Upshot: The reader presents a unique collection of the most important works in biosemiotics. It spans 880 pages, describing classical and modern theories, with excerpts from the most significant papers on the topic of biosemiotics, as well as suggesting further reading on the topic.
In the context of the question of the emergence of mind in evolution the present paper argues that the concept of linguistic motivation, through the theory of embodiment in cognitive semantics, can be connected with the concept of motivation in ethology. This connection is established through Lakoff and Johnson’s embodied cognitive semantics on the one hand and on the other hand through the theory of biosemiotics. The biosemiotics used is based on C. S. Peirce´s semiotics and the work of J. von Uexkull. Motivation will in this context be understood as a decisive factor in determining which kind of interpretant a living system constructs when perturbed by a significant disturbance in its signification sphere. From this basis the concept of sign stimuli in Ethology, based on the concept of innate release response mechanism (IRM,) is paralleled with the concept of embodied metaphorical categorization based on the concept of idealized cognitive models (ICM). It is realized that we are dealing with motivation on two different levels, that of the linguistic and that of the perceptual-behavioral level. The connection is made through pragmatic language and sign theory viewing language as getting its meaning through language games integrated in cultural life forms and animals signs to get their meaning through sign games and natural life forms. Further connection is made through the common insight of the significant role of embodiment to create signification through the construction of a signification sphere. The later concept is a Peircian biosemiotic conceptualization of von Uexkull’s orginal Umwelt concept.
This paper presents a critical analysis of code-semiotics, which we see as the latest attempt to create paradigmatic foundation for solving the question of the emergence of life and consciousness. We view code semiotics as an attempt to revise the empirical scientific Darwinian paradigm, and to go beyond the complex systems, emergence, self-organization, and informational paradigms, and also the selfish gene theory of Dawkins and the Peircean pragmaticist semiotic theory built on the simultaneous types of evolution. As such, it is a new and bold attempt to use semiotics to solve the problems created by the evolutionary paradigm’s commitment to produce a theory of how to connect the two sides of the Cartesian dualistic view of physical reality and consciousness in a consistent way. Relevance: This paper relates to cybersemiotics and Maturana and Varela’s theory.
The work of physicist and theoretical biologist Howard Pattee has focused on the roles that symbols and dynamics play in biological systems. Symbols, as discrete functional switching-states, are seen at the heart of all biological systems in the form of genetic codes, and at the core of all neural systems in the form of informational mechanisms that switch behavior. They also appear in one form or another in all epistemic systems, from informational processes embedded in primitive organisms to individual human beings to public scientific models. Over its course, Pattee’s work has explored (1) the physical basis of informational functions (dynamical vs. rule-based descriptions, switching mechanisms, memory, symbols), (2) the functional organization of the observer (measurement, computation), (3) the means by which information can be embedded in biological organisms for purposes of self-construction and representation (as codes, modeling relations, memory, symbols), and (4) the processes by which new structures and functions can emerge over time. We discuss how these concepts can be applied to a high-level understanding of the brain. Biological organisms constantly reproduce themselves as well as their relations with their environs. The brain similarly can be seen as a self-producing, self-regenerating neural signaling system and as an adaptive informational system that interacts with its surrounds in order to steer behavior.
This chapter outlines a broad theory of sign use in natural and artificial systems that was developed over several decades within the context of theoretical biology, cybernetics, systems theory, biosemiotics, and neuroscience. Different conceptions of semiosis and information in nature are considered. General functional properties of and operations on signs, including measurement, computation, and sign-directed actions are described. A taxonomy of semiotic systems is built up from combinations of these operations. The respective functional organizations and informational capabilities of formal systems and computempiral-predictive scientific models, percept-action systems, purposive goal-seeking systems, and self-constructing systems are discussed. Semiotic relations are considered in terms of Morrisean semiotic triad of syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. Analysis of statetransition structure is used to demarcate functional boundaries, such as epistemic and control cuts. Capabilities for open-ended behavior, combinatoric and emergent creativity, and umwelt expansion are taken up. Finally, basic problems of neurosemiotics, neural coding, and neurophenomenology are outlined.
The term Umwelt (literally “around-world” or “surrounding-world”), which emerged as an important philosophical and biological term in the early twentieth century, has been defined in various ways. This paper first looks at the German biologist Jakob von Uexküll’s revolutionary notion of the animal’s Umwelt. It then explores the responses to, and critiques of, Uexküll’s notion of Umwelt: that of Ernst Cassirer, the German philosopher of Symbolische Formen (“symbolic forms”), and that of Martin Heidegger, the originator of Dasein (“being-there,” human being). It will be suggested here that, viewed on the synchronic axis of philosophical methods, their perspectives, though different, are fundamentally reinterpretations of the Kantian philosophy of logical form, the Kantian open-and-closed epistemological model. But it will also be suggested that Heidegger, with his hermeneutic circle of “understanding” and “interpretation,” comes closer than Cassirer to a view of the animal’s “around-world” that is congruent with Uexküll’s view of Umwelt.
This paper reviews Pattee’s ideas about the symbolic domain as a phenomenon related to the self-simplifying processes of certain hierarchical systems, such as the living. We distinguish the concepts of constraint, record, and symbol to explain how the Semantic Closure Principle, that is to say, the view that symbols are self-interpreted by the cell, emerges. Related to this, the notion of complementarity is discussed both as an epistemological and as an ontological principle. In the final discussion we consider whether autonomous systems can exist in which constraints are not symbolically preserved, and if biological symbols can be considered to have a descriptive nature.
Von Foerster has suggested the Mobius strip as a topological representation of the kind of logic pertaining to self-referential cybernetic systems. The Mobius strip offers the conceptual categories of an outside interior and an inside exterior. It is suggested that these categories are realized in natural cybernetic systems through semiotic loops integrating self-reference and other-reference. Autopoiesis and semiosis are supplementary categories. Living systems may be seen as consisting essentially of surfaces inside other surfaces. The closure of a membrane around some autocatalytic chemical reaction system is an attractive candidate for a first step towards the origin of a living system. A spheric surface defines an inside-outside asymmetry and opens the possibility for communicative activity across the membrane. If some modest kind of co-operation arose in populations of closed surfaces these surfaces might become interfaces for real communication. Two further steps would be needed for these surfaces to become true anticipatory biological systems. The surface and its internal autocatalytic system would have to produce a written (digital) record of its own components, and the surface would have to devise means for controlling the translation process whereby components are produced. Only in this way can the surface become a temporal being, an autonomous agent capable of making distinctions and engaging itself in future-oriented internal or external modification. Such a system has been termed a code-dual system (Hoffmeyer and Emmeche, 1991).
The paper attempts to review the impact of Thomas A. Sebeok (1920 2001) on biosemiotics, or semiotic biology, including both his work as a theoretician in the field and his activity in organising, publishing, and communicating. The major points of his work in the field of biosemiotics concern the establishing of zoosemiotics, interpretation and development of Jakob v. Uexkull’s and Heini Hediger’s ideas, typological and comparative study of semiotic phenomena in living organisms, evolution of semiosis, the coincidence of semiosphere and biosphere, research on the history of biosemiotics. •