It was my great honor to participate in the brilliant event "The Rearguard of Subjectivity In Honor of Jan M. Broekman’s 90th Birthday" celebrating the festschrift to be produced in tribute to Professor Broaekman and his work. It took place 17-18 June 2021 and was organized by the amazing Frank Fleerackers and hosted by the Leuven University Faculty of Law as part of the International Roundtables for the Semiotics of Law — IRSL 2021 (the incomparable Anne Wagner, President). The focus was on Professor Broekman's profound contributions to semiotics, and with it, to structuralism and phenomenology
Of my dear friend, mentor, and colleague, Professor Jan Broekman, the organizers wrote:
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to contribute to the celebration. In honor of the event I delivered remarks Objective Subjectivities and the Simulacra of Semiotics in the New Era: Of the Simulation of Signification and of the Modeling and Objectification of Meaning Making a longer version of which will find its way into print. The remarks reflect both the years of patient mentoring by my friend and colleague as well as an effort, in celebration of his work, to engage in some of Professor Broekman's most provocative insights. A summary of the points
I share below the full text of the remarks which follow below.
Pix Credit: Simulacrum in Literature: Braudrillard and BarthelmeThe decisive move toward the objectification of reality and its meaning through its simulation (present) and its modelling (future)--that is the quantification, and digitalization of humanity--has brought humanity to a great transformative moment. Now comprehended only as and by its own simulation, the modalities of objectification, of signification, and ultimately of the encounters with meaning and its making, has now (again) removed itself from an immanent to a transcendent condition. 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 attainment of reality and its instrumentalization through the mechanics of simulation. If humanity is reducing itself to its own essence and from that grasping at the essence of its own meaning and its plasticity, to the reduction of meaning to that essence contextually contingent, then semiotics can either embrace that reconstitution of the human or content itself to a decreasingly relevant footnote in the history of humanity’s self-obsessions with its self-objectification. To that conundrum, Jan Broekman has pointed a way forward for semiotics, or at least that branch of its study that embraces not just simulation but its ultimate condition--the understanding of the objectification of subjectivity and the instrumentalization of what the “Human, All-Too-Human.” These remarks start with a consideration of the movement toward simulation and its mechanics. It then seeks to reframe that consideration not in its ancient and now hackneyed Platonic forms, but as a robust reconstruction of the world through its reduction and essentialization within constructs that can be counted and measured against the deal which is itself the ultimate simulation of simulations. It ends with an examination of 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.
International Roundtables for the Semiotics of Law --IRSL 2021
The Rearguard of Subjectivity
In Honor of Jan M. Broekman’s 90th Birthday
Hosted by Leuven University Faculty of Law
17-18 June 2021 (Online)
Objective Subjectivities and the Simulacra of Semiotics in the New Era: Of the Simulation of Signification and of the Modeling and Objectification of Meaning Making.
Larry Catá Backer
W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar Professor of Law and International Affairs
Pennsylvania State University | 239 Lewis Katz Building, University Park, PA 16802 1.814.863.3640 (direct) || email@example.com
ABSTRACT: The decisive move toward the objectification of reality and its meaning through its simulation (present) and its modelling (future)--that is the quantification, and digitalization of humanity--has brought humanity to a great transformative moment. Now comprehended only as and by its own simulation, the modalities of objectification, of signification, and ultimately of the encounters with meaning and its making, has now (again) removed itself from an immanent to a transcendent condition. 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 attainment of reality and its instrumentalization through the mechanics of simulation. If humanity is reducing itself to its own essence and from that grasping at the essence of its own meaning and its plasticity, to the reduction of meaning to that essence contextually contingent, then semiotics can either embrace that reconstitution of the human or content itself to a decreasingly relevant footnote in the history of humanity’s self-obsessions with its self-objectification. To that conundrum, Jan Broekman has pointed a way forward for semiotics, or at least that branch of its study that embraces not just simulation but its ultimate condition--the understanding of the objectification of subjectivity and the instrumentalization of what the “Human, All-Too-Human.” This essay starts with a consideration of the movement toward simulation and its mechanics. It then seeks to reframe that consideration not in its ancient and now hackneyed Platonic forms, but as a robust reconstruction of the world through its reduction and essentialization within constructs that can be counted and measured against the deal which is itself the ultimate simulation of simulations. It ends with an examination of 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.
Pix Credit HERE
In his after-the-fact prequel to his famous Foundation series, Prelude to Foundation, his novelistic construction of a taxonomy of collective meaning making, Isaac Asimov considered the problematique at the heart of the post-1945 drive toward the systemization of the meaning of the world, its ordering, and the individual’s role in it. That problematique centered on the reduction of the qualitative element of signification to its essence, and then the reconstitution of that essence as the reality of its own representation. Asimov starts with the problem of simplification in the face of dynamic complexity; that is of the perversities of modelling as a Platonic exercise.
