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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 26, 2014

Semiosis and Phase Transitions in Biology: a Peircean View

Eliseo Fernández
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


Since the days of Darwin and Wallace, evolution has been a leading unifying factor in biological theorizing, along with other key conceptual strands from thermodynamics, genetics, and molecular biology. Physics, whose explanatory resources underpin those of the physical sciences, has until quite recently stood impervious to evolutionary thought however. The thoroughly ahistorical conception of nature promoted by traditional physics, bundled with other philosophical preconceptions, conspired against any conceptual unification of physics with biology other than strict reductionism. This article aims to show that Peircean semiotics combined with new developments in both physics and biology augur new prospects for reversing this situation by means of a non-reductive unification of physical and biological theories leading to a truly evolutionary natural philosophy - including cosmology. For several reasons, such an upcoming synthesis could become auspicious to the incorporation of biosemiotic ideas as central explanatory resources in biology (in contrast to the present situation). To develop the reasons behind this expectation, I offer first a summary of some remarkable developments in cosmology, particle physics, condensed matter physics and biology, all of which relate to the notions of symmetry breaking, phase transitions and scale invariance. Next, I indicate how these trends merge with the rise of novel forms of causation (e.g. circular, downward, reciprocal) in systems biology and self-organization theories. Finally, I speculate on how the characteristic form of causation in biosemiotic transactions (i.e. semiosis) may relate to other types of causal action deployed within living systems.

Published Online: 2014-4-26
Published in Print: 2012-12-1

© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

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