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Many in science are disposed not to take biosemiotics seriously, dismissing it as too anthropomorphic. Furthermore, biosemiotic apologetics are cast in top-down fashion, thereby adding to widespread skepticism. An effective response might be to approach biosemiotics from the bottom up, but the foundational assumptions that support Enlightenment science make that avenue impossible. Considerations from ecosystem studies reveal, however, that those conventional assumptions, although once possessing great utilitarian value, have come to impede deeper understanding of living systems because they implicitly depict the evolution of the universe backward. Ecological dynamics suggests instead a smaller set of countervailing postulates that allows evolution to play forward and sets the stage for tripartite causalities, signs, and interpreters—the key elements of biosemiosis—to emerge naturally out of the interaction of chance with configurations of autocatalytic processes. Biosemiosis thereby appears as a fully legitimate outgrowth of the new metaphysic and shows promise for becoming the supervenient focus of a deeper perspective on the phenomenon of life.
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Keywords: biosemiosis; causality; coherence domain; ecology; emergence; metaphysics; natural selection; process ecology; process thought; supervenience

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Solomons, MD 20688–0038.

Publication date: 2010-06-01

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