World Report

Russian semiotics: An interdisciplinary research group in Oryol

By Gennady Uzilevsky

At the end of 1980s a group of scientists representing different scientific and engineering disciplines gathered in the city of Oryol (or Orel) in Western Russia to study the problems raised by human-computer interactions. Semiotic, ergonomic, and psychological theories provided the starting points for studying and designing user interface and the sign vehicles involved in human-computer interactions. The activities of these researchers were supported by well-known Russian scientists: Academicians O. Belotserkovskiy (applied mathematics), I. Litwak and W. Munipov (applied ergonomics), D. Pospelov (artificial intelligence), and W. Zinchenko (psychology and ergonomics). A number of round tables and conferences took place in Orel under the leadership of Gennady Uzilevsky. They were dedicated to issues of user interface design. During the 1990s the researchers from Oryol took part in several international conferences aimed at discussing and solving various problems of human-computer interactions. These scientific events were organized by Russian research centers in collaboration with HFES, International Ergonomics Association, ACM SIGCHI, etc. The conferences were held in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

An International conference on “User interface in current computer systems” took place in Oryol in 1999. It was organized by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, the Russian Foundation for fundamental research, and the Administration of the Oryol Region. W. Zinchenko and G. Uzilevsky co-chaired the Program Committee.

In 1983 Uzilevsky received his habilitation as doctor of philological sciences for his thesis on structural, applied and mathematical linguistics, entitled "Natural and artificial languages in current linguistic processors". Concurrently, a number of researchers in this team defended Phd theses in the sphere of technical and pedagogical sciences. All these activities bear witness to the dynamic of the research group in Oryol.

While elaborating theoretical and pragmatic approaches to the issues of user interface and its sign vehicles, G. Uzilevsky developed a new specialization, “ergonomic semiotics”, which deals with the research on, and design of languages for human-machine communication. This involved the study of the composition and structure of the following components:

– languages that are inherent in people (natural and iconic languages, language of actions, language of postures, color code, etc.);

– evolutionarily developing artificial languages (fairy-tale language, bibliographic and chess languages, language of geometrical configurations, etc.);

– "child" natural language, frames of reference, acquisition, etc.

The conclusion of this research was that the structure of these components consisted of two levels (abstract and concrete). This finding led him to formulate the hypothesis of two-leveled structures (abstract and concrete) in the cognitive and mnemonic mechanisms of human brain. This assumed universal structure was then tentatively transferred to human-computer interactive languages. This gave a new impulse to the research projects of the Oryol Center.

Gennady Uzilevsky also worked out various models of information processing by humans where linguistic and non-linguistic phenomena are combined together. They include:

He depicted problems of user interface design in a monograph. Functions of user interface as information system were defined, the requirements for the latter were determined, the typology of human-computer interaction languages and requirements for their design were specified. He also elaborated the structure-functional approach to color choice by user interface design. This helped to increase the number of colors up to 10-12 per page of a screen without a physiological damage of user's vision He was especially interested in working out principles of iconic/ visual user interface design. Such empirical and theoretical research contributed to the elucidation of the features and functions of iconic languages.

In the beginning of 21th century the scientists at the research center endeavored to study the nature of traditions and reproductions, and came to the conclusion that they possessed not only a two-leveled -- abstract and concrete -- structure, but also a noumenon-phenomenal nature. It led him to reconsider languages and codes that similarly had two-leveled structures as noumenon-phenomenal formations. This interpretation led Uzilevsky to the conclusion that human beings had also a noumenon-phenomenal nature, because it is a carrier of programs, languages, codes, traditions, reproductions, etc.

At the same time, G. Uzilevsky was working out the semiotic foundations of metaphysic anthropological semiotics. The model of generic human was worked out, it’s biologic and symbolic constituents represented by programs, languages, and codes were defined. The kinds of generic human, its spiritual, mental and body spheres, system of behavior formation and realization of accepted decisions were outlined, their features, functions, peculiarities were demonstrated. It was confirmd that a priori given programs, languages, and codes, which were formed in phylogenesis, were being displayed in the individual at all stages of his/her age development, including the prenatal period. This noumenal reality determines the early capability of individuals for education, upbringing and socialization at every stage of their age development. New ideas about generic human are a basis of individual transferring into social human in certain outer historical conditions.

