Edwina Taborsky


This brief issue of SEED provides two discussions of biological semiosis that share common semiotic assumptions.  The focus is on energy dynamics, understanding that energy becomes matter when it is organized within systemic patterns of relations. This definition of semiosis as 'energy transforming to matter within systemic codified ‘relations’ is the conceptual infrastructure of pansemiosis.  Semiotics is not about linguistic referentiality; it does not rest on defining 'this word' or 'this image' as referring to 'that object'. Such semantic links are the domain of semiology. Semiotics refers, not to metaphoric links, but to the actual means by which both that word and that object exist, each in themselves, in their 'suchness', in their 'thisness'. 

Material or conceptual existence is not an isolate and simple act but is instead, as Peirce pointed out, a relational process. A thought and an object are both semiosic realities and exist as such only within a relational set of codified interactions with other semiosic realities. In this issue of SEED, the three papers focus on the biological semiotics of, first, the animal mode of establishing existence by horizontal semiosic relations, and second, the botanical mode of establishing existence by vertical semiosic relations.

The first two papers, by Elina Vladimirova and John Mozgovoy, define a semiosic reality of small predator mammals that live as solitary hunters, and are studied during the winter, near the city of Samara in Russia. What is of interest in these papers is that the focus is on the material and semiotic reality, not of the animals themselves, but of their indexical signs, the 'marks' that they make in the snow. Many times, when dealing with zoosemiotics, we find that the focus is on the sign as a direct device of communication between one animal and another animal, as, for example, the call of a bird to another bird, or the alarm call of an animal, etc. The semiosic explorations in these papers, however, are quite different. The signs made by these predators are, like the birdcall, indexical, in that they have a direct physical link with the original source. However, they are not 'read' as bonded to a specific animal origin, i.e., 'that particular bird' or 'that particular animal'. Instead, what is of interest, is that these Peircean interpretants or sign-expressions, which emerge as a result of interactions with the environment, themselves become Peircean objects and part of the overall material reality of the environment. They become as ontologically real as that river, that stone, that tree. Another animal interacts with them, not simply as created artifacts but as natural artifacts; the sign becomes an object and another animal reacts to these new objects in both their ontological and epistemological realities. The authors of these papers are interested in how these signs, such as marks in the snow, become object-realities to which other animals react. Most semiotic research focuses on 'objects as signs' where the object is 'assigned' a meaning by a secondary agent and the object, for example, a rose, becomes a 'symbol of' an emotion. But what happens when a sign becomes, rather than a symbol, an object? A sign is also a thing - and the animals observe these things - as signs. They react to them, as signs, and their reactions become, in themselves, 'interpretants' of those 'sign-object-interpretants. And those reactions, as prints in the snow, themselves become objects - and so on.

It is this dynamics, the ongoing horizontal transformation of interpretants into objects, and then into interpretants and then into objects and so on, that is of interest. As Peirce said, "the entire universe…is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs" (5.448).

The other paper, by Jack Maze, Kathleen Robson and Satindranath Banerjee is also focused on a dynamic process, one that focuses more specifically on the transformation of energy to matter in a vertical process, i.e., involving time. This perspective understands that the material entity is an encodement, or 'sign' of energy. This has similarities with the previous paper, where the material entity, the track in the snow, is an encodement or 'sign' of another material form of energy. In this paper, the dynamics or motion of relational transformation is from a communal or symmetrical semiotic reality (the species codification) to an individual material expression of that communal reality. The individual interpretant or 'meaning' becomes a codification process formed against a template held within the entire species. This template is 'read' by the emerging material individualization and acts to mould and form energy into the material individualization of that code.  The template constrains and restricts differences but, because it is communal and general rather than particular and specific, it permits the emergence of variation.

Both of these semiosic processes are actions of moulding energy to matter within codification. The tracks in the snow exist, as semiosic realities, even if 'unread' by another animal. They exist as realities and therefore, as interpretations of matter. The emergence of a variation in a species, measured against the normative template, is also a semiosic process. It too, is an interpretation of matter.

This is, admittedly, a broad understanding of semiotics, but, again, as Peirce said, the entire universe is "composed exclusively of signs' (5.448).