The philosophy of semiotic information

Authored by: Sara Cannizzaro

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Information

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138796935
eBook ISBN: 9781315757544
Adobe ISBN: 9781317633495


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This chapter presents the debate on the philosophical nature of information that can be found in contemporary semiotics, particularly in a number of developments broadly grouped within the umbrella field ‘biosemiotics’. As an international and interdisciplinary research field, biosemiotics has continued to flourish over the past 50 years and, as its prefix shows, biosemiotics is indebted to semiotics in respect to its conception of communication as sign processes. Biosemiotics, however, currently extends the remit of much semiotics in that it does not limit its object of research to the investigation of human communications alone (i.e. anthroposemiotics), but encompasses all types of communications in the biosphere, that is, cells’, plants’ and animals’ communications, including of course, those communication processes pertaining to the human animal. It is crucial to note early on that the very term ‘information’ is a controversial one in biosemiotics due to its affinity to sciences close to the development of technology and computing methods (for example, information theory and cybernetics) and thus, to its possible mechanistic connotations which are rejected by much of contemporary biosemiotics. Biosemiotics in fact champions largely qualitative approaches to quantitative approaches, and by adhering to the semiotic paradigm rather than the strictly Shannon information paradigm (see Chapter 4), it uses analytical terms as ‘meaning’ and ‘signs’ rather than ‘information’. However, since ‘information is an implicitly semiotic term’ (Kull et al. 2009: 169), then a discussion of information within the broad remit of biosemiotics should not be dismissed on the premise of disciplinary stereotypes (e.g. semiotics as being a purely humanist-indeterminist field with no space for any form of determinism). Hence, this chapter presents an overview of the general approaches and types of informational concepts that are implicitly or explicitly present in biosemiotics, including associated disciplines and schools of semiotics as Tartu-Moscow semiotics, zoosemiotics, and cybersemiotics.

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