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What Does it Take to Produce Interpretation? Informational, Peircean and Code-Semiotic Views on Biosemiotics


This paper presents a critical analysis of code-semiotics, which we see as the latest attempt to create paradigmatic foundation for solving the question of the emergence of life and consciousness. We view code semiotics as a an attempt to revise the empirical scientific Darwinian paradigm, and to go beyond the complex systems, emergence, self-organization, and informational paradigms, and also the selfish gene theory of Dawkins and the Peircean pragmaticist semiotic theory built on the simultaneous types of evolution. As such it is a new and bold attempt to use semiotics to solve the problems created by the evolutionary paradigm’s commitment to produce a theory of how to connect the two sides of the Cartesian dualistic view of physical reality and consciousness in a consistent way.

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  1. Phaneroscophy is Peirce’s version of phenomenology and is different from Husserl’s and result in that different paradigms of semiotics are built on them. Randsdell (1989/1997), Hauser (2010), Brier (2011a, b), Spiegelberg (1965, pp.18-19). The phaneron is defined in Peirce's ‘Adirondack Lectures’ of 1905 in the following way:

    Phaneroscopy is the description of the phaneron; and by the phaneron I mean the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind, quite regardless of whether it corresponds to any real thing or not. If you ask present when, and to whose mind, I reply that I leave these questions unanswered, never having entertained a doubt that those features of the phaneron that I have found in my mind are present at all times and to all minds. So far as I have developed this science of phaneroscopy, it is occupied with the formal elements of the phaneron. (Peirce CP 1.284)

  2. We employ the concept of Wissenschaft here instead of science, as the German concept encompasses natural as well as social science and the humanities.

  3. We infer this, since this aspect is not clearly developed explicitly in Barbieri’s paradigm yet.

  4. Tychism and synechism are two fundamental paradigmatic concepts in Peirce’s semiotics. He writes most basically that tycishm is “… absolute chance -- pure tychism …” (CP 6.322, c. 1909). So Tychism is connected to firstnes as real object chance in the universe: “… Tychism, or the doctrine that absolute chance is a factor of the universe.” (CP 6.201, 1898). But that has to be integrated with the Secondness of resistance, facts and individuality to create Thirdness to mediate connections between the two in synechism. This is connected to his pragmatism; “It is that synthesis of tychism and of pragmatism for which I long ago proposed the name, Synechism.” (CP 4.584, 1906). He explains synechism as a basic philosophical principle the following way” …that tendency of philosophical thought which insists upon the idea of continuity as of prime importance in philosophy and, in particular, upon the necessity of hypotheses involving true continuity.” (CP 6.169, 1902) This deep connection between everything, including mind and matter he calls synechism. He sums it up in the following quote: “Permit me further to say that I object to having my metaphysical system as a whole called Tychism. For although tychism does enter into it, it only enters as subsidiary to that which is really, as I regard it, the characteristic of my doctrine, namely, that I chiefly insist upon continuity, or Thirdness, and, in order to secure to thirdness its really commanding function, I find it indispensable fully [to] recognize that it is a third, and that Firstness, or chance, and Secondness, or Brute reaction, are other elements, without the independence of which Thirdness would not have anything upon which to operate. Accordingly, I like to call my theory Synechism, because it rests on the study of continuity.” (CP 6.202, 1898)

  5. For a more detailed discussion, see (Joslyn 2001).

  6. Maybe in the form of a Supervenience theory? But that in our view is a sort of physicalism combined with a pseudo-emergentism that does not solve the problem of life and consciousness, qualia etc.


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Brier, S., Joslyn, C. What Does it Take to Produce Interpretation? Informational, Peircean and Code-Semiotic Views on Biosemiotics. Biosemiotics 6, 143–159 (2013).

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  • Information
  • Codes
  • Interpretation
  • Emergence
  • Complex systems
  • Evolution
  • Consciousness
  • Peirce semiotics
  • Biosemiotics