Life Processes as Proto-Narratives: Integrating Theoretical Biology and Biosemiotics through Biohermeneutics

Cosmos and History : The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 18 (1):210-251 (2022)
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The theoretical biology movement originating in Britain in the early 1930’s and the biosemiotics movement which took off in Europe in the 1980’s have much in common. They are both committed to replacing the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and they have both invoked theories of signs to this end. Yet, while there has been some mutual appreciation and influence, particularly in the cases of Howard Pattee, René Thom, Kalevi Kull, Anton Markoš and Stuart Kauffman, for the most part, these movements have developed independently of each other. Focussing on morphogenesis understood as vegetative semiosis, in this paper I will argue that the ideas of these movements are commensurate. Furthermore, synthesising them would enable us to see life processes as proto-narratives. Doing so will involve synthesising biohermeneutics, Peircian biosemiotics with Waddington’s theoretical biology and Piagetian genetic structuralism, and this, I claim, would strengthen the challenge of these traditions to mainstream biology. At the same time, this should contribute to overcoming the opposition between the sciences and the humanities, developing a broader tradition of Schellingian thought which involves developing the humanities and then demanding of the physical and biological sciences that they are consistent with and can make intelligible the emergence of humans as conceived by the humanities.

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Arran Gare
Swinburne University of Technology


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