Agency, Meaning, Perception and Mimicry: Perspectives from the Process of Life and Third Way of Evolution

Abstract

The concept of biological mimicry is viewed as a ‘process of life’ theory rather than a ‘process of change’ theory—regardless of the historical interest and heuristic value of the subject for the study of evolution. Mimicry is a dynamic ecological system reflecting the possibilities for mutualism and parasitism created by a pre-established bipartite signal-based relationship between two organisms – a potential model and its signal receiver (potential operator). In a mimicry system agency and perception play essential, interconnected roles. Mimicry thus describes emergent biologically meaningful relationships based on synergy, and is not an object-based theory. Biosemiotics offers a particularly valuable discipline for analysing the dynamics and nuances of mimicry systems, and can thus pave the way for a better and more complete understanding of how mimicry has evolved in the past, and how it might evolve in the future—presented here with special reference to the need for an integrated, ‘third way of evolution’ approach to biological relativity. A revised definition of mimicry is proposed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Affifi, R. (2018). Deweyan psychology in plant intelligence research: Transforming stimulus and response. In F. Baluska, M. Gagliano, & G. Witzany (Eds.), Memory and learning in plants. Signaling and communication in plants (pp. 17–33). Cham: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Arber, A. (1954). The mind and the eye. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Baldwin, J. M. (1902). Development and evolution. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Barandiaran, X., Di Paolo, E., & Rohde, M. (2009). Defining agency: Individuality, normativity, asymmetry and spatio-temporality in action. Adaptive Behavior, 17(5), 367–386.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bohm, D. (1980). Wholeness and the implicate order. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Boppré, M., Vane-Wright, R. I., & Wickler, W. (2017). A hypothesis to explain accuracy of wasp resemblances. Ecology and Evolution, 7, 73–81.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Brady, R. H. (1985). On the independence of systematics. Cladistics, 1, 113–126.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Brower, J. V. Z., & Brower, L. P. (1962). Experimental studies of mimicry. 6. The reactions of toads (Bufo terrestris) to honeybees (Apis mellifera) and their dronefly mimics (Eristalis vinetorum). American Naturalist, 96, 297–307.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Brower, L. P., Brower, J. V. Z., & Westcott, P. W. (1960). Experimental studies of mimicry. 5. The reactions of toads (Bufo terrestris) to bumblebees (Bombus americanorum) and their robberfly mimics (Mallophora bomboides), with a discussion of aggressive mimicry. American Naturalist, 94, 343–355.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Brower, L. P., Brower, J. V. Z., & Corvino, J. M. (1967). Plant poisons in terrestrial food chain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 57, 893–898.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Bruce, R. W. (2014). A reflection on biological thought: Whatever happened to the organism? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 112(2), 354–365.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Capra, F., & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The systems view of life. A unifying vision. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Casati, R., & Varzi, A. (2015). Events. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), E. N. Zalta (Ed.). https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2015/entries/events/. Accessed 12 May 2018.

  14. Coon, D. (1983). Introduction to psychology. Exploration and application (3rd edn). Minneapolis/St. Paul: West.

  15. Corning, P. A. (1983). The synergism hypothesis. A theory of progressive evolution. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Corning, P. A. (2005). Holistic Darwinism. Synergy, cybernetics, and the bioeconomics of evolution. Chicago: Chicago UP.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Corning, P. A. (2014a). Systems theory and the role of synergy in the evolution of living systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 31, 181–196.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Corning, P. A. (2014b). Evolution ‘on purpose’: How behaviour has shaped the evolutionary process. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 112, 242–260.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Corning, P. A. (2018). Synergistic selection. How cooperation has shaped evolution and the rise of humankind. Singapore: World Scientific.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Corning, P. A., & Szathmáry, E. (2015). “Synergistic selection”: A Darwinian frame for the evolution of complexity. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 371, 45–58.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Côté, I. M., & Cheney, K. L. (2005). Choosing when to be a cleaner-fish mimic. Nature, 433, 211–212.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Dalziell, A. H., & Welbergen, J. A. (2016). Mimicry for all modalities. Ecology Letters, 19(6), 609–619.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Dalziell, A. H., Welbergen, J. A., Igic, B., & Magrath, R. D. (2015). Avian vocal mimicry: A unified conceptual framework. Biological Reviews, 90, 643–668.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Di Paolo, E. A., Barandiaran, X. E., Beaton, M., & Buhrmann, T. (2014). Learning to perceive in the sensorimotor approach: Piaget’s theory of equilibration interpreted dynamically. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 551 (16 pp.), 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00551.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Doolittle, W. F., & Booth, A. (2017). It’s the song, not the singer: An exploration of holobiosis and evolutionary theory. Biology and Philosophy, 32, 5–24. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-016-9542-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Dupré, J. (1995). The disorder of things: Metaphysical foundations of the disunity of science. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1959). Der Fisch Aspidontus taeniatus als Nachahamer des Putzers Labroides dimidiatus. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 16, 19–25.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Eldredge, N. (2004). Why we do it. Rethinking sex and the selfish gene. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Elton, C. E. (1966). Animal ecology. London: Methuen, (first edn published 1927 by Sidgwick & Jackson).

