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Cybersemiotics and the reasoning powers of the universe: philosophy of information in a semiotic-systemic transdisciplinary approach



To follow the transdisciplinary ambition in much information science and philosophy leading to cognitive science we need to include a phenomenological and hermeneutical ground in order to encompass a theory of interpretative meaning and signification to achieve a transdisciplinary theory of knowing and communication. This is also true if we start in cybernetics and system theory that also have transdisciplinary aspirations for instance in Batesons ecological concept of information as a difference that makes a difference and in Luhmann’s triple autopoietic communication-based system theory. Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmaticist semiotics integrates logic and information in interpretative semiotics. But although Peirce’s information theory is built on meaningful signs and he connects information to the growth of symbols, his information theory is empirically based in a realistic worldview, which in the development to modern biosemiotics include all living systems.
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Green Letters
Studies in Ecocriticism
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Cybersemiotics and the reasoning powers of the
universe: philosophy of information in a semiotic-
systemic transdisciplinary approach
Søren Brier
To cite this article: Søren Brier (2015) Cybersemiotics and the reasoning powers of the
universe: philosophy of information in a semiotic-systemic transdisciplinary approach, Green
Letters, 19:3, 280-292, DOI: 10.1080/14688417.2015.1070684
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Cybersemiotics and the reasoning powers of the universe: philosophy
of information in a semiotic-systemic transdisciplinary approach
Søren Brier*
Department of International Business Communication, Copenhagen Business
School, Fredriksberg, Denmark
(Received 13 May 2015; accepted 16 June 2015)
To follow the transdisciplinary ambition in much information science and philosophy
leading to cognitive science we need to include a phenomenological and hermeneutical
ground in order to encompass a theory of interpretative meaning and signification to
achieve a transdisciplinary theory of knowing and communication. This is also true if
we start in cybernetics and system theory that also have transdisciplinary aspirations
for instance in Batesons ecological concept of information as a difference that makes a
difference and in Luhmanns triple autopoietic communication-based system theory.
Charles Sanders Peirces pragmaticist semiotics integrates logic and information in
interpretative semiotics. But although Peirces information theory is built on mean-
ingful signs and he connects information to the growth of symbols, his information
theory is empirically based in a realistic worldview, which in the development to
modern biosemiotics include all living systems.
Keywords: transdisciplinarity; Peirces information concept; cybernetics; systems and
semiotic; Luhmanns communication theory; realistic worldview; phenomenology
Introduction to the problem
The founder of semiotics C.S. Peirce
shows that the starting point for the concept of
information must be not only mathematical and logical but also phenomenological, but still
within a realistic but not mechanistic worldview connected to an empiricist and fallibilist
view of knowledge. It is my view that C.S. Peirce by at the same time contributing to the
development of modern logic and science as well as inventing a transdisciplinary semiotics
that embraced phenomenology also tried to heal the split between science and
In a philosophy of science we have great problems in inserting the subjective first
person experiential aspect of reality in our view of information. But philosophy and that
goes for information philosophy too aims primarily at developing the kind of knowledge
that gives unity and system to the whole body of human, social and natural sciences. This
is done through a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices and
beliefs and the methods we use in the sciences, which we think could benefit by being
further developed on a Peircean pragmaticist framework.
Living organisms can be described from a natural scientific as well as a phenomenologi-
calhermeneutical humanistic type of knowledge system. Organismsgenes and physiology,
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as well as their experiences, learning capability and social role, have causal influence on their
behaviour. Thus, the general study of embodied life falls between the traditional organisations
of subject areas grouped in Snows two cultures of sciences and humanities. A central problem
is that this two culturesview lacks a common epistemological and ontological framework,
unless you are into hard dualism. The two-cultures view was based on a knowledge organisa-
tion founded before evolutionary theory was broadly, that is trans-disciplinarily, accepted. But
how can biology be an experiential as well as an empirical Wissensc haft
when animals have
no human language games to convey their first person experience, but only instinctual sign
games? Actually in the light of behaviourism and ethology, and even in much cognitive
science today, it is fashionable to deny animals any experiential capability that can have any
causal effect on their behaviour. One reason for that is that the concept of experience and
meaning does not exist in the vocabulary of the theoretical framework of natural sciences.
This is a fact which Konrad Lorenz (19701971) had to recognise when he worked hard over
a period of 30 years to establish a theoretical framework for ethology. The development of
biosemiotics over the last 50 years (Favareau 2010, and see essay in this volume) is an attempt
productively to solve this transdisciplinary problem.
