, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 33–45 | Cite as

The Symptom

Original Paper


The symptom (which here refers to both the clinical or ‘objective’ sign, that is, the sign that physicians believe cannot lie, and the patient’s subjective revelation of disorder, which is always considered suspect) has been relegated by a number of semioticians to a category of signs often considered of little consequence, a ‘natural’ sign signaling some specific condition or state within the body whose object stands in a strictly biological and securely determined relationship to the symptom. I believe the symptom, however, is deep, rich, and symbolic in every sense, signifying the misadventures of a body impaled by its perceptual skills and history within its own unique Umwelt or sign-world. Unfortunately, the notion of a sign which reflects biologically coded events alone suggests the body is without the ability to think, learn, and produce a story of unlimited semiosis. This should seem especially problematic to those biosemioticians who find analogic codes of much greater importance than the supposedly digital codes of DNA. I suggest that the disordered and disorderly body and the Umwelt within which it survives offer biosemioticians and those who pursue semiotic models in other disciplines an important opportunity to jointly and more fully explore the experienced world of health and illness, a world in which culture and nature are fully interpenetrated.


Symptom Umwelt Sign Biosemiotics Peirce Local biologies 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DallasUSA

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