  30. Endler, J. A. (1981). An overview of the relationships between mimicry and crypsis. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 16, 25–31.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Friston, K., Adams, R. A., Perrinet, L., & Breakspear, M. (2012). Perceptions as hypotheses: Saccades as experiments. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 20 pp. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00151.

  32. Goodwin, B. (1994). How the leopard changed its spots. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson (consulted as Phoenix edn, Orion).

  33. Goodwin, B. (2007). Nature’s due. Healing our fragmented culture. Edinburgh: Floris.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Gregory, R. L. (1972). Eye and brain. The psychology of seeing (2nd ed.). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Gregory, R. L. (1980). Perceptions as hypotheses. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 290, 181–197.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Gross, R. D. (1987). Psychology. The science of mind and behaviour (1st ed.). London: Arnold.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Guilford, T., Nicol, C., Rothschild, M., & Moore, B. P. (1987). The biological roles of pyrazines: Evidence for a warning odour function. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 31, 113–128.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Haukioja, E. (1982). Are individuals really subordinated to genes? A theory of living entities. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 99, 357–375.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Hennig, W. (1966). Phylogenetic systematics. Urbana: University of Illionois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Ho, M.-W. (2017). Meaning of life & the universe transforming. Singapore: World Scientific.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Ingold, T. (1986). Culture and the perception of the environment. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Ingold, T. (1989). An anthropologist looks at biology. Man (NS), 25, 208–229.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Jablonka, E., & Lamb, M. J. (2005). Evolution in four dimensions. Genetic, epigenetic, behavioural, and symbolic variation in the history of life. Cambridge: MIT.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Jamie, G. A. (2017). Signals, cues and the nature of mimicry. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284, 20162080 (9 pp.).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Jones, D. M. (2017). The biological foundations of action. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Kauffman, S. A. (1995). At home in the universe. New York: Oxford UP (consulted as paperback edn, Penguin, London, 1996).

  47. Kauffman, S. A. (2008). Reinventing the sacred. Basic Books, New York (consulted as paperback edn, 2010).

  48. Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions (2nd ed.). Chicago: Chicago UP.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Kull, K. (2000). Organisms can be proud to have been their own designers. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 7, 45–55.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Kull, K. (2017). What kind of evolutionary biology suits cultural research? Sign Systems Studies, 44(4), 634–647.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Kull, K. (2018). On the logic of animal Umwelten: The animal subjective present and zoosemiotics of choice and learning. In G. Marrone & D. Mangano (Eds.), semiotics of animals in culture. Biosemiotics, 17, 135–148.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Kunte, K., Zhang, W., Tenger-Trolander, A., Palmer, D. H., Martin, A., Reed, D. R., Mullen, S. P., & Kronforst, M. R. (2014). Doublesex is a mimicry supergene. Nature, 507, 229–232.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. Losey, G. S. (1972). Predation protection in the poison-fang blenny, Meiacanthus atrodorsalis, and its mimics, Ecsenius bicolor and Runula laudandus (Blenniidae). Pacific Science, 26, 129–139.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Maran, T. (2017). Mimicry and meaning: Structure and semiotics of biological mimicry. Biosemiotics, 16, x + 164 pp. Cham: Springer.

