Language, math, spirituality: these three words may find well-known British biologist Richard Dawkins, an atheist, and Pellissippi State Technical Community College English professor Edward Francisco, who is Catholic, locking horns … not over God, exactly, but over semiotics, a branch of language study that Francisco believes opens the door to possibilities not readily explained by a simple stimulus-response theory.
Francisco will present his theory that every utterance has a shape and therefore a mathematical proportion at the Oxford Round Table at Exeter College at the University of Oxford in England, July 26-31.
Francisco will be joined by Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist; Isobel Hurst, philosophy professor at the University of London; Canon Brian Mountford, vicar of St. Mary’s University Church of Oxford; and 36 other members of the Oxford Round Table. The Round Table is an international organization that promotes education, art, science, religion and charity through academic conferences and scholarly papers.
Papers at the 2009 Round Table will be read and judged by peers and official referees. Francisco’s paper is titled “Semiotics and an Emerging Science of Thirdness.”
“This should prove interesting,” said Francisco, author of nine books and writer-in-residence at Pellissippi State.
“The most important thing I’ve done is to suggest that types of language can be correlated with mathematical sets,” Francisco said. His application of mathematics in describing levels of language use offers a way to expand current scientific inquiry into the nature of language and its users.
“I think this topic will be controversial,” Francisco said. “I suspect Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most renowned atheist, is going to disagree.
“My formulations admit the possibility of the spiritual in the human dimension. Dawkins thinks all behavior is stimulus-response; even language production he would see as a series of dyads [two units regarded as one].”
This will be Francisco’s second trip to the Round Table. He presented a paper on a similar topic in 2006. Francisco has written a collection of essays focusing on cognitive science and semiotics and has just completed a book on semiotics and consciousness.