Generative Semiosis – a cellular, psychic, and cultural, yet mindless Paradigm
Biosemiotics, Abstract, drafted for Prag, 2004.07.01-05, elaborated 2004.09
Alfred Lang, University of Bern, Switzerland
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Life processes and what they make possible like Interactions of Structures within and among organisms and their parts and products, of psyche and of culture are based upon Meaning and thus are essentially semiotic. How to understand semiosis in genuine terms rather than by positing some mysterious instance like a mind is the crucial question.
How to get from nominal to real semiosis?
While the Greek conceived of the semiotic triangle in the sense of general and static coordination of a thing, the  word designating it and its meaning or idea, it remains unclear what the latter two are supposed to be. Peirce, it may be argued, reformulated that triad in processual terms, assigning generic terms to the word (or similar mediator), the thing, and the meaning, denoting them sign (representamen, to be exact), object and interpretant, respectively. Semiosis, dynamically conntecting the three, is then a process of interpretation, i.e. of generating a brain state elicited by hearing or reading the word that also implies characters of the thing the word refers to. But, expanding that idea also to the reverse, a brain state may also be interpreted by some linguistic or other actional competence into some thing, be it a text or a work such as a tool, a house, a machine or any other production of human action.
For the Peircean approach makes of semiosis a case of perceptual-cognitive process only; it misses the fact that many signs need to be produced before they can be interpreted and makes semiotics of much smaller scope than it could and should be conceived. Peirce has written more than 100 slightly different sign definitions; all have this connection between sign and mind in respect to their object in mind. And he also has written that sign interpretation amounts to creating, i.e. generating a new sign. This need not be limited to within some mind. For one-cell-organisms can interpret sig, e.g. recognize with their receptor devices what can nourish or damage them. It is strange that two problems arise that to my knowledge have nerver been treated with an acceptable solution.
First, how does the perceiver of a sign know, it is a sign? A word or other sign is, of course, an object. And perception of process it as such. Realizing that a perceived object is a sign is an early result of a process rather than its precondition. To be a sign then  is not a quality of an object, but a relation between two Structures or Systems  based upon the fact that one of these Structures or Systems, such as an organism "knows" somehow something about its environment and some Structures or Systems therein important to him, and the other, the so-called sign, has at least two layers, a surface with qualities to be recognized by the first and a latent  or hidden layer that can or may provide some potential of some importance to the first. It is thus impossible to define signs generically, because this is the task of the interpretation process. It may well be be that one person takes a given thing, say a a signpost, as an object, another person or the same person at another occasion as a sign. Indeed, signs are always both, objects and signs or meaning-carriers. The word 'signpost' exposes that double existence generically, the German word 'Wegweiser' does it in particular by indeed pointing the way.
The second problem is kind of reciprocal: some things are made as an object and taken as either an object or a sign; and some other things are made as signs and also taken either as an object or a sign.
The broadly accepted understanding is that a sign is only a sign when it is interpreted. This would make being a sign filling a role rather than being a substance. But then the definition of the sign cannot be made in the abstract, apart from situations where a sign plays its role.

What constitutes Meaning?
Meaning is not a given but something constitued in and by Interaction of suitably affine Structures, of which at least one is differentiated into surface qualities and deeper properties. Meaning originates in an encounter of one Structure recognizing another by it surface qualities for the sake of interaction or avoiding (some of) its deeper or hidden properties, no matter whether the latter are factually present or assumed. Meaning is not a character of something but a potential of one thing encountering another. It ranges from properties actually present in
Proto-evolutive: In Proto-evolution all Interactions base on surface qualities of the encountering Structures. Two atoms in suitable state combine to form a molecule (the suitable states may be described in terms of valences and energetic framing conditions or in quantum mechanical terms); in unsuitable states they collide and their motion states are changed according to their masses, speed and directions (to be described in mechanical terms, statistics required). No meaning is involved in either case, in spite of the fact that the atoms (or small molecules, i.e. in fact the ions) are especially prepared for the combination case, and this more specifically than for the collision case. At any rate, the combination in contrast to the collision case implies selectivity – ions may attract or repulse each other before
Genuinely evolutive: Now let's look at cells, organisms in their environment, individuals capable of experience making, communicative groups experiencing individuals.
Meaning thus is a Relation rather than a quality of a Structure.
Meaning qualifies Interaction distinguishing Transaction from direct Interaction.
Meaning operates transactionally, i.e. stems from and takes effects beyond the actual situation.