Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 16, 2017

Semiosis and Emergence

The place of biosemiotics in an evolutionary conception of nature

Eliseo Fernández
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies

Abstract

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.

References

Balashov, Yuri V. 1992. On the evolution of natural laws. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 43(3). 343–370.10.1093/bjps/43.3.343Search in Google Scholar

Bedau, Mark A. and Paul Humphreys (eds.). 2007. Emergence: Contemporary readings in philosophy and science. London: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Bitbol, Michel. 2007. Ontology, matter and emergence. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6. 293–307. Previous version available at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00003363/01/Emergence1.pdf.Search in Google Scholar

Christiansen, Peder V. 1997. Peirce and modern cosmology: Attractors and broken symmetry. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 33(4). 941–957.Search in Google Scholar

Clayton, Philip and Paul Davies (eds.). 2006. The re-emergence of emergence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Collier, John. 1999. Causation is the transfer of information. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and laws of nature, 215–245. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Search in Google Scholar

Collier, John. 2010. Information, causation and computation. In Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Mark Burgin (eds.), Information and computation: Essays on scientific and philosophical understanding of foundations of information and computation, Volume 2, 89–106. Singapore: World Scientific.Search in Google Scholar

Damiano, Luisa. 2010. Co-emergences in life and science: A double proposal for biological emergentism. Synthese 185(2). 273–294. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-010-9725-3.Search in Google Scholar

Domondon, Andrew T. 2006. Bringing physics to bear on the phenomenon of life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37. 433–458.1698018710.1016/j.shpsc.2006.06.014Search in Google Scholar

Einstein, Albert. 1919. What is the Theory of Relativity? In Albert Einstein (ed.), Ideas and opinions, 227–232. 1954. New York: Crown Publishers.Search in Google Scholar

Fair, David. 1979 . Causation and the flow of energy. Erkenntnis 14. 219–250.Search in Google Scholar

Fernández, Eliseo. 2010a. Living is surviving: Causation, reproduction and semiosis. Paper presented at the Tenth Annual Gathering in Biosemiotics, Braga, June 22–27, 2010. Available at http://www.lindahall.org/services/reference/papers/fernandez/survive.pdf.Search in Google Scholar

Fernández, Eliseo. 2010b. Variescence – Cosmic progress and contemporary science. Paper presented at the IV Jornadas “Peirce en Argentina,” Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 26–27, 2010. Available at: http://www.lindahall.org/services/reference/papers/fernandez/variescence.pdf.Search in Google Scholar

Fernández, Eliseo. 2011. How the Tree of Life became a Tangled Web: A glimpse at the history of a powerful metaphor. Paper presented at the fifty-fourth annual meeting of the Midwest Junto for the History of Science, Lincoln, Nebraska, April 1–3, 2011. Available at: http://www.lindahall.org/services/reference/papers/fernandez/Tree_of_life.pdf.Search in Google Scholar

Flores, Francisco. 1999. Einstein’s theory of theories and types of theoretical explanations. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13(2). 123–134.10.1080/02698599908573613Search in Google Scholar

Hoffmeyer, Jesper. 2011. Semiotic freedom: An emerging force. In Niels Henrik Gregersen and Paul Davis (eds.), Information and the nature of reality: From physics to metaphysics, 186–124. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Keller, Evelyn Fox. 2002. Making sense of life: Explaining biological development with models, metaphors, and machines. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Marcos, Alfredo. 2011. Bioinformation as a triadic relation. In George Terzis and Robert Arp (eds.), Information and living systems: Philosophical and scientific perspectives, 55–90. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Morange, Michel. 2009. Articulating different modes of explanation: The present boundary in biological research. In Anouk Barberousse, Michel Morange, and Thomas Pradeu (eds.), Mapping the future of biology: Evolving concepts and theories, 15–26. Dordrecht: Springer.Search in Google Scholar

Pearson, Charls. 2012. Significant symmetries in the structure of the sign. Presented to the SIG/ES Symposium at the 2012 Annual Business Meeting of the Semiotic Society of America; to appear in Semiotics 2012.Search in Google Scholar

Pearson, Charls. 2014. Significant symmetries in the structure of Peircean semiotics. Chinese Semiotic Studies 10(2), August. 345–351.Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Charles S. 1931–1935, & 1958. The collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Vols. I–VI, C. Hartshorne & P. Weiss (eds.), 1931–1935; Vols. VII–VIII, A. W. Burks (ed.), 1958. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Charles S. 1992, 1998. The essential Peirce: Selected philosophical writings. Volumes 1 and 2. Peirce Edition Project (ed.). Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Queiroz, Jao, Claus Emmeche, Kalevi Kull, and Charbel El-Hani. 2011. The biosemiotic approach in biology: Theoretical bases and applied models. In George Terzis and Robert Arp (eds.), Information and living systems: Philosophical and scientific perspectives, 91–129. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Van Camp, Wesley. 2011. Principle theories, constructive theories, and explanation in modern physics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 42(1). 23–31.10.1016/j.shpsb.2010.12.002Search in Google Scholar

Wilzcek, Frank. 2008. The lightness of being: Mass, ether, and the unification of forces. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2017-11-16
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston