Generative Semiosis
in the Eco-Evolutive Function Cycle
Abstract for presentation at the International
Semiotics Conference in Lyon, 2004
(missed for illness)
Alfred Lang, University of Bern
   Signs exist in the mind and in the world, i.e. internally and externally to an organism. While the latter may be manifest in any matter-energy-formation-dynamics, the former need humoral and neural systems working, i.e. a special kind of matter-energy-formation-dynamics. But signs must be generated before they can be interpreted. And interpreting a sign or a thing or an event amounts to generating another sign (cf. Peirce 1904 CP 8.191). Internal sign generation proceeds via reception or perception of an external situation (whether of sign character or not) or upon interaction among other internal signs. External signs come about by action or in events of all kinds.
So, instead of the common founding of semiotic upon an arbitrary sign definition implying other arbitrary definitions like 'mind' or 'object' I suggest here to investigate the sign process by conceiving of these in-going and out-going Processes within the framework of the Structures and Processes binding a living entity or information processing machinery into its Umwelt or environment and to follow their operative and evolutive courses which have brought them about and route their further becoming in their Eco-Evolutive Function Cycles. For the product of an action interprets some state of the mind as wells as any perception, cognition, feeling, etc. is interpreting some part of a situation by generating signs. In spite of internal and external signs appearing fundamentally different, looking at their cooperation and co-evolution can prove them essentially similar. And if a 'man is a sign' (Peirce 1868 CP 5.314) and our cultural and natural environment is an ensemble of sign type characters, too, we may become capable of better understanding the Human Condition.
This contribution presents an introduction into Generative Semiotic in the framework of Semiotic Ecology. SemEco is a conceptual toolkit elaborating the single Evolutive Assumption that every Structure or Process we can observe or infer is resulting from Interaction of extant Structures. When co-evolving Structures have become complex enough to differentiate into surface and deeper qualities Interaction becomes Transaction rooting generated Structures in the history of their ancestors and developing their potential to have effects beyond their present relations. This amounts to a generic theory of Evolution embracing and differentiating the physico-chemical, the cosmic, the mineral, the biotic, the individual or psychic, and the cultural or human social Evolutions. The key notion in the latter three or genuine Evolutions is Generative Semiosis among Semions, a triadic form of Causation based on Meaning.
This conception of Generative Semiosis may solve or dissolve several of the difficulties of interpretive semiotic: What is the agency of interpretation, what of generation of signs? Can signs be defined independently of their being interpreted? How can sign carrier and sign meaning exist as an unit when they belong to separated material and mental-spiritual-idea-etc. realms? How are signs in mind and signs out there related? Why does semiosis occur rather than not occur at given circumstances? How is human mental semiosis related to bio-semiosis such as of a cellular receptor sensing 'food' or ‘risk’?