Constraint satisfaction, agency and meaning generation as an evolutionary framework for a constructive biosemiotic (2017)

Christophe Menant
Ecole Nationale Superieure d'Electronique, d'Electrotechnique, d'Informatique et d'Hydraulique de Toulouse (ENSEEIHT)
A constructivist perspective on biosemiotics brings to the forefront meaning generation by biological agents for constraint satisfaction in an evolutionary background. Biosemiotics deal with the study of signs and meaning in biological entities. One of its main challenges is to attempt to naturalize biological meaning (Sharov & all 2015). Constructivism is an epistemological perspective that considers knowledge as constructed by agents which are sense makers. So a constructive approach on biosemiotics addresses meanings as constructed by biological agents as sense makers. But meanings do not exist by themselves. They are generated by agents that have constraints to satisfy. The sight of a cat means “danger” for a mouse because she has to stay alive. Also, the case of humans as biological agents brings to consider an evolutionary perspective where human specificities like self-consciousness are to be taken into account. We propose here to model meaning generation by biological agents in a constructivist and evolutionary background starting with simple organisms characterized by a “stay alive” constraint. For that we use an existing system tool: the Meaning Generator System (MGS) that models the generation of meaning by a system submitted to an internal constraint related to the nature of the agent containing it (Menant 2003). Meaning generation is a constitutive part of agency as driving action implementation for constraint satisfaction. Evolution introduces meaningful representations as networks of meanings that harbor the cognitive content and the history of the agent relatively to what is useful for the satisfaction of the constraints (Menant 2011). This brings to look at positioning agency as centered on internal constraint satisfaction, coming in addition to other biosemiotics perspectives (Tønnessen 2015). Such positioning allows discriminations between artificial and biological agents (Menant 2013). Actions implemented for constraint satisfaction can be physical or mental and take place in the agent or in its environment. Memorizing experiences or updating action scenarios are internal actions participating to the build-up of the agent’s cognitive content. As the actions modify the agent and/or its environment, the meaning generation has to be quasi-permanent for the agent to maintain its nature relatively to the constraint. The case of human agency is introduced as based on meaningful representations where auto-representations and identifications with conspecifics have led animals to represent themselves as existing entities. Such process has been proposed in an evolutionary scenario for self-consciousness with the introduction of new constraints (Menant 2014a). More work is needed on that subject. A conclusion summarizes the points addressed in the paper. Possible continuations are highlighted.
Keywords meaning  constraint  biosemiotics  constructivism  agent  evolution  normativity  autonomy,  representation  information
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