  55. Maturana, H., & Varela, F. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition. The realization of the living. Dordrecht: Reidel.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Maynard Smith, J. (1978). The evolution of sex. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Maynard Smith, J. (1982). The evolution of social behaviour – A classification of models. In King's college sociobiology group (Ed.), Current problems in sociobiology (pp. 28–44). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Maynard Smith, J., & Harper, D. (2003). Animal signals. Oxford: Oxford UP.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Maynard Smith, J., & Szathmáry, E. (1995). The major transitions in evolution. Oxford: Freeman Press.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Mayr, E. (1963). Animal species and evolution. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Noble, D. (2012). A theory of biological relativity: No privileged level of causation. Interface Focus, 2(1), 55–64.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Noble, D. (2013). Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology. Experimental Physiology, 98, 1235–1243.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. Noble, D. (2015). Evolution beyond neo-Darwinism: A new conceptual framework. Journal of Experimental Biology, 218, 7–13.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. Piaget, J. (1979). Behaviour and evolution. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Piepers, M. C. (1913). Introduction. In M. C. Piepers & P. C. T. Snellen, The Rhopalocera of Java, 3, i–lxvi. The Hague: Nijhoff.

  66. Pigliucci, M., & Müller, G. B. (2010). Elements of an extended evolutionary synthesis. In M. Pigliucci & G. B. Müller (Eds.), Evolution: The extended synthesis (pp. 3–17). Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Plotkin, H. C. (Ed.). (1988a). The role of behavior in evolution. Cambridge: MIT.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Plotkin, H. C. (1988b). Learning and evolution. In H. C. Plotkin (Ed.), The role of behavior in evolution (pp. 133–164). Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Quicke, D. L. J. (2017). Mimicry, crypsis, masquerade and other adaptive resemblances. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Ranta, E., Tesar, D., Alaja, S., & Kaitala, V. (2000). Does evolution of iteroparous and semelparous reproduction call for spatially structured systems? Evolution, 54(1), 145–150.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. Remane, A. (1952). Die Grundlagen des naturlichen Systems, der vergleichenden Anatomie und der Phylogenetik. Theoretische Morphologie und Systematik I. Leipzig: Geest & Portig.

  72. Robinson, M. H. (1981). A stick is a stick and not worth eating: On the definition of mimicry. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 16, 15–20.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Robinson, J., & Vane-Wright, R. I. (2018). A specimen of Tirumala hamata hamata (Macleay, 1826) (Lepidoptera: Danainae) from captain Cook’s first voyage. Journal of Natural History, 52(11–12), 687–712. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222933.2018.1444211.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Ruiz-Mirazo, K., & Moreno, A. (2012). Autonomy in evolution: From minimal to complex life. Synthese, 185, 21–52. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-011-9874-z.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Shapiro, J. A. (2011). Evolution. A view from the 21st century. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: FT Press Science.

  76. Siddall, E. C., & Marples, N. M. (2011). The effect of pyrazine odor on avoidance learning and memory in wild robins Erithacus rubecula. Current Zoology, 57(2), 208–214.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Sternberg, J. G., Waldbauer, G. P., & Jeffords, M. R. (1977). Batesian mimicry: Selective advantage of color pattern. Science, 195(4279), 681–683.

    Google Scholar 

  78. The Third Way (2014–) http://www.thethirdwayofevolution.com/. Accessed 16th Aug 2018.

  79. Theobald, D. L. (2010). A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry. Nature, 465, 219–222.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  80. Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in life. Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Timmermans, M. J. T. N., Thompson, M. J., Collins, S., & Vogler, A. P. (2017). Independent evolution of sexual dimorphism and female-limited mimicry in swallowtail butterflies (Papilio dardanus and Papilio phorcas). Molecular Ecology, 26(5), 1273–1284.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  82. Tønnessen, M. (2015). The biosemiotic glossary project: Agent, Agency. Biosemiotics, 8, 125–143. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-015-9229-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Tønnessen, M., Magnus, R., & Brentari, C. (2016). The biosemiotic glossary project: Umwelt. Biosemiotics, 9(1), 129–149. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-016-9255-6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Turner, J. R. G. (1983). “The hypothesis that explains mimetic resemblance explains evolution”: The gradualist–saltationist schism. In M. Grene (Ed.), Dimensions of Darwinism (pp. 129–169). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Turner, J. R. G. (1984). Mimicry: The palatability spectrum and its consequences. Symposia of the Royal Entomological Society, 11, 141–161.

