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Semiotic scaffolding of living systems

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The apparently purposeful nature of living systems is obtained through a sophisticated network of semiotic controls whereby biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes become tuned to the needs of the system. The operation of these semiotic controls takes place and is enabled across a diversity of levels. Such semiotic controls may be distinguished from ordinary deterministic control mechanisms through an inbuilt anticipatory capacity based on a distinct kind of causation that I call here semiotic causation to denote the bringing about of changes under the guidance of interpretation in a local.context. Anticipation through the skilled interpretation of indicators of temporal relations in the context of a particular survival project (or life strategy) guides organismic behavior towards local ends. This network of semiotic controls establishes an enormously complex semiotic scaffolding for living systems. Semiotic scaffolding safeguards the optimal performance of organisms through semiotic interaction with cue elements which are characteristically present in dynamic situations. At the cellular level, semiotic scaffolding assures the proper integration of the digital coding system (the genome) into the myriad of analogical coding systems operative across the membranes of cells and cell organelles




Hoffmeyer, J. (2007). Semiotic scaffolding of living systems. In Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis (pp. 149–166). Springer Netherlands.

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