On the Fundamentality of Meaning

In FQXi Essays on 'What Is Fundamental?' (2018)
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The mainstream view of meaning is that it is emergent, not fundamental, but some have disputed this, asserting that there is a more fundamental level of reality than that addressed by current physical theories, and that matter and meaning are in some way entangled. In this regard there are intriguing parallels between the quantum and biological domains, suggesting that there may be a more fundamental level underlying both. I argue that the organisation of this fundamental level is already to a considerable extent understood by biosemioticians, who have fruitfully integrated Peirce’s sign theory into biology; things will happen there resembling what happens with familiar life, but the agencies involved will differ in ways reflecting their fundamentality, in other words they will be less complex, but still have structures complex enough for what they have to do. According to one approach involving a collaboration with which I have been involved, a part of what they have to do, along with the need to survive and reproduce, is to stop situations becoming too chaotic, a concept that accords with familiar ‘edge of chaos’ ideas. Such an extension of sign theory (semiophysics?) needs to be explored by physicists, possible tools being computational models, existing insights into complexity, and dynamical systems theory. Such a theory will not be mathematical in the same way that conventional physics theories are mathematical: rather than being foundational, mathematics will be ‘something that life does’, something that sufficiently evolved life does because in the appropriate context so doing is of value to life.

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Brian Josephson
Cambridge University


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