Using the human voice of his hero, he suggests the inherent fallibility of models that are mere incomplete reflections of the objects they are designed to reduce to a true essence, a fallibility that inherently defeats the objective of simulation. But then he is challenged by a robot--the ultimate simulation of the fundamental complexity at the heart of meaning for humanity, a robot, we learn later, has been guiding humanity toward its perfection (or at least away form disaster) for eons. The ultimate simulacra of humanity asks the human about the possibility of simulating simulation to avoid the fatal trap of reductionism--that reduction is inherently impossible because it was inconceivable that such an effort was possible without fracturing the whole of the object simulated.
But Asimov reconsiders. A reduction of a reduction was not merely possible but could also appear to distill its signification in ways that mattered to those signifying. In this case a planet that reflected and contained within it a significant quantum of the variant in the universe could itself serve as the basis for the simulation of the simulation of the galaxy  This is not just science fiction. This is the foundation of the post-1945 international order and the reconstitution of the United States as the simulation of the world, the modelling of which could be tested and refined, and thus refined, exported and generalized as a global order. The United States as the simulation of the world assumed a much great power when it moved from the traditional semiotics of word and meaning to its quantification and reduction to objectifiable subjectivities. It is a model that now finds its analogue in the reconstitution of Socialist Society through the simulacra that in the aggregate constitutes the Chinese social credit system. Simulation is semiotics. Its modelling is signification, and its manipulation meaning making for a new era of human development--one in which the driving force is no longer humanity but humanity’s detritus, and one in which the operative force is not natural but artificial persons representing the simulated perfectibility of the human object.
What appeared impossible--the reduction of object-signs into systems of signification that could be read, and managed--became possible where reality itself could be reconstructed as a model of itself. Thus simulated, it could be vested with meaning. But more than that, it could be directed, and changed. That is, he considered the solution to the problem of signification as grounded in the reconstitution of signification as object which is at once both identical to the original object signified and some thing else again. And the simulation is infinitely practical, it can reconstruct reality in its own image. But for the purpose, humanity requires a simulation of itself to bring it to simulate its own surroundings and through this simulation to reconstruct it also in humanity’s own image. “Visualization and quantification: together they snap the padlock--reality is fettered (at least tightly enough and for long enough to get work out of it and possibly a law of nature or two). Here one takes up the challenge of partitions that Jan Broekman issued in Chapter 5 of his Meaning, Narrativity, and the Real. This, then, is how signs now fascinate simulating law through nudging.
Jan here reminds us of another galaxy of simulation--of the simulacra of “tongues” in the incarnation of the self and its projection outward. Reading Jan’s “Rearguards of Subjectivity” brought to mind at first not the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner and Adolf Portmann, but that of Genesis: “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” If, in the Biblical account of creation, God created the Earth and all in it, it was Humanity to whom He vested the power to give each meaning. This meaning by naming also has ancient roots in Chinese rhetorical principles from the time of the Pre-Socratics. Guiguzi speaks of Ming (名)--of naming, of defining accurately, and of drawing distinctions, a concept that itself was closely though controversially tied to that of shi (实) of actuality, truth, or essence of the thing names. Intersubjectivity was a divine prerogative, at least until humanity took for itself (at the instigation of another divine form), the fruit of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil; “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Yet as Jan points out quite clearly in Rearguards of Subjectivity, something odd happens both to language and to the philosophical anthropology of a mechanical age. Guiguzi’s naming-truth (ming/shi 名/实), Genesis’ Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and philosophical anthropology all mean to account for the margins that are the individual human, and their recognition in the reflection of the others--not just other people, but other things as well. Thus Plessner and Portmann may look to eccentricity tied both to the bodies of a human person and that body’s ‘person-ality.’ The mechanics of that double birth structure, again as Jan astutely develops, may be bound up in language, and language bound up in meaning (again we come back to Genesis and Giguzi), but technology has shifted the parameters of analysis and the primary objects of signification. We are no longer in a world the humanity of which is signified by “consciousness and completeness . . . intertwined with physiological process” nor one bounded by the constraining technologies of language to communicate its insights. Instead, technology has now relegated eccentricity of the self, that is the foundation of philosophy as networked, intersubjective, deviations from a mean against which eccentricity is possible, to a second order product. To be human today is an expression of the simulation of the human, which is itself constructed from out of the absorption of eccentricity and its rationalization against the ideal which is itself a product of this aggregation.
