Lionel Naccache

The Sign Song Publication date : January 18, 2017

Lionel Naccache, who attended ENS (Ecole Nationale Supérieure), holds a Ph.D. in cognitive neurosciences and does research in that field at the ICM (Brain and Spinal Cord Institute) at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, and Professor Medicine at Paris University VI. His previous books for Editions Odile Jacob are Le Nouvel Inconscient (“The New Subconscious”), Perdons-nous connaissance ? (“Are We Losing Awareness?”) L’homme reseau-nable (“Net-Working Man”) and Un sujet en soi (“A Subject in and of Ourselves).
The symbolic signs that are all around us have been designed to generate an absolutely clear, unequivocal and indisputable meaning in our minds: a green light, a red light, a stop sign, the symbol for public toilets, the circled M of the Parisian Metro or the red-white-and-blue London Underground one, the green cross for pharmacies, the little vertical rectangles on our cell phones and more…
Most of our collisions with signs respond to signage’s expectations: the sign firmly indicates which way we’re supposed to go, providing both direction and meaning. And we conform, docilely and unthinkingly, to its injunctions. But occasionally, a “signage mishap” occurs: we don’t automatically understand the sign the way we were supposed to.
This book is devoted to those incidents of semantic collision. Studying those events is instructive in terms of understanding how our minds/brains work, perceive, interpret, understand, and finally, make sense of the world around us. It reveals the interpretative layer that it is so difficult to be aware of otherwise. And above all, it allows us to measure to what extent, in a world saturated with unequivocal signs, it is essential, for our individual survival, to be able to continue to exercise our power of interpreting the world, freely and in our own way.