Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics, and Cyber Semiotics
From The Biosemiotic Approach in Biology: Theoretical Bases and Applied Models
Biosemiotics is a growing field that investigates semiotic processes in the living realm in an attempt to combine the findings of the biological sciences and semiotics. Semiotic processes are more or less what biologists have typically referred to as “signals,” “codes,” and “information pro- cessing” in biosystems, but these processes are here understood under the more general notion of semiosis, that is, the production, action, and interpretation of signs. Thus, biosemiotics can be seen as biology interpreted as a study of living sign systems—which also means that semiosis or sign process can be seen as the very nature of life itself. In other words, biosemiotics is a field of research investigating semiotic processes (meaning, signification, communication, and habit formation in living systems) and the physicochemical preconditions for sign action and interpretation.
To treat biosemiotics as biology interpreted as sign systems study is to emphasize an important intertheoretical relation between biology as we know it (as a field of inquiry) and semiotics (the study of signs). Biosemiotics offers a way of understanding life in which it is considered not just from the perspectives of physics and chemistry, but also from a view of living systems that stresses the role of signs conveyed and inter- preted by other signs in a variety of ways, including by means of molecules. In this sense, biosemiotics takes for granted and preserves the complexity of living processes as revealed by the existing fields of biology, from molecular biology to brain science and behavioral studies. However, biosemiotics attempts to bring together separate findings of the various disciplines of biology (including evolutionary biology) into a sign- theoretical perspective concerning the central phenomena of the living world, from the ribosome to the ecosystem and from the beginnings of life to its ultimate meanings. From this perspective, no positivist (i.e., theory-reductionist) form of unification is implied, but simply a broader approach to life processes in general, paying attention to the location of biology between the psychological (the humanities) and the physical (natural) sciences.
Furthermore, by incorporating new concepts, models, and theories from biology into the study of signs, biosemiotics attempts to shed new light on some of the unsolved questions within the general study of sign processes (semiotics), such as the question about the origins of signification in the universe (e.g., Hoffmeyer 1996), and the major thresholds in the levels and evolution of semiosis (Sebeok 1997; Deacon 1997; Kull 2000; Nöth 2000). Here, signification (and sign action) is understood in a broad sense, that is, not simply as the transfer of information, but also as the generation of the very content and meaning of that information in all living sign producers and sign receivers.
Sign processes are thus taken as real: they are governed by regularities (habits, or natural rules) that can be discovered and explained. They are intrinsic in living nature, but we can access them—not directly, but indirectly through other sign processes (e.g., scientific measurements and qualitative distinction methods)—even though the human representation and understanding of these processes in the construction of explanations is built up as a separate scientific sign system distinct from the organisms’ own sign processes.
One of the central characteristics of living systems is the highly organized character of their physical and chemical processes, partly based upon informational and molecular properties of what has been described in the 1960s as the genetic code (or, more precisely, organic codes). Distinguished biologists, such as Ernst Mayr (1982), have seen these informational aspects as one of the emergent features of life, namely, as a set of processes that distinguishes life from everything else in the physical world, except perhaps human-made computers. However, while the informational teleology of computer programs are derived, qua being designed by humans to achieve specific goals, the teleology and informational characteristics of organisms are intrinsic, qua having evolved naturally, through adaptational and evolutionary processes. The reductionist and mechanistic tradition in biology (and philosophy of biology) has seen such processes as being purely physical and having to do with only efficient causation. Biosemiotics is an attempt to use the concepts of semiotics in the sense employed by Charles Sanders Peirce to answer questions about the biological emergence of meaning, intentionality, and a psychological world (CP 5:484). Indeed, these are questions that are hard to answer within a purely mechanistic and reductionist framework.
From The Biosemiotic Approach in Biology: Theoretical Bases and Applied Models
The term “biosemiotic” was first used by F. S. Rothschild in 1962, but Thomas Sebeok has done much to popularize the term and the field. Apart from Charles Peirce (1939–1914) and Charles Morris (1901– 1979), early pioneers of biosemiotics were Jakob von Uexküll (1864– 1944), Heini Hediger (1908–1992), and Giorgio Prodi (1928–1987), and the founding fathers were Thomas Sebeok (1920–2001) and Thure von Uexküll (1908–2004). After 2000, an institutionalization of biosemiotics can be noticed: since 2001, annual international meetings of biosemioticians have been taking place (initially organized by the Copenhagen and Tartu groups); in 2004, the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies was established (with Jesper Hoffmeyer as its first president; see Favareau 2005); the specialized publications Journal of Biosemiotics (Nova Science) and Biosemiotics (Springer) have appeared; several collections of papers have characterized the scope and recent projects in biosemiotics, such as a special issue of Semiotica 127 (1/4) (1999), Sign Systems Studies 30 (1) (2002), Sebeok and Umiker-Sebeok 1992, Witzany 2007, and Barbieri 2007.
