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