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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 15, 2014

The semiome: From genetic to semiotic scaffolding

Jesper Hoffmeyer
From the journal Semiotica


The fact that agency is an essential aspect of life introduces new explanatory avenues into the map of evolutionary thought. There is hardly any process in animate nature that is not, in one way or another, regulated communicatively, i.e., through the ability of living systems to read and interpret relevant signs in their environment. Semiotics – the science of signs – therefore ought to become a key tool for the “life sciences” in general and biology in particular. The paper analyzes the ways semiotic interactions in nature have been developed to scaffold the web of physiological, developmental, and ecological pathways. Semiotic scaffolding is only very indirectly based on genetic scaffolding. The gene products, the proteins, are not just molecules, but are always also semiotic tools, and what the genes really do is to specify the efficiency of semiotic modulators. In addition to the concept of the genome we need in biology a concept of the semiome: the entirety of an organism's semiotic tool set: i.e., the means by which the organisms of this species may extract significantly meaningful content from their surroundings and engage in intraor interspecific communicative behavior. The semiome thus defines the scope of the organism's cognitive and communicative activity. The theoretical question raised in this paper is the question of the interconnectedness between genomic and semiomic changes.

Published Online: 2014-2-15
Published in Print: 2014-2-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston