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V. Systems Evolution: A 21st Century Genesis Synthesis

B. Evoinformatics: A Biosemiotic Quality

Maran, Timo. Dimensions of Zoosemiotics. Semiotica. 198/1, 2014. An Introduction to a special double issue on this approach, a half-century after Thomas Sebeok’s entry of this term, to view creaturely, and human, signifying communication as life’s primary sustaining quality. For content, we note Zoosemiotics is the Study of Animal Forms of Knowing by Kaveli Kull, Zoo-Aesthetics: A Natural Step After Darwin by Katya Mandoki, and especially The Semiome: From Genetic to Semiotic Scaffolding by Jesper Hoffmeyer. Abstract excerpts are included for these insightful readings of nature’s creative dialogue.

Kaveli Kull This article characterizes briefly the central aims of the semiotic study of animal life. Semiotic sciences in general can be defined as approaches to the study of various forms of knowing (as different from physical sciences, which study various things in the world), considering that knowing is possible only due to semiosis. The semiosphere is the sphere of knowing (knowing being always related to learning and acting). The basic types of knowing (as well as semiosis) include the vegetative, the animal, and the cultural. Zoosemiotics is focused on the animal type of knowing. Animal knowing is characterized by its use of iconic and indexical relations, whereas the extensive use of symbols is a prerequisite of specifically human (cultural, language-based) semiosis. However, the human organism also includes animal knowing as an inevitable part of its knowing. Knowledge cannot be credible if it is exclusively symbolic; it requires that iconic and indexical semiosis be involved.

Katya Mandoki As a category, poiesis can be extended beyond the standard anthropocentric use and applied across three radically different scales: auto-poiesis in everyday self-organization of every living creature, phylo-poiesis in the shaping of a species by sexual selection across various generations and onto-poiesis as an individual's development of formal skills and creative modification of its environment. In this paper, I apply these distinctions and argue, following Darwin and Sebeok, for the possibility of considering poietic and aesthetic manifestations among various animal species in their ability of both appreciating and expressing rhythm, visual decorative patterns, and chromatic qualities. In music we can find song and equivalents to instrumental playing (cicadas and crickets), theater in representing fictitious situations (killdeer's broken wing act and playing), acrobatic skills (various types of woodcocks and paradise birds) and dancing (cranes and eleonora cockatoo).

Jesper Hoffmeyer 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 intra or interspecific communicative behavior. The semiome thus defines the scope of the organism's cognitive and communicative activity.

Marijuan, Pedro, et al.. Fundamental, Quantitative Traits of the “Sociotype. Biosystems. Volume 180, 2019. Veteran researchers Pedro M., Raquel del Moral and Jorge Navarro, Aragon Health Research Institute, Sungchul Ji, Rutgers University, Marta Gil Lacruz and Juan Gomez-Quintero, University of Zaragoza (search names) press consider how such an emergent socio-genetic realm might be conceptually present in some working role akin to genotypes and phenotypes. As a result, it is advised that an optimum human grouping of social bonds seems to actually be 100 people, which is different from (Robin) Dunbar’s number of 150. See also The “Sociotype” Construct: Gauging the Structure and Dynamics of Human Sociality by this group in PLoS One (December 14, 2017).

In whatever domain of life from cells to organisms to societies, communicative exchanges underlie the formation and maintenance of the emerging collective structures. It can be clearly seen in the human social world. In the present work we have investigated the basic metrics of social bonds and communicative exchanges along the development of within our genotype-phenotype-sociotype conceptual triad. The sociotype means the relative constancy of the social world in which each individual life is developed. Other results about gender, age, and use of social Internet media highlight significant differences among the social segments, and particularly the diminished “sociotype” of the elderly. (Abstract excerpt)

Markos, Anton. The Birth and Life of Species-Cultures. Biosemiotics. Online December, 2015. The Charles University, Prague biologist and philosopher continues his endeavor (search) to discern and express a recurrent continuity across evolution and our cultural phase by way of essential semiotic scripts. Life’s development is thus akin to a gestation as well traced by learning and knowledge gains, a growing realization. But a curious issue arises in the second quote – why does a scientist in the 2010s feel it is still necessary to avoid or disown a vitalist view, an innate organic milieu that is now widely affirmed? This is the revolution in our midst that must be brought to fruition.