Building blocks of a transdisciplinary framework
At the moment this is mainly done by combining the transdisciplinary frameworks of
system science and cybernetics with Peircean semiotics and Jacob von Uexkülls work on
functional cycles and Umwelten (Kull et al. 2009). Practically, biosemiotics has had to make
its own international scientific association with yearly conferences, and create its own
journal and book series with Springer. But the contemporary challenge of biosemiotics is
now to develop new empirical methods and a new transdisciplinary framework for its
interdisciplinary work in a better understanding of non-human organisms and human
cultural phenomena. Such a new theoretical framework and experimental methods hold a
promise, in particular, for medicine that needs to integrate biomedicine with psychosomatics
and social medicine (for instance in dealing with placebo effects in a productive way).
Biosemiotics usually wants to see itself as a complementary view to the molecular para-
digm, not taking over its role as dominating understanding and socially accepted explana-
tions of the living. But what then is the theoretical platform for such an endeavour if we do
not accept logical empiricism and the reductionist and dataisticunity of a science view (for
instance in its modern pan-informational cognitive science form), and if we do not want to
end up in a radical constructivist postmodernism giving up the realistic foundation for
empirical work and truth as an ideal for Wis sensc haft (Brier and Joslyn 2013)? If inter-
disciplinarity is going to compete with the long disciplinary traditions, and stop being a
jack of all trades, but master of none, it has to develop deep interdisciplinary theoretical
frameworks that make it possible for us to go beyond the pan-informational philosophy or
what, these days, is also called the info-computational paradigm.
Peirce integrated his semiotics with a pure mathematical analysis of phenomenology
through which he coined three newbasic categories: firstness, secondness and thirdness
(Esposito 1980). He furthermore viewed logic, aesthetics and ethics as basic normative
sciences necessarily connected with the metaphysics developed for any philosophy of
cognition and communication. The normative sciences are those sciences driven by
questions of value and purpose. Since facts do not simply speak for themselves, this
means that researchers in these fields must be aware of the part (not necessarily negative)
that their own values and purposes play in identifying the apparent drivers of phenomena.
This, in turn, will tend to dictate what counts as scientific progress. As Peirce points out
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this is inevitably, in fact, a question of metaphysics, howsoever disguised as common
sense. Peirces own view is that the logicof the normative sciences is semiotic: that is,
science grows because it is in the nature of signs to grow.
Peirce writes:
Philosophy has three grand divisions. The first is Phenomenology, which simply contem-
plates the Universal Phenomenon and discerns its ubiquitous elements, Firstness, Secondness,
and Thirdness, together perhaps with other series of categories. The second grand division is
Normative Science, which investigates the universal and necessary laws of the relation of
Phenomena to Ends, that is, perhaps, to Truth, Right, and Beauty. The third grand division is
Metaphysics, which endeavors to comprehend the Reality of Phenomena. Now Reality is an
affair of Thirdness as Thirdness, that is, in its mediation between Secondness and Firstness. . .
(Peirce: CP 5.121)
This led him to develop the highly original view on logic that its core is the study of the
essential nature of signs. Logic is semiotic. His triadic categorical theory was connected to
a dynamic triadic semiotic web viewed as the dynamics of objective mind (Raposa 1989,
146). This sets him clearly apart from logical positivism and dialectical materialism, even
though his three categories in many ways were close to Hegels process logic dialectics of
thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis and their further development in dialectical materialism.
The important difference is Peirces concept of secondness or brute specific not immedi-
ately or completely explainable by law, like the grain of sand in our mouth when eating at
the beach. Law cannot exhaustively explain why this specific grain of sand was to be here
at that spot in that time.
We can see Peirces semiotic pragmaticism as the synthesis of the phenomenological
objective idealism of Hegel and Marx-Engels and Lenins dialectical materialism through
his theory of semiosis. Peirces pragmaticism combines his theory of logic-as-semiotic
with evolutionary theory. He thereby creates a philosophy different from Hegels, and
improving considerably on Schellings, who was an important influence on his philoso-
phy. Peirces ontological foundation is semiotic rather than informational in that informa-
tion is seen as an aspect of semiosis.
