the patients own words and not to extrapolate or interpret. This is correct from the viewpoint of semantics - it is crucial to reject any distortion of meaning. But as we have seen the real meaning is an external referent - it is outside our immediate experience. So are we stuck? How are we to proceed? Osgood’s paper on The Measurement of Meaning (1957) focused on defining a conceptual semantic space. He produced a plot of species vs. ferocity which worked because the dimensions of meaning are quantifiable. Similarly in Homeopathy we use MOPMEC scores to define “vitality” (Sherr) and Stages to define Individuation and Autonomy (Scholten).

Its seems as if the signifier and the signified have a natural and obvious relationship. It more or less “goes without saying”. In fact the Stages are purely conceptual - it is merely a fabricated semiological system which conjures up its own “generic images” which will never actually be seen in practice. In Sassures model its “too obvious too mention” generic image is a further level of “signification“… connotation (Barthes, 1967).

The Validity of Abstraction

In Sankarans system of “Levels” the primary sign is the diagnostic name of the complaint. It is a fact. As soon as we start to consider the emotional aspects of the experience we are delving into the language of abstract and the conceptual. As we dig deeper into the realms of the personal the images become more unique. Even more so when we try to comprehend the experience at the level of imagination, delusion and energy.

How can we remain an unprejudiced observer and avoid interpretation and yet do good work in the realm of the inherently conceptual? What makes a move from denotation (the sign) to connotation possible is the store of knowledge we have about each remedy - its components and its gestalt which is a shared code which we can draw upon. These images can be drawn and refined from the literature and from our own clinical and personal repertoire. Their best use is not through computerised pattern matching - they should resonate with us conceptually and intuitively and ideally in the same way the remedy resonates with the client.

In Practice

The words the client uses are only the tip of the linguistic iceburg. We have to understand his experience. The words are the signs. Their connotation is deeper.

Similarly Sholtens and Sankarans keywords are the signs of the remedy state. The state, itself, the connotation is a deeper level of abstraction. Without abstract thinking we are left at Rogets level - scanning the dictionary (or repertory) for broken semantic fields.

Abstract thinking produces Generic Themes - but the ultimate level of abstraction is the experience itself.  Wittgenstein proposed that a basic sentence has three parts - two objects and a relationship between them:
Jan Scholten asserts that this is exactly the way we should break down a symptom ...
                               [Subject] - [verb] - [object]
                                [It] - [happened to] - [me]
So all we really need to describe an experience is a theme for the subject, one for the action and one for the object.  This applies equally to the experience and to the description of the remedy.  

Differential Diagnostics depends on two aspects of the process:
 - How we handle [It] [Subjective][Stage x Series]
 - How  our reaction to it is expressed [Objective][Salt] 

Example 1 [Stage x Series]: Ord Lamiales, Fam Oleaceae, Spp Chionanthus: A nervous, hypochondriacal and pessimistic state, with apathy and a desire to be alone. Quarrels agg.

  • Ailments from quarrels. Irritability. Indifference.
DD: Stage... Indifference => S14 <> S16.
DD: Series... Quarrelsome => Ferrums series.
DD: Elem.... Anxious > confirms Stannum. 

Example 2,  [Salt]: If I lose my Mum and grieve you might think Mum is the subject of the grief and prescribe a Muriaticum. The actual process [How I handle it] is that I become hard. Subject and Object can swap round...

"I am hardened to my grief about Mom"    [hardened=subject.   grief about Mum=object]
The process [subject][how it is expressed] is my hardening. The Salt is a Flouratum.

A new section of my Plant Kingdom Database uses some of these ideas: [Go][Click on Lamiales]

Ref: Repertory of the Elements by Jan Scholten.

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