Among the different orientations in biosemiotics, those moved by Peircean ideas tend to agree that the organization of non-living parts into organisms cannot be made intelligible without supplementing the traditional resources of the physical sciences with novel kinds of causation. This is particularly true with regard to semiosis – the influence by which signs mediate the determination of interpretants by their objects.
Consideration of special forms of causation and explanation is important for assessing the place of biosemiotics within biology. In my view the promise of biosemiotics far exceeds its role as a biological sub-discipline governing the semiotic aspects of living processes (cellular signaling, organic codes, etc.). Beyond this, biosemiotic research should include two other important endeavors: first, if semiosis is essential to the constitution of the objects of biological science, biosemiotic ideas must have foundational and integrative roles comparable to those of evolutionary conceptions; and second, these roles should promote a wholesale redefinition of the place of biology within the sciences.
This examination seeks to clarify the relations between semiosis and ordinary physical causation. It also proposes a new perspective on the evolutionary nature of emergence by taking into account the increasing importance of evolutionary explanations in some branches of contemporary physics.
About the author
Eliseo Fernández (1935–2017) was born and educated in Argentina. For almost five decades he worked at the Linda Hall Library of Science and Technology as a scientific consultant and taught at the University of Missouri in the physics department. He lectured and published widely on topics in the philosophy and history of science and on the thought of C. S. Peirce. Sadly, Eliseo passed away while this paper was in press.
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