What is BIOSEMIOTICS?
(i) the study of signs, of communication, and of information in
living organisms (Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology,
1997. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 72).
(ii) biology that interprets living systems as sign
systems (Emmeche, Kull, Stjernfelt 2002: 26).
(iii) the scientific study of biosemiosis (Emmeche, Kull, Stjernfelt
Go to an encyclopedia article
The term biosemiotic was first used by
F.S.Rothschild in 1962.
Go to Gatherings in
Below are few definitions of biosemiotics as taken from various authors.
"The process of message exchanges, or semiosis, is an indispensable
characteristic of all terrestrial life forms. It is this capacity for
containing, replicating, and expressing messages, of extracting their
signification, that, in fact, distinguishes them more from the nonliving -
except for human agents, such as computers or robots, that can be programmed
to simulate communication - than any other traits often cited. The study of
the twin processes of communication and signification can be regarded as
ultimately a branch of the life science, or as belonging in large part to
nature, in some part to culture, which is, of course, also a part of
nature." (Sebeok 1991: 22)
"The life science and the sign science thus mutually imply one another."
(Sebeok 1994: 114)
"Biosemiotics proper deals with sign processes in nature in all dimensions,
including (1) the emergence of semiosis in nature, which may coincide with
or anticipate the emergence of living cells; (2) the natural history of
signs; (3) the 'horizontal' aspects of semiosis in the ontogeny of
organisms, in plant and animal communication, and in inner sign functions in
the immune and nervous systems; and (4) the semiotics of cognition and
language. /../ Biosemiotics can be seen as a contribution to a general
theory of evolution, involving a synthesis of different disciplines. It is a
branch of general semiotics, but the existence of signs in its subject
matter is not necessarily presupposed, insofar as the origin of semiosis in
the universe is one of the riddles to be solved." (Emmeche 1992: 78)
"A modern unification of biology /../ has to be based on the fundamentally
semiotic nature of life." (Hoffmeyer 1997)
"The most pronounced feature of organic evolution is not the creation of a
multiplicity of amazing morphological structures, but the general expansion
of 'semiotic freedom', that is to say the increase in richness or 'depth' of
meaning that can be communicated" (Hoffmeyer 1996: 61).
"The sign rather than the
molecule is the basic unit for studying life." (Hoffmeyer 1995: 369)
"Sign processes penetrate the entire body of an organism. [...]
Signification is the fundamental property of living systems that can be
taken as a definition of life. Hence, biosemiotics can be viewed as a root
of both biology and semiotics rather than a branch of semiotics." (Sharov
"Biosemiotics can be defined as the science of signs in living systems. A
principal and distinctive characteristic of semiotic biology lays in the
understanding that in living, entities do not interact like mechanical
bodies, but rather as messages, the pieces of text. This means that the
whole determinism is of another type. /../ The phenomena of recognition,
memory, categorization, mimicry, learning, communication are thus among
those of interest for biosemiotic research, together with the analysis of
the application of the tools and notions of semiotics (text, translation,
interpretation, semiosis, types of sign, meaning) in the biological realm."
(Kull 1999: 386)
"With the discovery that a set of symbols has been used by nature to encode
the information for the construction and maintenance of all living things,
semiotics - the analysis of languages and texts as sets of signs and symbols
- has become relevant to molecular biology. Semiotics has given students of
the DNA text a new eye for reading, allowing us to argue for the validity of
a multiplicity of meanings, or even for the absence of any meaning, in a
stretch of the human genome." (Pollack 1994: 12)
Anderson M. (1990). Biology and semiotics. In: Semiotics in the
Individual Sciences, Part I, W.A.Koch (ed.), 254-281. Bochum:
Universitätsverlag Dr. N. Brockmeyer.
Cariani P. (1998). Towards an evolutionary semiotics: The emergence of new
sign-functions in organisms and devices. In: Evolutionary Systems:
Epistemological Perspectives on Selection and Self-Organization. G. van de Vijver,
S.N.Salthe, M.Delpos (eds.), 359-376. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Emmeche C. (1992). Modeling life: A note on the semiotics of emergence and
computation in artificial and natural living systems. In: Biosemiotics:
The Semiotic Web 1991. T.A.Sebeok and J.Umiker-Sebeok (eds.), 77-99.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Emmeche C. (1999).
biosemiotics of emergent properties in a pluralist ontology.
In: Semiosis, Evolution, Energy: Towards a
Reconceptualization of the Sign. E.Taborsky (ed.), 89-108.
Aachen: Shaker Verlag.
Emmeche C., Kull K., Stjernfelt F. (2002). Reading Hoffmeyer,
Rethinking Biology. Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Hoffmeyer J. (1995). The semiotic body-mind. In: Essays in Honor of Thomas A.
N.Tasca (ed.), 367-383. Porto.
Hoffmeyer J. (1996). Signs of Meaning in the Universe. Bloomington: Indiana
Hoffmeyer J. (1997). Biosemiotics: towards a new
synthesis in biology? European
Journal for Semiotic Studies 9(2), 355-376.
Hoffmeyer J., Emmeche C. (1991). Code-duality and the semiotics of nature.
In: On Semiotic Modeling. M.Anderson,
F.Merrell (eds.) 117-166. Berlin: Mouton de
Kawade Y. (1996). Molecular biosemiotics: molecules carry out semiosis
in living systems. Semiotica 111(3/4), 195-215.
Krampen M. (1981). Phytosemiotics. Semiotica 36(3/4), 187-209.
Kull K. (1993).
paradigm in theoretical biology. In: Lectures in Theoretical
Biology: The Second Stage. K.Kull and T.Tiivel (eds.), 52-62. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of
Kull K. (1999).
Biosemiotics in the twentieth century: a view from biology.
Semiotica 127(1/4), 385-414.
Nöth W. (2001). Biosemiotica.
Cybernetics and Human Knowing 8(1/2), 157-160.
Pattee H.H. (1997). The physics of symbols and the evolution of
semiotic controls. In: Control mechanisms for complex systems: Issues of
measurement and semiotic analysis. M.Coombs and M.Sulcoski (eds.),
9-25. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.
Pollack R. (1994). Signs of Life: The Language and Meanings of DNA. London:
Prodi G. (1988). Material bases of signification. Semiotica 69, 191-241.
Sebeok T.A. (1991). A Sign is Just a Sign. Bloomington: Indiana University
Sebeok T.A. (1994). Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics. Toronto: University of
Sebeok T.A. (1999). The sign
science and the life science. Applied Semiotics 6/7, 386-393.
Sharov A. (1992).
functional-evolutionary approach to the analysis of the sense of
information. In: Biosemiotics:
The Semiotic Web 1991. T.A.Sebeok and J.Umiker-Sebeok (eds.), 345-373.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Sharov A. (1998). From cybernetics to semiotics in biology. Semiotica
Uexküll T.v., Geigges, Herrmann J.M. (1993). Endosemiosis.
Semiotica 96(1/2), 5-51.
Vehkavaara T. (1998).
Extended concept of
knowledge for evolutionary epistemology and for biosemiotics. In:
Hierarchy, Organization. G.L.Farre, T.Oksala (eds.), 207-216. Espoo.
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