Over at Circling Squares Philip has a couple great posts on naturalism (here, here, and above all here). I think there’s a lot of anxiety in the humanities arising from both methodological worries and university politics. With regard to the first source of worry, there seems to be concern that naturalism leads to the erasure of meaning, replacing the analysis of cultural texts with neurology, biology,and so on. With regard to the latter, liberal arts departments have increasingly witnessed economic assaults on their departments, while watching the hard sciences grow.
I’m certainly not for the erasure of meaning or the thesis that fields such as neurology and biology provide us with the real account of cultural artifacts. My thesis is more modest: if naturalism is true, then signification as signification is a natural phenomenon. If that’s true, then it can’t be a phenomenon outside the constraints of physics, the rate at which information can travel (the current barrier being the speed of light or 186,232 mps), neurology, the processing power of computers, etc. so while I recognize that meaning, as a natural phenomenon, has it’s own organization that needs to be attended to if we’re to understand Homer, I think we also need to be open to the role played by various physical structures. For example, does the range, durability, and speed at which information can be exchanged in a particular society influence the sort of structure it can have and the form signification takes? Such questions require us to attend to the physics of information under a particular medium. There’s much more to say here, but dinner beckons.