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1. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Donald Favareau Joining Sign Science and Life Science: Introduction to the Special Issue on Biosemiotics
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2. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Donald Favareau, Claus Emmeche, Jesper Hoff meyer The IASS Roundtable on Biosemiotics: A Discussion with Some Founders of the Field
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3. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Marcello Barbieri The Code Model of Semiosis: The First Steps Toward a Scientific Biosemiotics
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Biosemiotics asserts the idea that semiosis is fundamental to life, and that all living creatures are therefore semiotic systems. The idea itself is strongly supportedby the evidence of the genetic code — but thus far it has made little impact in the scientific world, and is largely regarded as the basis for a philosophy of meaning, rather than a basis for a science of meaning. This is regrettable, but perhaps understandable from the scientists’ point of view. Scientists know that the cell is the necessary unit of all life. I will argue here, then, that Biosemiotics can become a science only if it can prove that the cell is, in fact, a semiotic system — i.e., that semiosis exists at the cellular level. To do this, we first need to define what is semiosis, so that we can be explicit about what exactly constitutes a semiotic system. So far, we have had two main answers to this question. One is the model proposed by Saussure, who defined a semiotic system as a duality of ‘signifier and signified’. The other is the model of Peirce, who pointed out that interpretation is an essential component of semiosis and defined a semiotic system as a triad of ‘sign, object and interpretant’. After the discovery of the genetic code, each of these two models have been applied to biology and have given rise to two distinct schools of biosemiotics. One is the school of Marcel Florkin (1974), which is based on the model of Saussure, and the other is the school of Thomas Sebeok (1972, 2001), which is based on the model of Peirce. Unfortunately, neither of them can be applied to the cell, and that is why most biologists continue to be skeptical about biosemiotics. There is however a third model of semiosis that is actually applicable to the cell. It is based on the theory that the cell is a trinity of genotype, phenotype and ribotype (Barbieri 1981, 1985, 2003). Here, the ribotype is the ribonucleoprotein system of the cell and represents its ‘codemaker’, i.e., the seat of the genetic code. This model assumes that semiosis is defined by coding, not by interpretation, and is therefore referred to as the code model of semiosis. This paper is dedicated to illustrating this third model and, above all, to showing that the cell is a true semiotic system.
4. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Günther Witzany The Biosemiotics of Plant Communication
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This contribution demonstrates that the development and growth of plants depends on the success of complex communication processes. These communication processes are primarily sign-mediated interactions and are not simply an mechanical exchange of ‘information’, as that term has come to be understood (or misunderstood) in science. Rather, such interactions as I will be describing here involve the active coordination and organisation of a great variety of different behavioural patterns — all of which must be mediated by signs. Thus proposed, a biosemiotics of plant communication investigates communicationprocesses both within and among the cells, tissues, and organs of plants as sign-mediated interactions which follow (1) combinatorial (syntactic), (2) context-sensitive (pragmatic) and (3) content-specific (semantic) levels of rules. As will be seen in the cases under investigation, the context of interactionsin which a plant organism is interwoven determines the content arrangement of its response behaviour. And as exemplified by the multiply semiotic roles playedby the plant hormone auxin that I will discuss below, this means that a molecule type of identical chemical structure may function in the instantiation of differentmeanings (semantics) that are determined by the different contexts (pragmatics) in which this sign is used.
5. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Luis Emilio Bruni Semiotic Freedom: Emergence and Teleology in Biological and Cognitive Interfaces
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The emergence of organic, metabolic, cognitive and cultural codes points us to the need for a new kind of explanatory causality, and a different kind of bio-logic— one dependent on, but different from, the deterministic logic derived from mechanical causality, and one which can account for the increase in semiotic freedom which is evident in the biological hierarchy. Building upon previous work (Bruni 2003), in this article I provide a stipulative definition of semiotic freedom and its relation to causality in biological and cognitive systems. To do so, I will first discuss the close relation that triadic causality and semiotic freedom have to the notions of teleology and emergence, and how the latter two are interrelated in living systems. I pinpoint some of the reservations that these notions have encountered in the history of science (including evolutionary biology and cognitive science), but stress also their necessity in the study of any given biological and cognitive system. I draw a distinction between horizontal and vertical emergence in order to arrive at a notion of ‘second order emergence’ that affords us a more viable definition of semiotic freedom. I will then attempt to show that all of these concepts are of paramount importance when we come to study processes of sensing, perception andcognition at any level of a living system. Accordingly, these ideas are part of a framework-in-development to research the scale of thresholds of semiotic freedom, by assuming a top-down approach i.e., by starting from the highest levels of semiotic freedom and cognitive processes, and exploring how those processes disaggregate into lesser degrees of freedom. I thus hope to bridge the gap between those levels from above.
6. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
João Queiroz, Claus Emmeche, Charbel Niño El-Hani A Peircean Approach to ‘Information’ and its Relationship with Bateson’s and Jablonka’s Ideas
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The Peircean semiotic approach to information that we developed in previous papers raises several new questions, and shows both similarities and differenceswith regard to other accounts of information. We do not intend to present here any exhaustive discussion about the relationships between our account and otherapproaches to information. Rather, our interest is mainly to address its relationship to ideas about information put forward by Gregory Bateson and Eva Jablonka. We conclude that all these authors offer quite broad concepts of information, but we argue that they are just as broad as they should be, since information is in itself a sweeping concept. Furthermore, all of them suggest a processual approach to information, which departs from the treatment of information as something that is contained in some structure (e.g., in sequences of nucleotides) and moves towards an understanding of information as a process — in terms of our account, a semiotic process, i.e., semiosis.
7. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Stefan Artmann Organic Problem Solving: Biology, Decision Theory, and the Physical Symbol System Hypothesis
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Sign-theoretical concepts have been used in research into the nature of living systems, not only by biologists, semioticians, and philosophers, but also by scientists who analyze organisms from the perspective of Decision Theory. Decision Theory (DT) describes both the external behavior and the internal information-processing of any kind of agent in terms of problem solving. Such “problem solving” is considered a complex process of: (1) defining a goal in an environment, (2) selecting the means to reach the defined goal, and (3) controlling the effects of said selected means on the environment. The hypothesis that problem-solving agents are, first, physical entities and, second, sign-using systems is one of the most influential ideas in Decision Theory. This idea has been developed under the name of the ‘Physical Symbol System Hypothesis’ (PSSH) since the 1950s, particularly by two American scientists, Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon, who did interdisciplinary research in cognitive science, artificial intelligence, economics, and decision theory. This paper first gives a short overview of the basic semiotic theory that underlies Newell’s and Simon’s work, and then offers some ideas on a specifically biosemiotic use of the Physical SymbolSystem Hypothesis.
8. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Yair Neuman, Argyris Arnellos, Ophir Nave Sign-Mediated Concept Formation
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Based on our prior work (Neuman and Nave, in press [a]) we proceed from the notion that the mind has the capacity to generate and use concepts through themediation of signs. This mediation constrains the vast potential for confusion, given the incalculable number of similarities between objects in the world and therefore has important adaptive value. Despite the ubiquity of sign-mediated concept formation (SMCF), a rigorous formalization of this phenomenon is rare. Following the work of Neuman and Nave (in press [a]), here we present a formal description of sign-mediated concept formation and discuss the relevance of this theory to certain outstanding issues in biology, psychology and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
9. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Fabius Leineweber, Marcella Faria Computer-Mediated Communication in Biology
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Increasingly, biologists are using computers to model and to create biological representations. However, the exponential growth in available biological dataposes a challenge for experimental and theoretical researchers in both Biology and in Computer Science. In short, when even the simple retrieval of relevant biological information for a researcher becomes a complex task — its analysis and synthesis with other biological information will become even more daunting and unlikely. In this context, specially organized ‘structures of representation’ are needed for the efficient interpretation of experimentally generated data. The “semantic Web” is a recent trend in networking techniques that we will examine here as a possible strategy for the computation of biological data — one that may allow us to take into account both the semiotic dimensions of biological processes, as well as their dynamic organization into stable and systemic levels. Thereupon, we propose that a semantic network for biology could benefit from principles rooted in such previous representation efforts as computer-generated ‘landscapes’ and ‘physical attractors’ — and that such principles could, in turn, then be better integrated into biological research through the development of a more semiotically informed user / computer interface design.
10. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Yagmur Denizhan Roots of the Contemporary Mental Model in Ancient Mythology
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This paper asserts that the dominant mental models of a social system are shaped by the conditions at the time when the society first gains its identity and unity,and that the basic traits of these models are maintained to a great extent throughout that society’s subsequent social evolution. Based on this assumption, some basic traits of the mental models’ characteristics of today’s civilisations are expected to have their origins in the mental models of early human agricultural societies and city-states. Since Mesopotamian myths constitute some of the earliest available records originating from that ancient period, several of these myths are analysed here to examine the roots of some fundamental epistemological assumptions of our contemporary society.
11. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Han-liang Chang Between Nature and Culture: A Glimpse of the Biosemiotic World in Fourth-Century BCE Chinese Philosophy
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When ancient Chinese philosophy culminated in the sixth to third centuries BCE, “hundreds of flowers [intellectual schools] were blooming”, yet not many theoreticians were particularly interested in questions regarding the relationship between animal and human life — despite their profuse discussion of, and heated debates about, both “nature” and “human nature” in their writings. This indifferent attitude towards creatures lower than humans is best illustrated by Confucius (551–479 BCE), who observed: “It is impossible to associate with birds and beasts, as if they were the same as us.” Later, however, this condescending attitude of the Sage would be challenged by the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi (370 to 301 BCE), who untiringly advocates the equity of all creatures in the universe — a place where both living and fabulous organisms cohabit and co-evolve with one another, as well as with their environments. Morever, even Confucius’s descendent Mencius (c.372–289 BCE) did not endorse his mentor’s position, for the latter’s own writings are likewise inhabited by all kinds of creatures which not only serve the passive role of poetic figuration, but actually also construct their respective Umwelten, paralleled by the umwelt-construction of human beings. Recent advances in biosemiotics and ecosemiotics have enabled us to reread some of these philosophical texts, and to shed new light on this obscure aspect of Chinese thinking. This paper will draw upon the sign reflections of C. S. Peirce (1839–1914) and Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944), and make use of a composite analytical method of text semiotics and dialogue studies, to examine a number of political and ethical allegories by Zhuangzi and Mencius. Acknowledging the necessarycircularity of interpretation and the homogeneity of observer and observed, the essay explores the ways in which ancient philosophical texts can be made compatible with contemporary biological and semiotic thinking.
12. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Wendy Wheeler ‘Do not Block the Path of Inquiry!’: Peircean Abduction, the Tacit Dimension, and Biosemiotic Creativity in Nature and Culture
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Drawing on biosemiotic theory and the Peircean idea of ‘abduction’, I shall propose the idea of a layered structure of bio / semiotic evolution, in which humanknowledge is systemic and recursive — and thus emergent both from what is forgotten and from earlier evolutionary strata. I will argue that abductions are those processes by which we move creatively between often unacknowledged types of knowledge which are rooted in our natural and cultural evolutionary past (e.g., unconscious, preconscious, or tacit knowledge; knowledge that is experienced affectively) and the more familiar types of knowledge associated with self-conscious deductive and inductive reasoning. I shall suggest that these processes of ‘hooking back’ into the past in order to make new sense in the light of subsequent experience, are characteristic of all human inventiveness in both the arts and the sciences, and are facilitated by what Peirce called ‘The Play of Musement’.My reasons for attempting this task are that I hope to offer a semiotic and biosemiotic corrective to the widespread and culturally dominant idea that the progress ofhuman knowledge and cultural evolution depends on self rational efficiency, conceived of in terms of self-conscious deduction and induction alone — a conception which runs the risk of excluding from the account what is actually the most creative part of human knowing. Second, I will suggest that a properly semiotically informed understanding of human creativity — i.e., one which understands the Peircean semiotic as triadic and which draws on the post-Peircean theory that the semiotic drive in nature and in culture derives from the need to model the world as accurately as possible — should provide a very stern warning against the dangers of confusing the map with the territory. For creative artists and scientists (and life-livers, in general) progress, I shall suggest, inasmuch as they ignore the utilitarian dogma in practice. A biosemiotic understanding of human reasoning as an evolutionary semiotic process should thus contribute to a removal of the impediments of modernity which lie in the failure to properly grasp both what language (and semiosis in general) is, as well as the historical and prehistorical evolution that makes such semiosis possible.
13. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Peter Harries-Jones Social Anthropology Volume 12, Part Two, June 2004; Special Issue: “Anthropology After Darwin”
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14. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Merja Bauters The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and the Evolution of Culture
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15. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
Paul Cobley Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis
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about the authors
16. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/3
About the Authors
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