Describe, Predict, Intervene!—On Objective Subjectivities and the Simulacra of Semiotics in the New Era; Simulated Signification and Mechanical Meaning Making in Managing Post-COVID Human Society

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This contribution considers the challenges for semiotics, for the understanding of the conditions of meaning in relation to the human that is posed by a global obsession with the control of reality and its instrumentalization through the mechanics of simulation. Simulation describes, predicts, and intervenes to manage a situation, context, or process it imitates. While simulation is meant to imitate an environment, through a process of replication made possible by reducing the imitated environment to its essence, semiotics suggests that simulation has a more profound effect. The decisive move toward the objectification of reality and its meaning through its simulation (present) and its modeling (future)—that is the quantification, and digitalization of humanity—has brought humanity to a great transformative moment. If a situation, context, or process is now comprehended as and by its own simulation, then the modalities of objectification, of signification, and ultimately of the encounters with meaning and its making, have now (again) removed themselves from an immanent to a transcendent condition. That is, that human activity becomes centered in and manifested through its simulation rather than in the world itself. This, in turn, processes assets of challenges for human institutions and their utilization—law, governance, politics, and culture are now more real in simulation than in the reality they were meant to imitate. The essay starts with an examination of the problem. To make the discussion more concrete, the analysis is undertaken in the framework of the challenges for simulating humanity (and thus of saving it from its predicted barbaric fate) created in Isaac Asimov’s “Prelude to Foundation” and the more ancient insights taught in the interpretation of dreams. Asimov’s recounting of the effort to use a planet to simulate the human universe, and of Joseph’s modeling of Pharoah’s dream nicely frame the central problems of simulation today. The essay then applies these insights to its manifestation in the use of simulations in the early efforts to describe, predict and intervene in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. It considers the way that Jan Broekman has pointed a way forward for semiotics, or at least that branch of its study that points to an understanding of the objectification of subjectivity and the instrumentalization of the “Human, All-Too-Human” essence of the reductionist model. The essay ends with a look at some of the areas of human self-governance in which modeling is now displacing the situations it was meant to imitate and considers what semiotics may bring to this emerging reconstruction of reality and the challenges that it may pose for traditional approaches to understanding the making of meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLaw and Visual Jurisprudence
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages42
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NameLaw and Visual Jurisprudence
ISSN (Print)2662-4532
ISSN (Electronic)2662-4540

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law

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