Frederik Stjernfelt (2014) points out that one of the most important lessons to take
from Peirces semiotics is its vast reorientation of the whole domain of sensation,
perception, logic, reasoning, thought, language, images, etc., towards the chain of reason-
ing as its uniting primitive phenomenon. The point of Peirces semiotic philosophy of
pragmaticism is that this development of reasoning may be formally described indepen-
dently of the materials in which it may be implemented. This view implies that proposi-
tions are not primarily entities of language, nor do they presuppose any conscious
propositional stance. Rather, reasoning capacity is developed through evolution in
nature. The evolution of consciousness and language should rather be seen as scaffolding,
serving and increasing reasoning, which is one the most important overall selecting factors
during evolution, Stjernfelt (2014) argues. Thus, language, images, perception, etc.,
should be re-conceptualised for the roles they may play in the chain of propositions that
construct the reasoning processes. Here is a quote that makes it clear how Peirce sees
semio-logical processes permeating all levels of living systems:
The cognition of a rule is not necessarily conscious, but is of the nature of a habit, acquired or
congenital. The cognition of a case is of the general nature of a sensation; that is to say, it is
something which comes up into present consciousness. The cognition of a result is of the nature
of a decision to act in a particular way on a given occasion. In point of fact, a syllogism in
Barbara virtually takes place when we irritate the foot of a decapitated frog. The connection
between the afferent and efferent nerve, whatever it may be, constitutes a nervous habit, a rule
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of action, which is the physiological analogue of the major premise. The disturbance of the
ganglionic equilibrium, owing to the irritation, is the physiological form of that which,
psychologically considered, is a sensation; and, logically considered, is the occurrence of a
case. The explosion through the efferent nerve is the physiological form of that which
psychologically is a volition, and logically the inference of a result. When we pass from the
lowest to the highest forms of innervation, the physiological equivalents escape our observa-
tion; but, psychologically, we still have, first, habit which in its highest form is understanding,
and which corresponds to the major premise of Barbara; we have, second, feeling, or present
consciousness, corresponding to the minor premise of Barbara; and we have, third, volition,
corresponding to the conclusion of the same mode of syllogism. (CP 2.711)
Ontologically this means that evolution is neither completely random nor completely
mechanical, but is a development of the reasoning powers of the universe. This is a move
away from the reductionist pure physicalism into a broader philosophical framework that
can encompass a transdisciplinary view of Wissenschaft,
man and universe.
It is well known that we do not see data (Popper 1959, 76). We see things, forms,
classes and behaviour. The concepts of our languages form our sense experiences and
cognitions and what we consider meaningful and can perceive. On this basis, Batesons
(1973) definition of information as a difference that makes a differenceis still valid.
Information is what one receives in reply to a question of living. I agree with Bateson
(1973) and Maturana (1988a,1988b) and Peirce (1994) that we must start our under-
standing of information with the process of knowing. Batesons definition of information
as a difference that makes a difference is very fruitful. His problem is that he nearly makes
every cybernetic system a communicator and a knower, be it a homeostatic machine, an
organism or an ecosystem or organisation. The main achievement of Maturana and
Varelas(1980,1986) theory of autopoiesis is that they have conceptualised the basic
limit of living and knowing, namely the autopoietic system, and shown that there is a
basic connection between living and knowing! In Maturanas vision the autopoietic
system is closed in its structure-dependent organisation.
Once autopoietic reproduction begins, natural selection becomes possible, and survival
knowledge in the form of structural couplingsreadiness to act in an orderly way on
certain disturbances from the environment begins to emerge and grow. These autopoietic
structures that are connected to the ability to produce their own macromolecules create
semantic closure. Solutions to survival problems are kept as kinds of reaction potentials
within the organism, some of them as molecular structures in the DNARNA protein
synthesis processes. This is why Konrad Lorenz, in his development of ethology, was so
keen on viewing instinct as the connection between motivation and fixed action patterns.
This enables the system to perpetuate its autopoiesis from one instant to the next through
generations of self-production as a full-bodied individual, and self-reproduction through the
digital codingin the DNA that is transferred and mixed in mating (Brier 2008a). Jesper
Hoffmeyer and Claus Emmeche (1991) called these two forms of memory(in DNARNA
and in the flesh) code-duality. The analogue code is the actual living body as phenotype,
and the digital code is the genotype of the genome. These two codes then interchange over
time. One can say that discreteness and continuity are two irreducible complementary
modes of thinking and also of existence. Thus, autopoiesis and biosemiotics can fruitfully
be integrated as autopoiesis gives a dynamic embodiment to semiotic interaction.
It is Peirces view of the sign as a real and dynamical developing relational and
reasoning process that makes him argue that there is nothing in thought or in sensation,
which was not first in signs (Deely 2013, xxvii). Peirces probably most famous definition
of his new conception of signs is this:
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A sign, or Representamen, is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a
Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to
assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object. The
triadic relation is genuine, that is its three members are bound together by it in a way that
does not consist in any complexus of dyadic relations. That is the reason the Interpretant, or
Third, cannot stand in a mere dyadic relation to the Object, but must stand in such a relation
to it as the Representamen itself does. Nor can the triadic relation in which the third stands be
merely similar to that in which the First stands, for this would make the relation of the Third
to the First a degenerate Secondness merely. (C.P. 2274)
This non-reducible triadic process relation that is not primarily driven by any human
subjects consciousness and therefore opens a foundation for a biosemiotics is founda-
tional to Peirces pragmaticist philosophy. The Sign as an irreducible triad is a syllogism
although not of the familiar type found in Barbara (e.g. major premise: all men are mortal;
minor premise: Socrates is a man; conclusion: Socrates is mortal). The major premise is
the Representamen relation; the minor premise is the Object relation and the conclusion is
the Interpretant. In other words, the major premise presents us with a sign, a piece of
information about the world; the minor premise stands in the background of our thought
as something that is in the world and which can arise on the basis of the major premise;
the conclusion is akin to Batesons formulation that only a difference that makes a
difference, can become information. When it does and we need to use it again we
create a sign and therefore an awareness of the possible significance of the sign, so that
our Interpretant will not only be a new thought, but will also result in a difference in our
thinking (and behaving) more generally. We can see how this growth of the sign is
important in science as well as art.
