Paul Bains: The Primacy of Semiosis...

Date 2008/11/9 11:15:51 | Topic: Reviews

Paul Bains (2006). The Primacy of Semiosis: An Ontology of Relations. (Toronto Studies in Semiotics and Communication). Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. 186 pp.; ISBN 10: 0-8020-9003-6, ISBN 13:978-0-8020-9003-4.

The conditions on the surface of a planet without living organisms are determined entirely by the sun's energy and the laws of physics and chemistry, as James Lovelock showed convincingly (Margulis, 1999).
A planet with living organisms deviates considerably from this scheme. The gas composition and temperature will vary in a manner that cannot be predicted exclusively by the laws of physics and chemistry alone. Such a planet contains incompatible gas mixtures and temperatures whose relatively stable balance is actively controlled by organisms...
The interaction between organisms and matter is one in which organisms interpret and structure their abiotic environment according to biological principles. Parallel to this, the relationship to other organisms is a communicative one: their mutual behavior underlies changeable semiotic rules of sign use with which the biological individuals interact, i.e. coordinate and organize. The difference is that organisms cannot develop such a to follow or not follow-relationship with natural laws, but underlie them in the strict sense.
From a biosemiotic perspective, there is an unbridgeable gap between on the one hand chemical reactions (for example water molecules crystallizing to ice when exposed to a certain temperature below zero) and on the other hand cells of a living organism receiving chemical molecules as signs sent from another part of the organism to transport a vital message. Normally, message receiving, interpretation and appropriate response generation involve species-specific interactional rules. In contrast to the example of non-living matter (water ice), the organismal semiotic processes may fail when (1) the message is generated incompletely, (2) the message is somehow damaged or deformed during transport, (3) the receiving entity is not appropriate, or (4) the interpretation by the receiver is incorrect. All of these may lead to a response behavior incoherent with the intent of the message...
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