Evolution and life phenomena can be understood as results of history, i.e., as outcomes of cohabitation and collective memory of populations of autonomous entities (individuals) across many generations and vast extent of time. Hence, evolution of distinct lineages of life can be considered as isomorphic with that of cultures. I argue here that cultures and culture-like systems – human culture, natural languages, and life forms – always draw from history, memory, experience, internal dynamics, etc., transforming themselves creatively into new patterns, never foreseen before. Ontogeny and speciation in various lineages draw from continuous re-interpretation of conservative genetic/generic “texts”, as well as from changes of the interpretative process itself. The result is continuous appearances of new lineages-cultures and/or communities-cultures, in a semiotic process of re-interpretation and inventing new ways of living. (Abstract)

As a biologist, I might easily be accused of vitalist heresy. In spite of this, I argue that inspiration by models developed in the humanities may mark out a way towards a general
theory of evolution valid for all life. What makes all life isomorphic with what we take as human cultural features is (1) a semiotic character of individuals as well as communities rooted in the fact that they are born from similar entities, thus maintaining the continuity of lineages from ancient times. This allows both individuals and communities (2) an interpretative approach to their history – rooted in memory and experience. Moreover, it allows (3) a creative approach to their genetic endowment (“genetic script”), i.e., creation of novelties. (11)

Merrell, Floyd. Entangling Forms: Within Semiosic Processes. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. The Purdue University linguist, physicist, expositor of Spanish mythic literature, offers another brilliant engagement with our fantasmagorical reality that appears most of all as a textually prescriptive creation in which we intended readers have a crucial voice. This perennial view is here braced and accomplished by a unique meld of John Archibald Wheeler’s (1911-2008) cosmic physics of a “co-participatory becoming” with Charles Pierce’s (1839-1914) evocation that signification, aka semiotics, touches this deep communicative essence. Indeed its final Chapter 17 is “The Universe: A Book to be Read?” With the “Resemblance” paper above, Merrell touches truth by his rhetorical flourishes and insights from an original Taosphere to our Noosphere as Semiosphere, as phenomenal people more closely evoke the implicate presence of archetypal, gravid gender complements and familia trinities as they initiate, quicken, and move to birth themselves.

Chapter Seven suggests that the semiosic process of becoming carries the implication that everything is mutually co-participating, thus perpetuating that very process of becoming. The watchword in regard to this process is the interconnectedness of signs, worlds, meanings, and sign makers and takers. Interconnectedness call for particular focus on (1) the process of contradictory complementary coalescence, and (2) semiosic entanglement, which lie behind the notion of co-participation. Development of these topics evokes further words on what Pierce alludes to as ‘objective idealism,’ and Bohr’s complementarity. Chapter Eight interrelates semiosic entanglement with Peirce’s ‘objective idealism’ via a couple of Wheeler’s ‘thought experiments’’ that serve further to illustrate the co-participatory, self-organizing nature of signs and the world as we perceive and conceive them though our communicative channels. (xi)

Pattee, Howard. Physical and Functional Conditions for Symbols, Codes and Languages. Biosemiotics. 1/2, 2008. We cite this paper by the emeritus SUNY Binghamton physicist, biologist and logician as an entry to a lifetime of deep insights and theories that are gaining recognition such as in M. Gazzaniga’s 2018 The Consciousness Instinct. A 2012 edited volume, Laws, Language and Life, noted herein, provides a half-century collection of his writings. Their key essence is that natural reality is to be seen as graced by dual modes or phases of an animate materiality and a textual, informative quality. Within this perception, a bicameral, matter/symbol, genotype/phenotype complementary code is in evidential effect at every scale and instance. By this grand synthesis, the genetic and linguistic domains become inherently similar.

All sciences have epistemic assumptions, a language for expressing their theories or models, and symbols that reference observables that can be measured. In most sciences the language in which their models are expressed are not the focus of their attention. On the contrary, biosemiotics, by definition, cannot escape focusing on the symbol–matter relationship. Symbol systems first controlled material construction at the origin of life. At this molecular level it is only in the context of open-ended evolvability that symbol–matter systems and their functions can be objectively defined. While this partial description holds for all symbol systems, cultural languages are much too complex to be adequately described only at the molecular level. Genetic language and cultural languages have common basic requirements, but there are many significant differences in their structures and functions. (Abstract excerpt)