This is a dynamic transformative process. It is not just a mechanical conveyor belt
because the information is acted upon and thought about(interpreted) from input
sensation to result. It is this conception of semiosis that makes inter- and transdiscipli-
narity possible. The best way to explain cosmogony and evolution is as a dynamic
interaction between the three categories or universes as Peirce also calls them. None of
the categories can be reduced to the other, but cosmogonically viewed they are derived
from each other.
Since firstness is a state of absolute possibility and radical indeterminacy as close to
nothingness as possible, it is an absolute permissibility with no cause outside itself. From
here secondness emerges as one of many possibilities as difference, other, individuality,
limit, force and will. Thirdness is the mediating habit-taking aspect of evolution that
contributes to the creation of an emergent order theoretically somewhat differently
modelled than Hegels dialectical evolution and the dialectical materialism of Frederick
Engels(18731886)Dialectics of Nature as well. In contrast to Engels, Peirces cate-
gories also have a phenomenological aspect. Peirce writes in 1907:
Firstly come firstnesses,or positive internal characters of the subject in itself; secondly
come secondnesses,or brute actions of one subject or substance on another, regardless of
law or of any third subject; thirdly comes thirdnesses,or the mental or quasi-mental
influence of one subject on another relatively to a third. (CP 5.469)
Thus, if we start from the level of life in the beginning, knowledgeexists only as
embodied in the inherent structural dynamics of the autopoietic entity. This would then,
over a long time, result in the precise tri-nucleotide codeswhich are used in DNA in all
present organisms to determine specific amino acids to be produced by the ribosomes. But
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how exactly this is supposed to happen as a mechanical process, we do not know or can
explain. But the general idea in Peircean biosemiotics is that, starting from random noise,
the autopoietic functions of the cell make it possible to filtrate selectively for useful
functionality. As such, researchers often say that this process gradually built knowledge of
the world into the DNA sequence. But it cannot exist as knowledge per se. It only works
if placed within a living cell with a full synthesis apparatus and a lot of other functional
cycles and organelles surrounded by membranes.
The biological description is carried out on a purely chemical level, and even though
we cannot produce a living cell in our test tubes today, it is believed that chemistry is all
that there is to this development of agency. But the experiential agency is what we have
been talking about so far as missing from traditional biological science: a distinct domain,
of a self-referential autonomous state, which other regularities govern, and which cannot
be reduced by the laws of the dual domains. A difference cannot become knowledge
before it has been interpreted to be sufficiently meaningful and important that an observer/
knower attaches a sign to it. Then it will make a difference. We have thousands of aspects
of our reality, which we have not called anything and which therefore cannot easily be
communicated or thought constructively about. Thus, what are transferred are sign
vehicles, not information. Signs have to be interpreted, and it has to happen on at least
three levels. On the most basic level we have the basic coordination between the bodies as
a dance of black boxes to allow for meaningful exchange. This goes on at the next level of
instinctual sign plays of drive and emotionally based communication about meaningful
things in life like mating, hunting, dominating, food seeking, territory, etc. Based on these
two levels a field of meaning is created, which, eventually, the socio-communicative
system can modulate to conscious linguistic meaning.
What Charles Sanders Peirce attempted was to change our worldview in order to
encompass the world of science and logic with the world of meaning and communication
through a triadic evolutionary pragmaticist theory of semiotics. This new but unfinished
approach has attracted a multitude of researchers to make a consistent interpretation of his
scattered work. See for instance Apel (1981), Boler (1963), Brent (1998), Colapietro (1989),
Corrington (1993), Deledalle (2000), Esposito (1980), Fisch (1986), Hookway (1992),
Hoffmeyer (1998), Liszka (1996), Menand (2001), Savan (19871988) and Short (2007).
Triadic, evolutionary, realist pragmaticist semiotics
The modern mechanistic ontology of science leaves us as Jacques Monod (1972)
already concluded in his analysis of a mechanical molecular biology as Gypsies on
the border of the universe. Peirce would have agreed with Monod that the mechanical
view is insufficient as philosophical transdisciplinary ontology and epistemology even in
an evolutionary setting. Peirce writes:
the universe is not a mere mechanical result of the operation of blind law. The most obvious
of all its characters cannot be so explained. It is the multitudinous facts of all experience that
show us this; but that which has opened our eyes to these facts is the principle of fallibilism.
