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Thomas A. Sebeok and biology: Building biosemiotics

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The paper attempts to review the impact of Thomas A. Sebeok (1920 2001) on biosemiotics, or semiotic biology, including both his work as a theoretician in the field and his activity in organising, publishing, and communicating. The major points of his work in the field of biosemiotics concern the establishing of zoosemiotics, interpretation and development of Jakob v. Uexkull's and Heini Hediger's ideas, typological and comparative study of semiotic phenomena in living organisms, evolution of semiosis, the coincidence of semiosphere and biosphere, research on the history of biosemiotics. Keywords: semiotic biology, zoosemiotics, endosemiotics, biosemiotic paradigm, semiosphere, biocommunication, theoretical biology Culture, so-called, is implanted in nature; the environment, or Umwelt, is a model generated by the organism. Semiosis links them. T. A. Sebeok (2001c, p. vii) When an organic body is dead, it does not carry images any more. This is a general feature that distinguishes complex forms of life from non-life. The images of the organism and of its images, however, can be carried then by other, living bodies. The images are singular categories, which means that they are individual in principle. The identity of organic images cannot be of mathematical type, because it is based on the recognition of similar forms and not on the sameness. The organic identity is, therefore, again categorical, i.e., singular. Thus, in order to understand the nature of images, we need to know what life is, we need biology a biology that can deal with phenomena of representation, recognition, categorisation, communication, and meaning. This is a special kind of biology, richer than the one built according to the rules of the methodology of natural science. A powerful contribution to such extended general biology has been made by Thomas A. Sebeok. The following words can be found in Winfried Noth's Handbuch K
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Tiigi St. 78, 50410 Tartu, Estonia., Email:

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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