The Semiotics of Identifiable Models in the Economy of Thought: Making Improved Measurement More Widely Available in Psychology and the Social Sciences

How can more meaningful, rigorous, practical, and convenient measurement be made more widely available in psychology and the social sciences? A perhaps unexpected source of possible answers can be found in the notion that measurement model identifiability might plausibly be rooted in the semiotics of everyday language. The first of two suggestive clues in this regard concerns the way the semiotic triangle of things, words, and ideas structures what Mach called the labor-saving economy of thought. The second clue is suggested by Mach when he notes the way science extends the economy of thought, bringing new things into words via rigorous conceptual determinations. Following through the implications of these clues points in new directions for psychology and the social sciences.

The economy of thought is a function of the way language is learned via the relatively simple imitation and recognition of auditory and visual patterns. Though many find learning a new language quite challenging, appropriating the knowledge already stored in it is markedly easier than having to invent new thing-word-idea relations, and then having also to translate between private symbol systems.
This labor-saving economy of thought works because language's models of things in the world are identifiable. Identifiable scientific models map relationships within the processes that generated the data, informing inferences to a latent variable that can be repeatedly reproduced, within limits, across samples and instruments, and over time and space. Identifiability similarly characterizes how standardized symbols (signifiers like "chair") represent an idea (the signified 'chair') about potentially infinite populations of any one kind of individually unique things (the referent, real chairs).

Significant challenges to extending language's economy of thought are encountered in the ways languages emerge via collective social processes not under the intentional control of any individual or group. New challenges and opportunities emerging in psychology and the social sciences, however, show how the semiotics of everyday language may be extended in new directions via appropriately self-organized collective processes. The formulation, testing, and dissemination of identifiable models of these kinds of human and social constructs is projected to lead not just to new economies of thought narrowly defined in the terms of new shared mathematical languages of measurement, but also to applications in the broader commercial economies of sustainable relationships.

William P. Fisher, Jr. was a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow, earning a Ph.D. in Chicago’s Department of Education in 1988, concentrating in Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistical Analysis (MESA) under the supervision of Benjamin D. Wright. He is an author, co-author, and co-editor of multiple works on the philosophy, history, theory, and practice of measurement.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 2:00pm
Berkeley Way West