(CP 1.162)
We do not have absolute certain knowledge about the world based on absolute law, as
many classical physicists tended to think. As Peirce begins his philosophy with observa-
tion and intersubjectivity, he denies that we have a special ability for introspection behind
language and sign games. All of our knowledge is intersubjective, and the dichotomy of
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internal/external is not foundational, although is useful in other connections. Even our
own self is a sort of sign that has developed through our whole life summing up and
structuring all our experience into what Peirce, in his terminology, calls a symbol
(Colapietro 1989). Peirce views the universe in another of his signs types, namely as a
grand argument, which we, and in some ways all living systems, are trying to decipher.
This opens space for a much wider understanding of the complexity and meaningful-
ness of life and, not least, of human reality where one is concerned to build a philosophy
encompassing both science and conjectures of meaning. Peirce was an architectonic
systematic philosopher (Murphey 1961) and can be compared to Aristotle in breadth, to
Kant in modern transcendental thinking, to Hegel and Schelling in evolutionary vision
and to Whitehead (1978) in process philosophy. He connects all these aspects of philo-
sophy into a new metaphysics including a new semiotic view of rationality. A reason to
believe that Peirces semiotics can move us out of some of our major contemporary
conceptual obstacles (our metaphysics of modernity, one might say) is that he combines
his view of semiotics and logic in an evolutionary pragmatic framework. He writes:
Logic will here be defined as formal semiotic. A definition of a sign will be given which no
more refers to human thought than does the definition of a line as the place which a particle
occupies, part by part, during a lapse of time. Namely, a sign is something, A, which brings
something, B, its interpretant sign determined or created by it, into the same sort of
correspondence with something, C, its object, as that in which itself stands to C. It is from
this definition, together with a definition of formal, that I deduce mathematically the
principles of logic. (Peirce 1980,2021; 54)
Peirces concept of information
Peirces concept of information generalises Claude Shannons(1949) to the degree that
triadic sign relations generalise dyadic causeeffect notions of information transmission. But
Peircean information is not substantially different inasmuch as it makes sense only in a
context of prior uncertainty, the irritation of doubtthat drives inquiry, and its measure is
based on the power of signs in a given sign relation to reduce the uncertainty of an interpreter
about an object. In that view, signs bear information on account of their place in a specified
sign relation, and it is a matter of secondary concern whether the sign is a picture, proposi-
tion, term or something else entirely, like the state of a computer system. In what sense and to
what degree might this informationbe measured? Will the very notion of measuring this
value not conflict with Peirces contrite fallibilism, which holds that what a given term will
come to mean to us is not something that can be decided in advance of scientific inquiry?
Thus, from a Peircean semiotic view, scientific terms can hold a great deal of implicit
information as well as the explicit information that scientists are working with at a given
time. Therefore the information to be quantified is not that of what a given term will come to
mean to us in some distant future, but rather that of what it means to us now or what we now
conceive to be its practical bearing in general on conduct.
According to Peirce percepts are not, in themselves, objects of experience. Though the
percept makes knowledge possible, it offers no information, as it does not contain any
thirdness in its immediateness, but is secondness in its physical clash with the perceptual
organ. But experience, understood as the knowing process imposed upon us in the course
of living, is perfusedwith thirdness. Thirdness takes the form of generality and con-
tinuity within a fallible account of percepts. Meaningmust somehow be constructed by
the receiver from the information produced by the interpretation of signs, within certain
frames that reality imposes on us for survival. Peirce writes:
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At any moment, we are in possession of certain information, that is, of cognitions which have
been logically derived by induction and hypothesis from previous cognitions which are less
general, less distinct, and of which we have a less lively consciousness. (Peirce: CP 5.311, 1868)
Thus, Peirce develops an information theory that starts with a physical event hitting the
perceptual organs that is secondness but he does not construct a probability-based
theory of information as Claude Shannon or Norbert Wiener (1963) do.
Instead, Peirce develops a theory of human knowledge based on the logical quantities
of extension and intension associated with the concept of symbol that is so vital for his
semiotics. Thus, Peirce defines his concept of information directly from his semiotics and
its most important species of sign, namely, the symbol. For Peirce, plants and animals are
constrained mainly, or nearly so, to iconic and indexical sign use. Instead of the prob-
ability-based theory of information developed by Shannon and by Wiener, Peirce devel-
ops a theory of human knowledge based on a kind of logical quantities within a field of
dynamic meaning in that he introduces a new way of calculating the value of information
conveyed by new propositions as a logical area composed of the informational breadth
and depth of the symbol. He writes:
In a paper . . . I endeavored to show that the three conceptions of reference to a ground, reference
to a correlate, and references to an interpretant, are those of which logic must principally make
use. I there also introduced the term symbol,to include both concept and word. Logic treats of
the reference of symbols in general to their objects. A symbol, in its reference to its object, has a
triple reference: First, Its direct reference to its object, or the real things which it represents;
Second, Its reference to its ground through its object, or the common characters of those objects;
Third, Its reference to its interpretant through its object, or all the facts known about its object.
