Publication 2470

Weber A. (2002) The surplus of meaning: Biosemiotic aspects in Francisco J. Varela’s philosophy of cognition. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 9(2): 11–29. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/2470
The late Chile born biologist Francisco J. Varela has been influential in theoretical biology throughout the last three decades of the 20. century. His thinking shows a marked development from a biologically founded constructivism (developed together with his fellow citizen, Humberto Maturana, with the main key word being “autopoiesis theory”) to a more phenomenological oriented standpoint, which Varela called himself the philosophy of embodiment, or “enactivism.” In this paper, I want to show that major arguments in this latter position can be fruitful for a biosemiotic approach to organism. Varela himself already applies concepts as e.g. “signification,” “relevance,” “meaning” which are de facto biosemiotic. He derives these concepts from a compact theory of organism, which he understands as the process of self-realization of a materially embodied subject. This presumption stems, though somewhat modified, from Autopoiesis theory and so attempts a quasiempirical description of the living in terms of self-organisation. Varela’s thinking might count as an exemplary model for a biosemiotic approach in a theory of organism. In particular, Varela’s link to down-to-earth biological research offers means to associate biosemiotics with the ongoing debate about the status of a biological system within genetics and proteomics research.

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