Interpretation and the origin of life

Zygon 45 (2):345-360 (2010)
Abstract
We offer a general definition of interpretation based on a naturalized teleology. The definition tests and extends the biosemiotic paradigm by seeking to provide a philosophically robust resource for investigating the possible role of semiosis (processes of representation and interpretation) in biological systems. We show that our definition provides a way of understanding various possible kinds of misinterpretation, illustrate the definition using examples at the cellular and subcellular level, and test the definition by applying it to a potential counterexample. We explain how we propose to use the definition as a way of asking new questions about what distinguishes life from non-life and of formulating testable hypotheses within the field of origin-of-life research. If the definition leads to fruitful new empirical approaches to the scientific problem of the origin of life, it will help to establish biosemiotics as a legitimate philosophical approach in theoretical biology and will thereby support a theological appropriation of the biosemiotic perspective as the basis of a new theology of nature.
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