Biosemiotics, or semiotic biology, is the study of qualitative semiotic processes that are considered to exist in a variety of forms down to the simplest living organisms and to the lowest levels of biological organization. Biosemiotics can be seen as an alternative to the mainstream approaches of contemporary evolutionary biology that use reductionist quantitative methodologies and tend to objectify living processes. Emphasizing the role of sign processes in nature makes it possible to restore the “subjectness” or agency of living organisms that in turn are considered to influence larger ecological and evolutionary processes. Here, a sign process or “semiosis” is defined as a process, in which something—a sign—stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity (Peirce 1931–1935, 228). A simple example is a bird song that indicates to the singer’s species mates that he is guarding his nesting ground. In biosemiotics, processes taking place inside an organism, such as interpretation of DNA for protein synthesis by a cell, are also regarded as sign processes. Although, up until now, biosemiotics has been a paradigm mostly in the biological sciences, this field of study is increasingly referred to in cultural and literary studies.

This essay may be found on page 29 of the printed volume.

Works Cited
Permanent Link to this Essay