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The 'Surplus of Meaning'. Biosemiotic aspects in Francisco J. Varela's philosophy of cognition

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The late Chile born biologist Francisco J. Varela has been influential in theoretical biology throughout the last three decades of the 20th century. His thinking shows a marked development from a biologically founded constructivism (developed together with his fellow citizen, Humberto Maturana, with the main key word being ‘autopoiesis theory’) to a more phenomenological oriented standpoint, which Varela called himself the philosophy of embodiment, or ‘enactivism’. In this paper, I want to show that major arguments in this latter position can be fruitful for a biosemiotic approach to organism. Varela himself already applies concepts as e.g. ‘signification’, ‘relevance’, ‘meaning’ which are de facto biosemiotic. He derives these concepts from a compact theory of organism, which he understands as the process of self-realization of a materially embodied subject. This presumption stems, though somewhat modified, from Autopoiesis theory and so attempts a quasi-empirical description of the living in terms of self-organisation. Varela's thinking might count as an exemplary model for a biosemiotic approach in a theory of organism. In particular, Varela's link to down-to-earth biological research offers means to associate biosemiotics with the ongoing debate about the status of a biological system within genetics and proteomics research.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Cultural Studies, Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Sophienstrabe 22a, D 10178 Berlin, Germa. Email: [email protected]

Publication date: February 1, 2002

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