, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 159–171 | Cite as

Semiotic Scaffolding of Multicellularity

  • Jesper Hoffmeyer
Original Paper


The threshold from unicellularity to multicellularity has been crossed only in three major living domains in evolution with any lasting success. The hard problem was to create a multicellular self. Such a self is vulnerable to breakdown due to the unavoidable appearance of mutant anarchistic cells, and stringent semiotic scaffoldings had to emerge to prevent this. While a unicellular self may go on to live practically forever, the multicellular self most often must run through an individuation process ending in the death of the individual. Due to basic differences in cells of plants, fungi and animals this individuation process poses very different challenges in the three kingdoms of plants, fungi and animals, and the solutions found to these differences are discussed. In the same time as multicellularity ushered life into the epoch of mortality it logically also led to the appearance of fertilization and thereby the need for a whole new set of elaborate semiotic scaffoldings. Multicellularity also opened the door to the formation symbiotic relations where cells with different genomes might collaborate or at least coexist inside the same body. All in all multicellularity led to an enormous diversification both of morphology space and the space of sensomotoric elaborations. New means for scaffolding of this expansion and diversification of possible life forms into functional patterns called for a corresponding growth in the space of semiotic tools (chemical processes, heat, light, sound, volatile chemicals, magnetism, radiation of many sorts, etc.) and initiated a growth in semiotic freedom, that has continued to our days.


Multicellularity Semiotic Scaffolding Biosemiotics Evolution Individuation Fertilization Symbiosis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biological InstituteUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark

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