Publication 1005

Sharov A. A. (2009) Role of utility and inference in the evolution of functional information. Biosemiotics 2: 101–115. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/1005
Functional information means an encoded network of functions in living organisms, which is represented by two components: code and an interpretation system, which together form a self-sustaining semantic closure. The interpretation system consists of inference rules that control the correspondence between the code and the function. The utility factor operates at multiple time scales: short-term selection drives evolution towards higher survival and reproduction rates within a given fitness landscape, and long-term selection favors those inference rules that support adaptability and lead to evolutionary expansion of certain lineages. Inference rules make short-term selection possible by shaping the fitness landscape and defining possible directions of evolution, but they are under the control of the long-term selection of lineages. Communication normally occurs within a set of agents with compatible interpretation systems, which I call a “communication system” (e.g., a biological species is a genetic communication system). This view of the relation between utility and inference can resolve the conflict between realism/positivism and pragmatism. Realism overemphasizes the role of inference in evolution of human knowledge because it assumes that logic is embedded in reality. Pragmatism substitutes usefulness for truth and therefore ignores the advantage of inference. The proposed concept of evolutionary pragmatism rejects the idea that logic is embedded in reality; instead, inference rules are constructed within each communication system to represent reality, and they evolve towards higher adaptability on a long time-scale. Relevance: This paper applies pragmatism and ineractivism (Bickhard) to biological evolution. It suggests that biosemiotics rests on evolutionary pragmatism.

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