Also, from the 1960s to the 1990s, the semiotic approach in biology was developed in various branches:
a. Zoosemiotics, the semiotics of animal behavior and communication
b. Cellular and molecular semiotics, the study of organic codes and protolinguistic features of cellular processes
c. Phytosemiotics, or sign processes in plant life
d. Endosemiotics, or sign processes in the organism’s body
e. Semiotics in neurobiology
f. Origins of semiosis and semiotic thresholds
From Cybersemiotics: A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture
Cybersemiotics constructs a non-reductionist framework in order to integrate third person knowledge from the exact sciences and the life sciences with first person knowledge described as the qualities of feeling in humanities and second person intersubjective knowledge of the partly linguistic communicative interactions, on which the social and cultural aspects of reality are based. The modern view of the universe as made through evolution in irreversible time, forces us to view man as a product of evolution and therefore an observer from inside the universe. This changes the way we conceptualize the problem and the role of consciousness in nature and culture. The theory of evolution forces us to conceive the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities together in one theoretical framework of unrestricted or absolute naturalism, where consciousness as well as culture is part of nature. But the theories of the phenomenological life world and the hermeneutics of the meaning of communication seem to defy classical scientific explanations. The humanities therefore send another insight the opposite way down the evolutionary ladder, with questions like: What is the role of consciousness, signs and meaning in the development of our knowledge about evolution? Phenomenology and hermeneutics show the sciences that their prerequisites are embodied living conscious beings imbued with meaningful language and with a culture. One can see the world view that emerges from the work of the sciences as a reconstruction back into time of our present ecological and evolutionary self- understanding as semiotic intersubjective conscious cultural and historical creatures, but unable to handle the aspects of meaning and conscious awareness and therefore leaving it out of the story. Cybersemiotics proposes to solve the dualistic paradox by starting in the middle with semiotic cognition and communication as a basic sort of reality in which all our knowledge is created and then suggests that knowledge develops into four aspects of human reality: Our surrounding nature described by the physical and chemical natural sciences, our corporality described by the life sciences such as biology and medicine, our inner world of subjective experience described by phenomenologically based investigations and our social world described by the social sciences. I call this alternative model to the positivistic hierarchy the cybersemiotic star. The article explains the new understanding of Wissenschaft that emerges from Peirce’s and Luhmann’s conceptions.
- Thomas Sebeok
- L M Rocha
- Jesper Hoffmeyer
- Charles Sanders Pierce
- Soren Brier
- Marcello Barbieri
- Howard Pattee
- Jakob von Uexküll
- Stanley Salthe
- Claus Emmeche
- M. Florkin
- Kalevi Kull
- Donald Favareau
- Umberto Eco
- Koichiro Matsuno
- Thure von Uexküll
- Gregory Bateson
Key Sources of Research:
A Short History of Biosemiotics
The Biosemiotic Approach in Biology : Theoretical Bases and Applied Models
Jo ã o Queiroz, Claus Emmeche, Kalevi Kull, and Charbel El-Hani
Irreducible and complementary semiotic forms
EVOLVING SELF-REFERENCE: Matter, Symbols, AND SEMANTIC CLOSURE
Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary
Essential Readings in Biosemiotics, Biosemiotics 3,
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Introduction: An Evolutionary History of Biosemiotics
Essential Readings in Biosemiotics, Biosemiotics 3
Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis
edited by Marcello Barbieri
A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture
Levels of Cybersemiotics: Possible ontologies of signification
Design and Information in Biology: From Molecules to Systems
By J. A. Bryant
Cognitive Biology: Dealing with Information from Bacteria to Minds
By Gennaro Auletta
The cell as the smallest DNA-based molecular computer
Semiotics Web page of Umberto Eco
Biosemiotics in the twentieth century: A view from biology
Biosemiotics: a new understanding of life
What Does it Take to Produce Interpretation? Informational, Peircean and Code-Semiotic Views on Biosemiotics
Søren Brier & Cliff Joslyn
Spencer-Brown, G. (1972).
Laws of Form
New York: Crown Publishers
The Paradigm of Peircean Biosemiotics
BIOSEMIOTICS AND BIOPHYSICS — THE FUNDAMENTAL APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF LIFE