The biosemiotic process: How to reproduce and adapt the identity of social systems by combining emotions and language

[Slides from the presentation]


Biosemiotics concerns the process of learning of complex adaptive systems that operate across multiple scales and levels of organization. This comprises the formation of informed autocatalytic processes (functional cycles) that can express an adaptable identity by establishing an impredicative entailment between the (tangible) biophysical expression of a complex metabolic pattern and a (notional) “expected state”. Reproducing and adapting this identity requires effective communication within semiotic controls. By iterating the making of models of themselves (on the notional side) and the instantiation of these models (on the tangible side) these systems manage to preserve the meaning of tangible information carriers used in this communication. In this way, the identity of the biosemiotic process remains the same (at the level of the whole) even when the various elements – the types in the models (on the notional side) and the instances in the metabolic networks (on the tangible side) – change in time. Thus, the biosemiotic process makes copies of itself through time, but these copies neither refer to specific instances of structural elements nor to the representations of the types recorded on the notional side; they refer to holons instead.

I postulate that the differences between the semiotic processes in ecological and human systems are related to the use of a language in the human system that permits a reflexive definition of identity. Humans must define their own group identity (to be preserved) using themselves as an external referent. To do so, they create an exosomatic mind—i.e., a collective UMWELT and awareness tailored to the chosen group identity—that is described and operationalized by using a language. This represents a major complication in their biosemiotic process (i.e., the mind versus body bifurcation). Luhmann suggests that the formation and evolution of human society is determined by an iteration between: (i) communications (in the notional part—REPRESENTATION) carried out by the collective MIND that stores, reproduces and updates the existing knowledge claims, anticipatory models, institutional organization, rules and norms; and (ii) interactions (in the tangible part—ACTION), needed to check the viability of the metabolic pattern associated with the reproduction and operation of its structural and functional components (humans and technological devices). The resonance between communication and interaction relies on the same strategy as adopted by ecological systems (the adaptive cycle): human societies send messages to themselves across hierarchical levels to achieve TRANSDUCTION. In ecological systems transduction is carried out by biophysical processes regulated by codes – using either types to make instances (downward causation) or instances to define types (upward causation). In human society, on the other hand, this commuting across the epistemic cut (notional/tangible) takes place across two external contexts: (i) the psychic structure—”the body” of the society (the endosomatic experience of feelings of individuals). Here emotions, fears, aspirations, and dreams affect the definition of the group identity (final causes) and therefore ultimately affect the “rational decisions” of the mind; and (ii) the biophysical context of the metabolic network that determines the feasibility and viability of interactions. The communications that a society transmits to itself are sent and received by many different purpose-driven agents operating within different UMWELTs. The meaning of this heterogeneous flow of communications (based on non-equivalent external referents and non-reducible types of awareness) cannot be preserved by using a formal language, but only by shared feelings associated with affective interactions in the psychic structure.