Life and semiosis: The real nature of information and meaning

Marcello Barbieri 1 , 1
  • 1 University of Ferrara.


Genes and proteins are molecular artifacts because they are manufactured by molecular machines that physically stick their subunits together in the order provided by external templates. This implies that all biological objects are artifacts, and therefore that ‘life is artifact-making.’ Natural objects can be completely accounted for by physical quantities, whereas artifacts require additional entities like sequences and codes, or equivalent entities like information and meaning. Here it is shown that organic information and organic meaning are brought into existence by the molecular processes of copying and coding, which implies that, far from being metaphors, they are as real as the processes that produce them. It is also shown that they can be defined by operative procedures that make them as objective and reproducible as physical quantities. The result is that organic information and organic meaning are a new type of fundamental natural entities that here are referred to as nominable entities because they can be specified only by naming their components in their natural order. Any organic code is a correspondence between the objects of two independent worlds (genes and proteins) which is established by molecules that belong to a third world (RNAs). The elementary act of organic coding is therefore a relationship between three objects that can be referred to as ‘sign, meaning, and adaptor,’ whereas the elementary act of cultural semiosis consists, according to Peirce, of ‘sign, meaning, and interpretant.’ It is underlined that ‘organic semiosis’ is implemented by codemakers and consists of objective organic reactions, whereas ‘mental semiosis’ is performed by interpreters and is a subjective process. This means that organic semiosis does not require the existence of a mind at the molecular level, and the organic codes are natural processes that are based on objective, reproducible, and fundamental natural entities.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.