Pattee, Howard and Joanna Raczaszek-Leonardi. Laws, Language and Life. Berlin: Springer, 2012. The book subtitle is Howard Pattee’s classic papers on the physics of symbols with contemporary commentary. As the lifetime corpus of the emeritus SUNY Binghamton physicist, biologist and logician gains 21st century currency, it became evident to the second author, a Warsaw University psychologist and linguist, that his work should be collected in one place from disparate academic journals. The 17 papers proceed from The Physical Basis of Coding and Reliability in Biological Evolution (1967) to Instabilities and Information in Biological Self-Organization (1987) to The Necessity of Biosemiotics: Matter-Symbol Complementarity (2007, search). A new introduction by HP summarizes and updates so to avow natural reality as linguistic and genetic in kind via common complements of a material basis (words, things) and symbolic content (informed narrative. JR-L concludes with her own chapter whence a third way unity of both archetypal modes is proposed.

Romanini, Vinicius and Eliseo Fernandez, eds. Peirce and Biosemiotics: A Guess at the Riddle of Life. Netherlands: Springer, 2014. Volume 11 in the Springer Biosemiotics series considers roots and relations between a new 21st century emphasis on organism and evolutionary communications and Charles Peirce’s (1839-1914) 19th century logical philosophy of semiotic significance. We note The Intelligible Universe by Nathan Houser, Semeiotic Causation and the Breath of Life by Menno Hulswit and Vinicius Romanini, and The Life of Symbols and Other Legisigns by Winfried Noth. The consensus could be a bio-cosmo-semiotics, an essential textual narrative of an organic genesis uniVerse.

This volume discusses the importance of Peirce´s philosophy and theory of signs to the development of Biosemiotics, the science that studies the deep interrelation between meaning and life. Peirce considered semeiotic as a general logic part of a complex architectonic philosophy that includes mathematics, phenomenology and a theory of reality. The authors are Peirce scholars, biologists, philosophers and semioticians united by an interdisciplinary endeavor to understand the mysteries of the origin of life and its related phenomena such as consciousness, perception, representation and communication.

Sharov, Alexei. Evolutionary Biosemiotics and Multilevel Construction Networks. Biosemiotics. Online August, 2016. The Russian-American, National Institute of Aging (NIA/NIH), research theorist (see third quote) continues his natural philosophy of a creative, lively cosmos which seems to be evolving, developing, and organizing itself by way of communicative qualities. Life’s emergence is seen to proceed by a series of major metasystem transitions (V. Turchin) from coenzyme biomolecules to civilizations. On the author’s website can be found a steady flow of essays since 1977, along with his scenic watercolor paintings.

The analysis of sign dynamics requires constructivism (in a broad sense) to explain how new components such as subagents, sensors, effectors, and interpretation networks are produced by developing and evolving organisms. Semiotic networks that include signs, tools, and subagents are multilevel, and this feature supports the plasticity, robustness, and evolvability of organisms. The origin of life is described here as the emergence of simple self-constructing semiotic networks that progressively increased the diversity of their components and relations. Semiotic networks are based on sequential and recursive construction, where each step produces components (i.e., agents, scaffolds, signs, and resources) that are needed for the following steps of construction. Multilevel semiotic networks reshape the phenotype of organisms by combining a mosaic of features developed via learning and evolution of cooperating and/or conflicting subagents. (Abstract)

Constructivism is a valuable addition to biosemiotics because it emphasizes the activity of agents in self-construction, self-reproduction, and development of sign relations. New sign relations emerge as modifications of older sign relations and employ already available tools, resources, and subagents. New levels of semiosis emerge via functional integration of interacting agents (meta-system transition). Multilevel semiotic networks are needed to support the plasticity, robustness, and evolvability of organisms. They coordinate the appearance of features developed via learning and evolution of cooperating and/or conflicting subagents. Principles of multilevel semiosis may appear useful not just in biology but also for managing cooperating activities of humans. (15)

I started my career as an entomologist and ecologist, but soon realized that I have to answer more fundamental questioins: what is life, how it evolves, learns, and functions. Thus I got involved in the Research Group on Theoretical Biology at Moscow State University, and started publishing theoretical papers. Later I organized a seminar and two conferences on Biosemiotics, which is a synthesis of biology and semiotics, a theory on signs and meanings. Since 2002, I work in molecular biology and bioinformatics, and this new field helped me to advance further in the area of theoretical biology and biosemiotics. (AS website)

Swan, Liz Stillwaggon and Louis Goldberg. Introduction: Mentis Naturalis. Biosemiotics. Online March, 2013. Noted more in Intrinsic Consciousness and Intelligence, this special Origins of Mind issue follows a book with the same title edited by LS (search), to explore how the emergence of knowing sentience in entities and nature need be grounded in, indeed requires, a creative mind-suffused cosmos to arise from.

Tournebize, Remi and Cedric Gaucherel. Language: A Fresh Concept to Integrate Syntactic and Semantic Information in Life Sciences. Biosystems. 160/1, 2017. CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) ecologists propose novel insights and clarifications for organisms and environments by the presence of an intrinsic linguistic activity. This additional quality then need be seen as composed of two complementary aspects. As the quotes cite, a syntactic mode tends more to “what” entities, while semantics allows a “where/why” capacity. And we further note that these tendencies well match cerebral left/right, ventral/dorsal reciprocities (Grossberg, et al). See also, e.g. Towards a Landscape Language by C. Gaucherel in PLoS One (7/9. 2012).

Several fields in biology tend to view the concept of information from one or the other of two extreme positions. Exclusionists base their stance of total rejection on gene-centrism and gene-determinism, typified by the recently-established endo-Darwinist school of life sciences. At the other end of the spectrum, there is total acceptance, as in the newly developed information-centered paradigms that populate biosemiotics. We propose in this paper to split the informational concepts into two irreducible (but linked) poles: the syntactic (concerned with the quantification of the information structure or complexity in a system), and the semantic (concerned with the organization rules and causality weights of interactions in a system). We claim that the past and present uses of the concept could then be classified as various degrees of oscillation between the two poles. The concept of language presents itself as a good tool with which to bridge the syntactic and the semantic poles, combining as it does the form-related and the meaning-related aspects of information, while methodologically supporting formal grammatical models in life sciences.. (Abstract)

We define syntactic information as a pattern-oriented quantification of a system structure. The theoretical developments centred on syntactic information have in common to quantify information to further understand relationships between the state/structure of a signal-emitting system and the state/structure of a receiver system. For example, the syntactic information in genetics may be found in the linear arrangement of DNA nucleotides as well as in the reading system, such as ribosomes. In population genetics, the fixation of a specific allel under a selective pressure precisely corresponds to the calculation of syntactic information on the DNA sequence samples. (3)

In a living system, we define semantic information as the pole of the total information concept relating to the causative power of the rule associating some elements or structures over other elements or structures. Theoretical and philosophical developments which fall under the “semantic information” umbrella have in common to define information in terms of prescriptive rules or “instructions.” The semantic information is process-oriented since it considers the causality involving the oriented and effective relationship between elements of a living system within itself and its environment. In contrast to syntactic information, the semantic information focuses on the “meaning” of its content relatively to an agent. (4)

Velmezova, Ekaterina, et al, eds. Biosemiotic Perspectives on Language and Linguistics. International: Springer, 2015. With coeditors Kalevi Kull and Stephen Cowley, a collection to join this growing sense of natural origins for life’s communicative qualities with our human propensities to speak and write. Among chapters are Language and Biosphere by Anton Markus, Deep Congruence between Linguistic and Biotic Growth by Jamin Lelkey, Before Babel: The Evolutionary Roots of Human Language by Piera Filippi, and Language as Primary Modeling and Natural languages by Susan Petrilli.

Without biosemiosis, there could be no human language. The volume presents international perspectives that have been inspired by this simple idea. The contributors open up new methods, directions and perspectives on both language in general and specific human languages. Many commonplace notions (language, dialect, syntax, sign, text, dialogue, discourse, etc.) have to be rethought once due attention is given to the living roots of languages. Accordingly, the contributors unite “eternal” problems of the humanities (such as language and thought, origin of language, prelinguistic meaning-making, borders of human language and “marginal” linguistic phenomena) with new inspirations drawing from natural science. Biosemiotics connects the sciences with the humanities while offering a new challenge to autonomous linguistics by pointing towards new kinds of interdisciplinary fusion.

Westling, Louise. The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals and Language. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014. Reviewed more in Rosetta Cosmos, the work is a perceptive synthesis of French phenomenology and current semiotic views.

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