Semiosis and Bio-Mechanism: towards Consilience

Biosemiotics 11 (3):405-425 (2018)
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Abstract

In biosemiotics, some oppose the study of sign relations to empirical work on bio-mechanisms. Urging consilience between these views, we show the value of Alain Berthoz’s concept of simplexity. Its heuristic power is to present molecules, cells, organisms and communities as using tricks to self-fabricate by agglomerating ‘simplex’ bio-mechanisms. Their properties enable living systems to self-sustain, adapt and, at best, to thrive. But simplexity also empowers agents to engage with their surroundings in novel ways. Life thus not only generates know-how but also social organisation. With languaging, people can act and inhibit: they can also simplexify. As a result, we can see a fruit as ripe, feel when things are awry or behave in ways likely to be judged to be apt. While all living beings make situated use of the historical and the local, humans also bind these with the use of both practices and artifacts. As a result, brains come to emulate what occurs in-between persons and their surroundings. In pursuing the basis for our powers, we focus on inhibition. This simplex trick enables a plant to use dormancy, a bird to learn, and a person to mesh languaging with other aspects of action/perception. Indeed, inhibition enriches human style phenomenology as impersonal resources are used to expand our epistemic horizons. Experience links a self-fabricating body, ancient bio-mechanisms, community-based concerns and epigenetically derived know-how.

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Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen
University of Southern Denmark

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