Biosemiotics, Aboutness, Meaning and Bio-intentionality. Proposal for an Evolutionary Approach (Biosemiotics Gatherings 2015)


The management of meaningful information by biological entities is at the core of biosemiotics [Hoffmeyer 2010]. Intentionality, the ‘aboutness’ of mental states, is a key driver in philosophy of mind. Philosophers have been reluctant to use intentionality for non human animals. Some biologists have been in favor of it. J. Hoffmeyer has been using evolutionary intentionality and Peircean semiotics to discuss a biosemiotic approach to the problem of intentionality [Hoffmeyer 1996, 2012]. Also, recent philosophical studies are bringing new openings on the subject of biological intentionality.[Asma 2014]. What we propose here is to use an existing system approach to meaning generation to introduce a link between biosemiotics and bio-intentionality at basic life level in an evolutionary perspective. Meanings do not exist by themselves. They have to be generated for a given reason by a defined entity. A system approach to meaning generation based on constraint satisfaction has been developped to that end: the Meaning Generator System (MGS) [Menant 2003a]. It has been used for biosemiotics in an evolutionary perspective [Menant 2003b, 2011]. To look at relating biosemiotics to intentionality through meaning genaration we recall the system structure of the MGS with the agent that contains it. Meaning generation and agent interfacing with environment make available components for the groundings of the generated meaning in terms of data, data processing, interfacing and constraint [Menant, 2011]. These groundings of the meaning can be in or out the agent containing the MGS. They display what the generated meaning is about. For basic life the ‘aboutness’ of the generated meaning relies on a ‘stay alive’ constraint that has to be satisfied (others constraints, like ‘live group life’, are to be introduced through the evolution of life). Such ‘aboutness’ of a generated meaning within basic life can be associated to an elementary biological intentionality, to a ‘bio-intentionality’. As biosemiotics deals with meaning management by biological entities, the relations introduced by the MGS between meaning generation and bio-intentionality introduce a link between biosemiotics and bio-intentionality for basic life. We present and develop that link. Besides making available a model usable for bio-intentionality, the proposed approach may also provide an entry point to the concept of intentionality without having to take into account human specificities like self-consciousness. It should also be noted that the approach takes life as a given and that the‘stay alive’ constraint brings in a teleological component. Such presentation of bio-intentionality calls for other developments and continuations. Some will be introduced.

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