Simultaneously the semiotic nature of essence, forms and harmony were investigated, their displaying in humans, nature, society and universe was outlined. It led the researcher to spiritual, ideal and material metaphysic beginnings that helped to interpret generic human not only as noumenon-phenomenal, but also as material, ideal (= mental)-spiritual formation and to define its features and peculiarities. This understanding of generic human has pointed to the wisdom and utility of human genus research as the highest noumenal reality. It has aided him in constructing the model of human genus and defining its potential and kinds. The investigation of social institutions as noumenon-phenomenal and material, ideal (= mental)-spiritual formations is a consequence of semiotic study of human genus and generic human.

It is not difficult to acknowledge that there are deep ties between ergo-semiotics and meta-semiotics. The latter has appeared at the crossroads of semiotics with metaphysics of physics, meta-mathematics, probabilistic metaphysics of senses, west and east philosophy, political science, sociology, psychology, pedagogic science, theosophy, etc. The development of the scientific direction was reflected in numerous scientific papers and three monographs: Введение в антропологическую семиотику (Introduction in anthropological semiotics). Орел, 2002, 158 с. Принципы разработки компьютеризованного учебно-методического комплекса (Principles of design of computer-aided learning and methodology complex). Орел: ОРАГС, 2002, 205 с. Человеческий род и индивид в 21 веке: метафизические и феноменологические аспекты (Human genus and individual in 21th century: metaphysic and phenomenological aspects). Орел: ОРАГС, 2007, 328 p

Here it is important to note that Gennady Uzilevsky follows the traditions of the German-Russian systemic linguistic school (W. Humboldt – I. Baudoin de Courtenay – A. Potebnia – G. Melnikov) and develops them in the space of metaphysic and ergonomic semiotics.

While constructing these specializations, the anthropo-semiotic bottom up approach to study various types of noumenon-phenomenal formations is being worked out. The latter include: human being, intellectual and language vehicles, traditions, reproductions, innovations, social institutes, etc. Other titles of this approach that were used in his publications during 30 years are: system-semiotic approach. synthetic bottom up approach, synthetic-semiotic bottom up approach.

This approach proved to be useful for investigating problems of personality- oriented methodology of education, and for developing models of mental and physical actions, etc. Consciousness, the unconscious and super-consciousness, intuition and knowledge typology were studied in the context of anthropo-semiotics. During the last few years, some researchers focused on the semiotic nature of functional organs (the concept was introduced by the prominent Russian physiologist A. Uchtomskij). It has unveiled the great potential of the systemic approach to behavior formation and realization of accepted decisions that is inherent in generic human.

A research group was organized for applying this approach to the investigation of person-oriented society, economy of service, democratic state and post-industrial civilization in order to elucidate their features, functions, peculiarities, and potential. The results of their investigations were reported in the session on “Post-industrial civilization and culture” at the International Congress “Unifying aspects of cultures”, Vienna, November, 7-9, 2003”. The reports became the basis of a collective monograph1; the corresponding papers were applied in the form of the disk to the transactions of the conference. Постиндустриальная цивилизация и культура управления (Post-industrial civilization and culture of control and management.).Орел: ОРАГС, 2005, 248 с,Das Verbindenden der Kulturen. The Unifying aspects of cultures. Les points communs des Cultures. Wien: INST, 2004, 379 2

The next two years of the team’s activities were dedicated to the study of the semiotic nature of innovations, traditions and reproductions. The results were delivered at the International conference “Innovations and reproductions in societies and cultures”, Vienna, December, 9-11, 2005, on the section “Inner and outer determinants of innovations, reproductions and tradition: synthetic approach”. The chair of the section was G. Uzilevsky. Various ties between these objects of research were discussed from the position of anthropo-semiotic approach and general theory of developing systems. The materials of the section were transformed not only into the new collective monograph3, but also into papers, applied to the corresponding book4

It should be said that the ties between meta-semiotics and other specializations were traced. For instance, the ideas of metaphysic semiotics were applied to the sociology of personality. It aided in working out meta-sociology as a new scientific specialization5. Wladimir Andreev and Gennady Uzilevsky began to create metaphysic cybernetics. The main focus of the new specialization is application of such notions as “human genus” and “generic human” to problems of control and management. While elaborating new problems the scientists have changed views concerning constituents of the generic human. They came to the conclusion that there were three constituents: physical, biological and symbolic6. Here it is of use to underline that A. Bobrov’s monograph, in which the existence of physical environment in Homo is experimentally shown, counts in favor of the inference7.