To center the human is to engage in a resistance to the objectification of subjectivity within its own simulation. To center the human, the singular eccentricity, in an age of technology which has incorporated the individual eccentricity of the subject as a statistic in the construction of a collective humanity through which eccentricity is only possible within its simulation. Simulation decenters the human and places humanity again within its ecology in which it is one of many subjectivities and where the eccentricities of component parts are far less interesting than the collective eccentricity of humanity as a distinctive psycho-physiological being in an environment populated by a number of other quite distinct collections of eccentricity (or of marginalia producing a unity capable of essentialization). The semiotics of the human thus operates at two simultaneous and distinct levels of intersubjectivity (meaning making, signification, and consciousness). The first is internal--which has been the object of philosophy for millennia--remains the relation between the body of the individual within and against the body of humanity. The second is external, which has been an object but of politics and biology--centers humanity against their collectives of living and non-living things among which humanity exists. ,
Technology has made it possible again to de-center the individual from their human-ness, even as it focuses more intensely on the individual eccentricities that collectively define the human. And it has enabled the relocation of the subjective from the individual to the collective and from their outward into inter-collective subjectivity and back inward into the dialogical challenges of the human being as data point against the leveling power of the algorithm. But technology cannot absorb all data everywhere across space and time and species. An initial reduction is necessary. That reduction requires the creation of a simulation that will simulate the universe of data that is to be (1) identified; (2) analyzed; and (3) managed. We are now what we measure. But we cannot measure everything--that would be necessary for a complete model. Instead we have metastasized our crude first effort at simulating simulation--the focus group--into a comprehensive but working reduction from out of which it might be possible to simulate a model of what is to be observed.
And thus back to Asimov and his Prelude to Foundation and as well to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It brings us back to an instrumentalization of signification. And so the Emperor Cleon--ruler of thousands of worlds within a galaxy so large that even planets are granular eccentricities--is moved to ask: “I am given to understand that you believe it is possible to predict the future.” The question itself was nudged by a simulation of the individual--the Emperor’s robot advisor who represented the initial effort to incarnate the singularity of humanity within the singularity of its mechanical expression. The Robert R. Daneel Olivaw, nudges key individual behavior at critical junctures to increase the probability of a desired future outcome. The simulation would do the same but by aggregating the individual into a collective, and by nudging the collective and ensure aggregate movement. In the process one substitutes mathematics (data based quantification) for intuition (language and communication). That, in turn, requires methods of incarnation of collectives; these then structure the necessity and challenge of modelling--of modelling humanity, one that is in its essence comprised of a problem of identification ad of the management of humanity toward “good” ends. To that end it is necessary to construct a model of humanity from the aggregation of models of individual human beings--of the aggregation of collective eccentricities that then produce both the norm and its range of deviation. In effect--the simulation of humanity is built on the simulation of the human individual. The robot, who names himself ironically enough as Hummin, represents that foundational simulacra of the individual, one which was necessary but not sufficient to model humanity.
Modeling and simulation reminds us that signification is not identical to self-actualization. It marks a triumph of digitalization and of its quantification, as the abstracted signification of the thing modelled. And it permits an intersubjectivity of models, of simulations, through which simulated realities may themselves be combined in simulated space to produce larger and larger simulation of realities that may be experimented with, and from which it may be possible to adjust behaviors. It is rather the externalization of creation. It is the recognition of a repeating pattern of opposition that in their naming might then be objectified for higher order interactions and for the careful management of the granular realities of the individual whose own relationship with themselves can be nudged through the application of stimulus from outside the quantum and trajectories of which are provided by and in the model, and through the model it is possible to move forward in time to predict the effects of the nudging of individuals and collectives. And thus Hari Seldon’s answer to the Emperor Cleon’s question is redolent with subtle potential: in studying human society, it is possible to choose a starting point and to make appropriate assumptions that will suppress chaos. That will make is possible to . . . calculate probabilities.” What Seldon expresses is the signification of the incarnation of an object, humanity, as an object that may be molded--modeled, and animated, through the study of its own simulation. He is not predicting the future, but he is offering a means of shaping the future--of imposing meaning projected forward through the application of “appropriate assumptions.” That, effectively is the new face of meaning making. Moreover, it is also democratic: Seldon concedes the leveling effect of modeling--“With proper mathematics, anyone would be able to assess the probabilities. It wouldn’t take the rare human bring who is successful because of a remarkably intuitive sense.”
In the process the semiotics of the human shifts as well. And that is the object of this contribution. It considers the phenomenon of simulation, of modelling, on which reality is now dependent for its understanding of itself. This is the ironic fulfillment of one expression of Nietzsche’s phenomenology. But more than that, simulation now does not merely model reality, it is made to predict; it is a system of divination that speaks to the future by considering he sum of the past. The object of this examination is to suggest the beginnings of a simulated semiotics for a simulated reality. Simulation represents here both a reduction and modelling of the world which both represents and is the reality is models, and at the same time it provides the platform through which that model may be bent, adjusted, and refined at the instance of those in command of the levers of meaning. It gives form to the technologies of power over aggregated populations that Foucault would predict (in a cruder form) as the notion of biopolitics. Those levers, now reduced to symbol, themselves reshape the real by shaping its simulacra. It is in this context that meaning, narrativity and the real develops not just a new language vessel through which meaning is conveyed but also the triumph of a subjectivity that can be rationalized, and thus rationalized invested with the attributes of an idealized objectivity. Semiotics now enters the world of the simulation of sign, and simulation is reified as the ultimate objective subjectivity; dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux.