    Google Scholar 

  86. von Uexküll, J. (1926). Theoretical biology. New York: Harcourt Brace.

  87. Vane-Wright, R. I. (1976). A unified classification of mimetic resemblances. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 8, 25–56.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Vane-Wright, R. I. (1980). On the definition of mimicry. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 13(1), 1–6.

    Google Scholar 

  89. Vane-Wright, R. I. (1981). Only connect. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 16(1), 33–40.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Vane-Wright, R. I. (1991). [News & views] a case of self-deception. Nature (London), 350, 460–461.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Vane-Wright, R. I. (2014a). What is life? And what might be the role of behaviour in its evolution? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 112(2), 219–241.

    Google Scholar 

  92. Vane-Wright, R. I. (Ed.). (2014b). The role of behaviour in evolution. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 112(2), 219–365.

  93. Vane-Wright, R. I. (2017). Taxonomy, methods of. Reference Module in Life Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809633-8.02372-4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/module/topic/9780128096338/Concept-000174. Accessed 17 May 2018.

  94. von Bertalanffy, L. (1973). General system theory. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Walsh, D. M. (2015). Organisms, agency, and evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Whitehead, A. N. (1929). The function of reason. Princeton: Princeton UP.

    Google Scholar 

  97. Whorf, B. L. (1942). Language, mind, and reality. The Theosophist (Madras), 63(1), 281–291; 63(2), 25–37.

  98. Wickler, W. (1963). Zum Problem der Signalbildung, am Beispiel der Verhaltens-Mimikry zwischen Aspidontus und Labroides (Pisces, Acanthopterygii). Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 20, 657–679.

    Google Scholar 

  99. Wickler, W. (1965). Mimicry and the evolution of animal communication. Nature, 208, 519–521.

    Google Scholar 

  100. Wickler, W. (1968). Mimicry in plants and animals (translated by R. D. Martin) London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

  101. Wickler, W. (2013). Understanding mimicry – With special reference to vocal mimicry. Ethology, 119, 259–269.

    Google Scholar 

  102. Williams, C. A. (2015). Neo-Darwinism is just fine. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 218, 2658–2659 [See also response from Noble, D., same issue.].

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  103. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  104. Zabka, H., & Tembrock, G. (1986). Mimicry and crypsis—A behavioural approach to classification. Behavioural Processes, 13(1/2), 159–176.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  105. Zachos, F. E., & Hossfeld, U. (2010). Adolf Remane (1898–1976) and his views on systematics, homology and the modern synthesis. Studies in the History of Biology, 2(1), 51–64.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This is unfinished work of 50 years standing. Anything good here I owe to others; all mistakes, misunderstandings, omissions and other shortcomings are mine. Conrad Waddington, David Bohm, Willi Hennig, Ernst Mayr, Jean Piaget, Colin Patterson, Richard Gregory, Brian Goodwin, Andrew Packard, Erkki Haukioja, Fritjof Capra, Stuart Kauffman, Terence Deacon, Peter Corning, Patrick Bateson, Denis Walsh, Kalevi Kull, Wolfgang Wickler, Michael Boppré – and many many others – some known to me in person, some only from their writing (a few cited here), have all been very influential. Currently I need to read more John Dewey, Jakob von Uexküll, Thomas Sebeok and Evan Thompson. I am very grateful to the library staff of the Natural History Museum, London, for assistance, to Kalevi Kull and anonymous reviewers who helped me improve the manuscript, and to Timo Maran and Karel Kleisner for their kind invitation – and exceptional patience. This paper is respectfully dedicated to my late friend and mentor Lincoln Pierson Brower (1931–2018), who did so much to inspire and foster my interest in mimicry – and in milkweed butterflies.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. I. Vane-Wright.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The author has no conflict of interest with respect to the contents of this paper.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Vane-Wright, R.I. Agency, Meaning, Perception and Mimicry: Perspectives from the Process of Life and Third Way of Evolution. Biosemiotics 12, 57–77 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-018-9337-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Mimicry
  • Agency
  • Perception
  • Definition
  • Process of life
  • Synergism