The results, obtained by researchers, prompted G. Uzilevsky to organize the section “Human genus and individual in XXI century: metaphysic and phenomenological aspects” in the framework of the Russian philosophical society. The section began its activities attached to ORASS in 2006. Reports and round tables were dedicated to the nature of human genus and generic human, synthetic approaches, including anthropo-semiotic bottom-up approach, and social institutes..

ORASS Publishing house began to a series of ORASS Transactions “Human being and social institutions in 21st century:” The monograph “Human genus and individual in 21st century…”, mentioned above, is the first volume in the series. The collective monograph “Human being and the state in the 21st century” will appear in 2008 and will be the second volume of the series. The authors of this book are scientists from Moscow, Belgorod, Oryol and Germany. This fact suggests that a new scientific interdisciplinary school has been self-organized. It includes representatives not only of historical, philosophical, societal, social, but also of biological and technological disciplines.

The International Conference “Knowledge, Creativity and Transformations of Societies took place in Vienna, Austria, on December, 6-9, 2007. Twenty-eight scientists from Finland, Germany and Russia sent their abstracts for the session on “Transformation of personality-oriented civil society in the context of being and development of economy of service and post-industrial civilization” (see Reports of the section will be presented in the corresponding INST’s book in English and German, and in the third volume of ORASS Transactions “Human being and social institutions in the 21th century”.

This year the section of Russian philosophical society has officially changed the direction of its scientific interests. Now it bears another title: “Human being and social institutions in the 21st century” because the latter are the main object of research. They will be investigated in the context of meta-semiotics, meta-cybernetics and meta-sociology and from the positions of the anthropo-semiotic approach. Two round tables are the main goals of the session. One of them will be dedicated to the theme “Human being as a determinant of economy of 21st century”: metaphysic and phenomenal aspects”, the other – to the theme “Human being and the system of education in 21st century”: metaphysic and phenomenal aspects”. The obtained results seem to form the body of two new issues of ORASS Transactions, mentioned above.

It should be said that the first research group exists and functions as a part of the Oryol State Technical University. Research has now been initiated toward a reinterpretation of models of information processing, pointed out above, in the context of meta-semiotics. While investigating user-computer interface problems attention will be paid to the research of mathematical subjects by icons, music, and color, and to the investigation of ideal (abstract) forms by mathematical methods. Now semiotic and metaphysic aspects of mathematical modeling usage are being studied in the context of meta-semiotics8.


1 Постиндустриальная цивилизация и культура управления (Post-industrial civilization and culture of control and management.).Орел: ОРАГС, 2005, 248 с,

2 Das Verbindenden der Kulturen. The Unifying aspects of cultures. Les points communs des Cultures. Wien: INST, 2004, 379 S.

3 Инновации и традиции: метафизические и феноменологические аспекты управления (Innovation and traditions: metaphysic and phenomenological aspects of control and management). Орел, 2006б 252 с.

4 Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften. Innovation and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies. Innovations et reproductions dans les cultures et les societes. Viennar: INST, 2006, 408 p.

5 “Государственный служащий и постиндустриальная цивилизация (State service worker and post-industrial civilization”).Орел: ОРАГС, 2004, 231 с.

6 Андреев, В.О, Узилевский Г.Я. Мета-кибернетика, общая теория ноуменально-феноменальных систем и социальные науки. Статья 1. Мета-кибернетика как результат эволюции представлений о человеке, природе социальных системах и космосе (Meta-cybernetics, the general theory of noumenon-phenomenal system and social sciences. Paper 1. Meta-cybernetics as the result of evolution of views about human being, nature, social systems and cosmos). Среднерусский вестник общественных наук. 2007, № 2, С. 7-15.

7 Бобров, А.В. Модельное исследование полевой концепции сознания (Мodel investigation of field conception of mechanism of consciousness). Орел: ОГТУ /Оrlovsky state technical university/, 2007, 260 c.

8 Андреев В.О., Узилевский Г.Я. Ноуменальные структуры сложных систем и фундаментальная система отношений Кулакова (Noumenal structures of complex systems and Kulakov’s system of relations). In: Моделирование и прогнозирование в управлении: методы и технологии. Орел, 2007. С. 246-251. Павлов В.З. Значимость сущности, формы и материального носителя моделируемого объекта при использовании и реинтерпретации математических моделей (The significance of essence, form and material carrier of simulated object by usage and re-interpretation of mathematical models) In: Там же (the same source). С. 257-259. Узилевский Г.Я. Метафизические аспекты математического моделирования (Metaphysical aspects of mathematical modeling). In: Там же (the same source). C. 265-271.