What are thus referred to, so far as they are known, are: First, The informed breadth of the
symbol; Second, The informed depth of the symbol; Third, The sum of synthetical propositions
in which the symbol is subject or predicate, or the information concerning the symbol. By
breadth and depth, without an adjective, I shall hereafter mean the informed breadth and depth. It
is plain that the breadth and depth of a symbol, so far as they are not essential, measure the
information concerning it, that is, the synthetical propositions of which it is subject or predicate.
This follows directly from the definitions of breadth, depth, and information. .. .we term the
information the area, and write Breadth × Depth = Area. (CP 2.418419, 1868)
Thus, symbols have extension, since they denote classes of objects, and intension, as the
objects they denote must have certain characters in common. Peirce furthermore suggests
measuring the amount of information that symbols acquire through their individual and
cultural history of use. This idea is connected to what Peirce calls the growth of symbols
(Nöth 2012). The meaning of a symbol grows and develops through the years it is used in
a culture. This growth is also augmented by the combination of terms in propositions as
they then interact and change each others meaning. Peirce writes:
No proposition is supposed to leave its terms as it finds them. . ..; and there are three objects
of symbols the connotative, denotative, informative; it follows that there will be three kinds of
propositions, . . . (Peirce: W1:277)
When an adjective precedes a noun, the logical content of the noun is modified by the
adjective. If the noun, informationis modified by the adjective physical, then the
logical content of the abstract concept of information is modified by what the author
understands the term physicalto mean. Thus, propositions are a further source of the
growth of symbols and, in the sciences, synthetic propositions are a source of the
acquisition of new knowledge.
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Thus, although Peirces information theory is built on meaningful signs, he still has an
information theory based in realism. One needs to have empirical reference in order to
produce real information. Peirce writes:
If there be anything that conveys information and yet has absolutely no relation nor reference
to anything with which the person to whom it conveys the information has, when he
comprehends that information, the slightest acquaintance, direct or indirect and a very
strange sort of information that would be the vehicle of that sort of information is not, in
this volume, called a Sign. (CP 2.231, 1910)
In other words, analytical statements lack informativity. The more synthetic a proposition
is (i.e. the greater the empirical reference that it has), the more informative it is. Quantity
is a measure of the extension of a symbol. It refers to the fact that different symbols may
denote more or fewer possible things; in this regard they are said to have extension(W1:
187). Thus, the extension of the symbol fish is larger than the one of shark since fish is
applicable to more animals than shark. Quality, on the other hand, is dependent on the
intension of a symbol, which is the number of characters attributed to a term. That is a
logical quantity. This is a quantity very different from the probability theory underlying
Shannons and Wieners(1963) objective information theories. In this sense, informa-
tional implication takes into account all available knowledge and not only the defining
characters from which lexical definitions are made up. Peirce is saying that information is
a process in which the symbol of shark, for instance, as a concept with a content that I
know, is constantly undergoing development. When I see a documentary showing me
many different species of sharks, that I did not know before, like reef sharks, then my
symbol of sharks grows, because I have added information to my conception of the
species shark by increasing the quantities of extension or intension of the symbol
connected to it, which now include hammerheads within their scope. Peirce writes:
An ordinary proposition ingeniously contrives to convey novel information through signs
whose significance depends entirely on the interpreters familiarity with them; and this it does
by means of a predicate,i.e., a term explicitly indefinite in breadth, and defining its breadth
by means of Subjects,or terms whose breadths are somewhat definite, but whose informa-
tive depth (i.e., all the depth except an essential superficies) is indefinite, while conversely the
depth of the Subjects is in a measure defined by the Predicate. (CP 4.543, 1905)
So it is not the lexical definition of sharkthat carries the information, but all the other
things I know about sharksbehaviour, size, colours, way of movement, prey and how
many of them we catch each day and eat in shark fin soup. Peirce underlines that the
information of a term is the measure of its superfluous comprehension(W1: 467), which
is all the extraneous world knowledge I have about sharks, including if I have been bitten
by one and where that was. In other words, information is all the knowledge outsidethe
lexical definitions! As Peirce holds a fallibilist view of science combined with a pragma-
ticist and realistic view of knowledge, he must conclude:
The cognitions which . . . reach us . . . are of two kinds, the true and the untrue, or cognitions
whose objects are real and those whose objects are unreal. And what do we mean by the real?
