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= "Due to the deep analogies one can notice between the living and linguistic systems, there can also be possible to find the general theoretical explanations which join these fields." [1]



Arran Gare:

"Biosemiotics was promoted as a discipline by Thomas Sebeok (Sebeok & Umiker-Sebeok, 1992; Favareau, 2010, 35ff.). It was first established as a discipline in Estonia and Denmark, and then expanded through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, other Scandinavian countries, Italy, Russia, USA and elsewhere. In Estonia and Denmark, the most important progenitors of biosemiotics were taken to be Jacob von Uexküll, who argued that all organisms define their environments as umwelten, that is, surrounding worlds that have meaning for them and to which they respond accordingly, and Charles Sanders Peirce, who had made the study of signs the centre of his philosophy. Von Uexküll’s ideas were developed by interpreting them through Peircian semiotics. Peirce has also been the main inspiration for American biosemioticians. Italy has been the centre for the development of code biology while Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Russia have also been influenced by hermeneutic philosophers such as Heidegger and Gadamer, and accordingly are also centres for biohermeneutics.

The relationships between biosemiotics, code biology and biohermeneutics are still open for further development.

For biosemioticians, semiosis is the defining feature of all life, including single-celled organisms, plants and ecosystems. For the most part, they reject Peirce’s pansemiotic suggestion that in the universe might be composed exclusively of signs. Semiosis is identified with life, and as such has to be made intelligible as an emergent phenomenon in nature (Barbieri, 2008). Peirce argued that semiosis is triadic, characterized by a sign, an ‘immediate’ object signified by the sign, and an interpretant of the sign, with the ‘dynamical object’ causally influencing the interpretant. What makes such semiosis possible is that there are real universals in the particularities of the world (that which today would be referred to as ‘natural kinds’), beings characterized by some degree of regularity with real possibilities. Semiosis is a temporal process and can go on endlessly, as interpretants and their objects become signs for more developed signs with better defined objects, engendering further interpretants. To begin with, Peirce was concerned with human reasoning and with developing symbolic logic. Here, interpretants are symbolic signs, for instance, sentences expressing propositions within a language or mathematical diagrams, facilitating imaginative conjectures about what is possible, or even impossible, from which necessary conclusions can be drawn. Interpretants can be developed through abduction, the creative aspect of reasoning, generally involving the use of analogies or metaphors to interpret what is being investigated, and deduction and induction. Deduction is drawing out the implications of signs, while induction is identifying instances that can be signified and appreciating whether they conform to expectations.

iosemioticians, developing Peirce’s suggestions, argued that interpretant can be actions, the development of forms, or the production of particular proteins within an organism (Kull, 2009; Lacková, & Faltynek, 2021). In each case, there can be the equivalent of abduction, with creative responses to problematic situations generating new signs of these situations, deductive inferences from such signs, which can be actions or growth of forms or production of specific proteins, and induction, whereby situations or instances that can be signified by such signs are recognized, along with appreciating whether as recognized, they conform to what is anticipated. Such induction can be very basic, such as identifying what is food to be ingested or what is a predator to be avoided and responding to the success or failure of responses based on such identification and associated anticipations. The most primitive forms of semiosis do not involve ‘objects’ as such, but vague differentiations, perhaps most importantly, the living being itself differentiating itself from its environment, involving situating itself as an enduring entity within its environment and responding to what is differentiated by it as significant in its environment, its umwelt.In the terminology of the mathematical biologist, Robert Rosen (1999, 259ff.), this involves the organism having a model of itself, although this terminology can be misleading if ‘model’ is taken to be a fractionated component of the organism rather than a function of the whole organism in the context of its environment. Here, identifying processes is more fundamental than identifying ‘objects’; it is identifying the processes of living. This basic semiosis is evident in organisms having a primitive sense of their own existence and significance, constraining interactions between processes to maintain themselves in existence, and even augmenting the conditions for their existence. While semiosis in non-human life is characterized by iconic (related by resemblance) and indexical (causally related) signs, humans are distinguished by the development of symbolic signs (related by convention) which make possible the dissociation of semiosis from immediate action or generation of form. Symbolic signs are central to the development of human language and culture (Deacon, 1997). However, symbolic semiosis presupposes iconic and indexical semiosis not only in thought, but in actions, biological forms and most basically, in endo-semiosis, including the production of proteins. All of these should also be understood as interpretants, ultimately participating in the semiosis of the whole organism responding to its environment, and as such, are signs engendering further semiosis. Human culture, with its distinctively symbolic semiosis, should always be understood in relation to these other forms of semiosis on which symbolic semiosis is built (Kull, 2009).

As Mark Johnson argued (1987; 2007), the body is in the mind. The relationships in ecosystems as characterized by biosemioticians are first and foremost semiotic bonds which form semiotic niches (Kull, 2010). Organisms themselves can be regarded as highly integrated ecosystems effected through constraining component processes (Depew and Weber, 1996, 474f.), and so these eco-semiotic bonds are the condition for the other forms of semiosis.

The kinds of inter-relationship between forms of semiosis is illustrated by the relationship between flowering plants, bees and bee-keepers. Flowers are interpretants of flowering plants of signs of their environments of what is required to reproduce, serving as signs to bees, which can pollinate flowers, that there is nectar to be had. This is a symbiotic relationship in ecosystems in which flowers function as semiotic bonds. The actions of bees, flying to the flowers, often after fairly complex forms of communication in the hive involving dancing to indicate where the flowers are to be found, are also interpretants. Bee keepers, interpreting their environments, take their hives to where the flowers are likely to be found, and then extract the honey the bees have collected, store it and distribute it. Their actions are also interpretants. The semiosis involved in all such growth and activities presupposes and is dependent upon the complex endo-semiosis within organisms bounded by membranes. The transport and selling of the honey is made possible through human institutions, including language, which also facilitates teaching apprentice bee-keepers their trade, and scientific research into bees, flowering plants, and semiotics itself, all of which are complexes of semiosis involving various kinds of interpretants.

This is just a small part of the global ecosystem which functions through complexes of semiosis, making up the global semiosphere, as Jesper Hoffmeyer (1993, ch.5) characterized it, with human culture with its institutions and practices and forms of communication and enquiry being just components of this semiosphere. Conceiving all this through biosemiotics also grants a place to creative evolution in which interpretants can be creative responses to new situations, creating new chemical structures and processes, new biological forms and new kinds of action, as well as new cultural products, including institutions and ideas, making possible ever more new forms of symbiosis facilitating new synergies. Peter Turchin (2016) pointed out, humans are the most cooperative species on Earth. Their development of new forms of symbiosis and new synergies through such cooperation, facilitated by symbolic semiosis, that accounts for their success, not egoism in a ruthless struggle for survival and domination by individuals."


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