, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 223–234 | Cite as

Evolution, Choice, and Scaffolding: Semiosis is Changing Its Own Building

  • Kalevi KullEmail author
Original Paper


We develop here a semiotic model of evolution. We point out the role of confusion and choice as a condition for semiosis, which is a precondition for semiotic learning and semiotic adaptation. Semiosis itself as interpretation and decision-making between options requires phenomenal present. The body structure of the organism is largely a product of former semiosis. The organism’s body together with the structure of the ecosystem serves also as a scaffolding for the sign processes that carry on the ontogenetic cycle and the organisms’ behaviour, providing the experience-based channels for decision making in the indeterminate situations of choice. The stability and persistence of ontogenesis and behaviour are based on the plasticity, or the multiviality of organic dynamics. The same plasticity or multivial dynamics is providing the material for further potential evolution. Evolution has occurred when some change becomes irreversible via its stabilization, and it usually means a modification of existing constraints, or scaffoldings. Some examples of these processes are described in the article.


Adaptation Decision making Intentionality Logical conflict Machine learning Model Organism Semiotic learning Specious present 



I thank Jesper Hoffmeyer and Claus Emmeche for helpful comments. This study is supported by IUT2-44 and the European Developmental Fund, via the Centre of Excellence in Cultural Theory in Tartu, Estonia.


  1. Arstila, V., & Lloyd, D. (Eds.). (2014). Subjective Time: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Temporality. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baer, K. E. von (1864). Welche Auffassung der lebenden Natur ist die richtige? Und wie ist diese Auffassung auf die Entomologie anzuwenden? In K. E. von Baer (Ed.), Reden gehalten in wissenschaftlichen Versammlungen und kleinere Aufsätze vermischten Inhalts, Bd. 1 (pp. 237–284). St. Petersburg: H. Schmitzdorff.Google Scholar
  3. Barbieri, M. (2002). Organic codes: metaphors or realities? Sign Systems Studies, 30(2), 743–754.Google Scholar
  4. Bernstein, N. A. (1967). The Co-ordination and Regulation of Movements. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Caporael, L. R., Griesemer, J. R., & Wimsatt, W. C. (Eds.). (2014). Developing Scaffolds in Evolution, Culture, and Cognition. (The Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology.). Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Clark, A. (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eco, U. (1976). A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Foley, J. (1994). Scaffolding. ELT Journal, 48(1), 101–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gallagher, S. (1998). The Inordinance of Time. Evanston: Nortwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gould, S. J. (1997). Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. New York: Three Rivers Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hoffmeyer, J. (2007). Semiotic scaffolding of living systems. In M. Barbieri (Ed.), Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis (pp. 149–166). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hoffmeyer, J. (2011). Summary. In M. Skriver & I. M. Kjeldgaard (Eds.), Livstegn. Kunst + biologi. Morten Skriver og Jesper Hoffmeyer: Katalog (pp. 80–81). Esbjerg: Esbjerg Kunstmuseum.Google Scholar
  13. Hoffmeyer, J. (2014a). The semiome: from genetic to semiotic scaffolding. Semiotica, 198, 11–31.Google Scholar
  14. Hoffmeyer, J. (2014b). Semiotic scaffolding: A biosemiotic link between sema and soma. In K. R. Cabell & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Catalyzing Mind: Beyond Models of Causality (pp. 95–110). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hoffmeyer, J., & Kull, K. (2003). Baldwin and biosemiotics: What intelligence is for. In B. H. Weber & D. J. Depew (Eds.), Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered (pp. 253–272). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  16. Huneman, P. (2014). Inscrutability and the opacity of natural selection and random genetic drift: distinguishing the epistemic and metaphysical aspects. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9684-z.Google Scholar
  17. Kauffman, S. (2012). From physics to semiotics. In S. Rattasepp & T. Bennett (Eds.), Gatherings in Biosemiotics (Tartu Semiotics Library 11) (pp. 30–46). Tartu: University of Tartu Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kirschner, M. W., & Gerhart, J. C. (2005). The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Kull, K. (2012a). Semiosis includes incompatibility: On the relationship between semiotics and mathematics. In M. Bockarova, M. Danesi, & R. Núñez (Eds.), Semiotic and Cognitive Science Essays on the Nature of Mathematics (pp. 330–339). Muenchen: Lincom Europa.Google Scholar
  20. Kull, K. (2012b). Scaffolding. In D. Favareau, P. Cobley, & K. Kull (Eds.), A More Developed Sign: Interpreting the Work of Jesper Hoffmeyer (Tartu Semiotics Library 10) (pp. 227–230). Tartu: Tartu University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kull, K. (2014a). Adaptive evolution without natural selection. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 112(2), 287–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kull, K. (2014b). Catalysis and scaffolding in semiosis. In K. R. Cabell & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Catalyzing Mind: Beyond Models of Causality. (Annals of Theoretical Psychology 11) (pp. 111–121). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kull, K. (2014c). Zoosemiotics is the study of animal forms of knowing. Semiotica, 198, 47–60.Google Scholar
  24. Kull, K. (2014d). A taxonomy and evolution of semiosis as based on the mechanisms of learning: Emonic signs. In Y. Wang & H. Yu (Eds.), Traversing the Mental and the Artistic Worlds (pp. 3–9). Nanjing: Hohai University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kull, K. (2014e). Towards a theory of evolution of semiotic systems. Chinese Semiotic Studies, 10(3), 485–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lotman, J. M., & Uspensky, B. A. (1978). On the semiotic mechanism of culture. New Literary History, 9(2), 211–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nicholson, D. J. (2014). The machine conception of the organism in development and evolution: a critical analysis. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 48, 162–174.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Plotkin, H. (1993). Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Pöppel, E., & Bao, Y. (2014). Temporal windows as a bridge from objective to subjective time. In V. Arstila & D. Lloyd (Eds.), Subjective Time: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Temporality (pp. 241–262). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  30. Shank, J. C., May, C. J., & Joshi, S. S. (2014). Models as scaffolds for understanding. In L. R. Caporael, J. R. Griesemer, & W. C. Wimsatt (Eds.), Developing Scaffolds in Evolution, Culture, and Cognition (The Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology) (pp. 147–167). Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Souza, C. S. D. (2005). The Semiotic Engineering of Human-Computer Interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Uexküll, J. von (1928). Theoretische Biologie (2nd ed.). Berlin: Verlag von Julius Springer.Google Scholar
  33. Varela, F. J. (1999). The specious present: A neurophenomenology of time consciousness. In J. Petitot, F. J. Varela, B. Pachoud, & J.-M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science (pp. 266–314). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Vygotsky, L. S. (1986[1934]). Thought and Language. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  35. West-Eberhard, M. J. (2003). Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17(2), 89–100.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TartuTartuEstonia

Personalised recommendations