 (1988; NY: Doubleday, 1988).
 Ibid. Speaking through the voice of Hari Seldon, the “inventor” of “psychohistory”, Asimov argues:
“Well--” He retired into himself to choose a method of presentation. Then he said, “If you want to understand some aspect of the universe, it helps if you simplify it as much as possible and include only those properties and characteristics that are essential to understanding . . . The simplification you can call a model or simulation. . . Such simplified simulations make it far easier to grasp a phenomenon than it would be if we had to study the phenomenon itself. . . Now, as you wish to know more and more about any phenomenon, or as a phenomenon becomes more complex, you need more and more elaborate equations, and more and more detailed programming, and you will end with a computerized simulation that is harder and harder to grasp.” “Can’t you form a simulation of a simulation?” asked Hummin. (Ibid., pp. 146-147).
 Ibid. Here Asimov speaks through the voice of his ancient robot hero R. Daneel Olivaw, who has disguised himself in a way that both plays with and reveals his simulated (hyper)humanity--Chetter Hummin, who asks: “’Can’t you form a simulation of a simulation?’ asked Hummin. ‘You would go down another degree.’? (Ibid., p.147).
 Ibid., p. 413. (the planet “was itself a system complex enough to make [simulation]meaningful and yet it was simple enugh, compared to the Empire as a whole, to make [simulation] perhaps practical.”].
 Here one hears echoes of the four stages of Jean Baudrillard’s sign-order which progresses from faithful copy (the sacramental order), to a perversion of the reality once faithfully represented, to the reconstitution of the copy assomething that pretends to be a faithful representation (the order of sorcery where meaning is made to appear as a reference to some truth, and finally to pure simulacrum where the copy has no relation to any reality from which it had started out to faithfully represent. See Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Sheila Faria Glaser (trans), University of Michigan Press, 1994, . p. 6.
 Alfred Crosby (1997) The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600 (Cambridge University Press).
 (2016, Springer).
 Jan Broekman (2017) Legal Signs Fascinate: Kevelson’s Research on Semiotics (Dordrecht: Springer).
 Genesis 2:19 (KJV).
 Guiguzi, Guiguzi: China’s First Treatise on Rhetoric: A Critical Translation and Commentary (Hui Wu (trans) (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Universit Press, 2016), p. 156.
 Ibid., p. 60 n. 26.
 Genesis 3:5.
 Jan Broakman, “Rearguards of Subjecivity” draft text at p. 5.
 Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978 (Graham Birchall, trans., New York, Picador, 2004).
 Dan Ariely, Column: You Are What You Measure, Harvard Business Review, June 2010; available [http://hbr.org/2010/06/column-you-are-what-you-measure/ar/1]; Sam Luce, “We are What We Measure,” Sam Luce.com (26 May 2011); available [https://samluce.com/2010/05/you-are-what-you-measure/]
 Asimov, supra, p. 10.
 Thus R Daneel Olivaw explains to Hari Seldon:
But what is humanity? To what can we point when we speak of humanity And how can we define harm to humanity ? . . . When I heard your speech to the Decennial Convention, I realized at once that in psychohistory there was a tool that might make it possible to identify what was good and bad for humanity. With it, the decisions we would make would be less blind [that is less reliant on individual intuition]. I would even trust to human beings to make these decisions. . .
Ibid., pp. 426-427.
 Asimov, supra, p. 10.
 Ibid., pp. 10-11.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human : A Book for Free Spirits (1909) Helen Zimmern (trans) (London: TN Foulis; Project Gutenberg May 2, 2016 [EBook #51935]) where he declares:
"That which we now call the world is the result of a mass of errors and fantasies which arose gradually in the general development of organic being, which are inter-grown with each other, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of all the past,—as a treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. From this world of representation strict science is really only able to liberate us to a very slight extent—as it is also not at all desirable—inasmuch as it cannot essentially break the power of primitive habits of feeling; but it can gradually elucidate the history of the rise of that world as representation,—and lift us, at least for moments, above and beyond the whole process. Perhaps we shall then recognise that the thing in itself is worth a Homeric laugh; that it seemed so much, indeed everything, and is really empty, namely, empty of meaning." (Ibid., ¶ 16).
 Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, supra,
 Gen. 1:1 (Vulgate).