. . . The real, then, is that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally
result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you. (CP 5.311, 1868)
Thus, Peirce produces a new transdisciplinary theory of information, connected to his
semiotic theory of cognition and communication, which differs substantially from the
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usual conceptions. Peirces theory combines the concepts of meaning and information
within a framework of pragmatic realism established on a semiotic understanding of
cognition and communication. Peirces theory can be modernised by combining it with
Luhmanns(1990,1995) communicative systems theory, which introduces autopoiesis at
the level of biology, psychology and social communication (Brier 2008a,2011). Luhmann
(1990) and Peirce both share the idea of form as the essential component in communica-
tion. Peirce writes:
[. . .] a Sign may be defined as a Medium for the communication of a Form. [. . .]. As a
medium, the Sign is essentially in a triadic relation, to its Object which determines it, and to
its Interpretant which it determines. [. . .]. That which is communicated from the Object
through the Sign to the Interpretant is a Form; that is to say, it is nothing like an existent,
but is a power, is the fact that something would happen under certain conditions. (MS:
In Peirces dynamic process semiotics, a form is something that is embodied in an object as a
habit. Thus, form acts as a constraining factor on interpretative behaviour or what he calls a
real possibility in the form of a would-be. The form is embodied in the object as a sort of
disposition to act (Nöth 2012). This is, by the way, probably also a better way of under-
standing the formal causal power of genes, not as deterministic and mechanical, but as
dispositions to act in certain ways under certain environmental conditions. Laws are not
absolute and mechanical but developing forms in the continuum of mind and matter and our
ever developing fallibilist knowledge, of which symbols are an essential feature. Since
mechanical determinism cannot explain the novelty of evolution and the emergence of the
laws of nature, Peirce was aware that we needed an alternative ontology to the mechanistic
one. As physicist Lee Smolin writes: The Cosmological questions such as Why these laws?
and Why the initial conditions? cannot be answered by a method that takes the laws and initial
conditions as input(Smolin 2014, 250). But this is what modern classical physics used to do
and therefore Smolins work here is quite revolutionary, and he is quite aware that the thought
was foundational to Peirces cosmogony and quotes him several places in the book.
One of the alternatives to mechanicism is to take the objective reality of irreversible
time seriously, as Prigogine (1980,1996; and with Prigogine and Stengers 1984) did, and
now Smolin does, and to start with some of kind of non-mechanical objective chance as
ontologically foundational. Peirce did that long before Prigogine and called it Tychism.
When scientific methods are applied to information, cognition and communication, we are
only left with codes, grammar, phonetics, programmes, formal language, copy machines
and adaptors; but then the analysis of meaningful relations is lost amidst all the formal
technicalities. Contrary to the reductionist loss of meaning, cybersemiotics, following in
the footsteps of Peirce, allows us theoretically to distinguish between the information the
sender intended to be in the sign, the (possible) information in the sign itself and the
information the interpreter gets out of the sign. This gets us out of the trap of assuming
that the information is a material thingwhich is the same in all three. The knowledge in
the sign must be interpreted for a full semiosis to happen, and for the receiver to acquire
the information imparted (both intentionally and unintentionally) by his or her interlocu-
tor. As such, it is central to any conception of knowledge and information.
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In other words, we must accept that experience and meaning are just as real as matter.
This does not mean that what physicists call the worldor realityas such is imbued with
meaning, but it does mean that reasoning is generated from its self-organising processes. It
means that their concept of worldand realityis unable to reflexively encompass the
embodied psychological and social foundation of knowledge. Peirce points out that self-
reproduction and self-replication are not only characteristics of organisms and chromo-
somes, but also of symbols. Signs replicate through and in their tokens. Replicas of
symbols in their acoustic or written form are indeed dead things (phenomena of second-
ness), but symbols as genuine thirdness are alive as self-replicative beings. It is within that
wider reality of life connecting subjects in language and social actions to nature and
technology that information is created.
Thus, in this transdisciplinary frame for interdisciplinarity, the sign process carrying the
information content is viewed as transcending the division between nature and culture;
between the natural sciences, the life sciences, the social sciences and the humanities; and
between phenomena that are exterior and those that are interior to human consciousness. We
have moved from a mechanical idea of the Cosmosto a self-organised evolutionary super-
system. Though the combination of thermodynamics and the info-computational paradigms
attempts to naturalise information computations to an Infos, but now we have started to
move towards a Semios, that through a physio-semiotic cosmogony is encompassing and
integrating the former understandings of matter and information in to a cybersemiotic view.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
1. We are using the classical Peirce scholar reference system, where CP: refers to Peirce, C.S. (1994):
The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce;W: Peirce, C.S. (19822014). The Writings of
Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition,Vols.16. References take the form CP or W n. m,
where n and m indicate volume and page number, respectively. EP:Peirce(1998). The Essential
Peirce, Vols. 1 and 2. Eds. Peirce edition Project. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
2. Wissenschaft is a more interdisciplinary concept than science if we do not want to call
phenomenology a science.
3. Readers looking for a general account of these matters may wish to consult the Scientific
Progressentry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at:
4. As the concept of science tends to be interpreted as natural or quantitative sciences, I prefer the
German word Wissenschaft as it like the Danish videnskab encompasses the social, the
technical and the life sciences and the humanities as well.
