Yuri Lotman’s Semiotic Theory in the Study of Cognition

Field: Litteraturvetenskap, slaviska språk
Project leader: Aleksei Semenenko
Starting year: 2013
Project type: Project

The project aims to update and critically (re-)assess the legacy of the semiotician and literary scholar Yuri Lotman in the context of the study of cognition. One of the most interesting and yet to be explored areas of Lotman’s multifaceted legacy was his study of culture as an intrinsic component of human consciousness. In his early structuralist as well as in his latest works on literature, art and culture, Lotman has consistently applied such concepts as (individual and collective) consciousness, memory, and intellect; modeling mechanism (that characterizes individual consciousness, texts and culture as a whole), and other similar, including the most prolific one, the semiosphere. Two ideas are central in Lotman’s semiotics: the first is that culture is an exceptionally complex text that consists of a hierarchy
of texts within the texts, and the second is that culture is isomorphic to individual consciousness and thus can be presented as a collective mind, and not just metaphorically but functionally and structurally.

In other words, Lotman—both implicitly and explicitly—sets forth a theory of cognition that the project explores with regard to three main contexts that are closely linked with one another and in many ways are overlapping: 1) the philosophical background of Lotman’s theory, 2) the context of cognitive semiotics, and 3) the context of neuroscience. The project thus strives to examine historical contexts of Lotman’s theory and to establish how modern theories may enrich or correct his ideas and whether Lotman’s work may contribute to cognitive sciences. An important part of the project is the critical study of Lotman’s participation in the brain research in the 1970-80s, in order to discuss possible implications
of his theory for modern neuroscience.

Bringing together semiotics, cultural and literary studies, cognitive science and neuroscience in a historical perspective, the conclusive goal of the project is not only to present a complete picture of Lotman’s unique theory of mind but also to illustrate its relevance for the present-day study of cognition.