Saturday, April 21, 2012

An Evolving Fiction

The irony of diagrammatic thinking is that a diagram is a "fiction".
"The work of the poet or novelist is not so utterly different from that of the scientific man.  The artist introduces a fiction; but it is not an arbitrary one; it exhibits affinities to which the mind accords a certain approval in pronouncing them beautiful, which if it is not exactly the same as saying that the synthesis is true, is something of the same general kind. The geometer draws a diagram, which if not exactly a fiction, is at least a creation, and by means of observation of that diagram he is able to synthesize and show relations between elements which before seemed to have no necessary connection." [CP 1.383]
The necessity — which itself can reflect a any kind of "consistency" — used to infer consequences that are taken to apply to that experience is created out of selective abstractions that are merely analogous in some way to experience.  Not only is this fiction deemed capable of inferring truth about experience, the diagram itself tends to become reality for us.
"A diagram, indeed, so far as it has a general signification, is not a pure icon; but in the middle part of our reasonings we forget that abstractness in great measure, and the diagram is for us the very thing." [CP 3.362]
This suggests a Hegelian manner of thinking with diagrams. We accept a diagram as "absolute," as reality, until cracks start to appear in our applications of it, in the inferences made within it, and/or in the consequences being inferred.  Then, at some point, we may just say "next" as Peirce accused Hegel doing, but in one way or another we replace that diagram with one more comprehensive or better-suited to our needs or just different.


  1. Peirce says somewhere that an icon does not represent generals or particulars but 'a pure dream'. Likewise I would say it does not represent reality or fictionality. A pure dream is not 'unreal' it is 'a-real' - if that makes any sense at all.

    How do 'cracks appear' in the diagram, unless we are considering more than just the diagram?

  2. Cathy,

    I wonder if you're referring to:

    "The reality of things consists in their persistent forcing themselves upon our recognition. If a thing has no such persistence, it is a mere dream. Reality, then, is persistence, is regularity." [CP 1.175]

    "Persistence" and "regularity" are what a diagram/fiction has, whereas a dream does not. This also reminds me of Nietzsche:

    “This world of pure fiction is greatly inferior to the world of dreams, so far as the latter mirrors reality, and the former falsifies, devalues, and negates reality.” [The Antichrist]

    Meanwhile, though, I need an example of a simple, day-to-day diagram like a map developing cracks in it.

    Thanks for your comment,