Notes on contributor
Dr Søren Brier is Professor in the Semiotics of Information, Cognition and Communication Sciences
at the Centre for International Business Communication Studies at Copenhagen Business School. He
is the founder and editor of the interdisciplinary quarterly journal Cybernetics & Human Knowing,
and a fellow of the American Society for Cybernetics. He is a member of the board of International
Society for Biosemiotic Studies and its journal Biosemiotics as well as the scientific board of The
Science of Information Institute and Foundation of Information Science and the International
Society for Information Studies. His research interest focussed on the transdisciplinary foundation
for the interplay between cybernetic, systemic information science, and Peircean semiotics of which
he has constructed a transdisciplinary framework called Cybersemiotics many of his works can be
found at
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... The indicator that appears is associating the sign with the knowledge that has been previously owned. This is in accordance with the opinion (Brier, 2015;Yakin & Totu, 2014) which states that an object is something that represents the resulting interpretant. Interpretation is a response to an object through the interpretation of signs. ...
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Playing mathematics in early childhood based on semiotics gives children the opportunity to identify objects, look for signs and interpret signs so that they can solve problems in games. This study aims to describe semiotic based early childhood mathematics play activities. The research was conducted at the PAUD Lab School, Muhammadiyah University of Jember. The research subjects were 5 children from group B. The results showed that the activities of playing mathematics in early childhood based on semiotics were (1) collecting information related to semiotic-based math games, (2) looking for objects that matched the game and counting the number of objects found, (3) looking for relevant signs and signs. that are relevant to the number of objects found, (4) associated with signs of knowledge that have been previously possessed and look for all signs according to the objects found, (5) the child retells the play that has been done
... The development of semiotic methods leading to the reading of buildings by building users, the process of the development of the science of signs called ethno-semiotics. In harmony with second-order cybernetics, the paradigm shift was experienced by humans as objects of system The concept of ecological information from Bateson distinguishes cybernetics as a transdisciplinary theory [20]. Transdisciplinary integration in the form of biosemiotics towards progress by including all living systems. ...
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The lack of form and meaning of buildings is a challenge for the theory and development of architecture. This study examines the relevance of cybernetics theory to the concept of Posi . The center ( Posi ) is the representation of the axis of equilibrium of space. The Posi concept is a local theory that is the result of the dissertation research findings on the old city space and historic building space in Palopo City. This study uses the content analysis method. Data collection and analysis process carried out qualitatively. The research paradigm obeys a rationalistic framework. The results of the study show that the concept of Posi is the axis of the system of spatial order. The second-order cybernetics of Heinz von Foerster relates to the concept of Posi . The position of the Posi concept as a concept of a self-organizing system. Understanding the macrocosm space system can be a paradigm in the formation of micro space in a design process. This study has implications for the development of an architecture that is built from local theory and is strengthened by the grand multidisciplinary theory of science for architecture and urban space.
... From the beginning of this century, a transdisciplinary science has been emerging in the name of cybersemiotics [7,8,9]. ...
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Nature and character of information defy observable, positivistic, and reductionist science. Still, a science of information could be possible with logically woven ideas expressed in a common universal language in the third person’s perspective connected with the physical science of matter, energy, space and time on the superficial hand, and the cognitive faculty on the deeper hand. With the thread left out by twentieth century’s science the paper begins with a linguistic analysis of information, narrates its properties, mechanics, different geometrical states, and relates dark energy of cosmology with visible energy of cell biology with credible impacts on science, humanities, and consciousness studies
... From the beginning of this century, a transdisciplinary science has been emerging in the name of cybersemiotics [7,8,9]. ...
Full-text available
Nature and character of information defy observable, positivistic, and reductionist science. Still, a science of information could be possible with logically woven ideas expressed in a common universal language in the third person's perspective connected with the physical science of matter, energy, space and time on the superficial hand, and the cognitive faculty on the deeper hand. With the thread left out by twentieth century's science the paper begins with a linguistic analysis of information, narrates its properties, mechanics, different geometrical states, and relates dark energy of cosmology with visible energy of cell biology with credible impacts on science, humanities, and consciousness studies.
... From the beginning of this century, a transdisciplinary science has been emerging in the name of cybersemiotics [7,8,9]. ...
In the current outlook of education, collaborative learning has been introduced as a strategy to build knowledge, in a multimodal culture where information is expressed, produced and distributed through new formats and representational languages. Regarding the latter, the diagram has been used as a way to represent and organize information in learning processes, making its comprehension necessary, since there are different interpretations from the theory. That is why, through this study of theoretical design, a systematic review of the literature (SRL) was carried out, which it allowed to get information about the concepts of diagram and its connotation in collaborative learning, taking into account the definitions stated about it. The results show that the diagram is a representational instrument and not only a graphic or textual organizer, but also, a semiotic-social mental artifact, a semiotic-social mental artifact that mediates meanings and regulates their construction in subjects' collaborative learning interactions. Finally, the role of the diagram as a potentiator in the development of metacognitive skills is highlighted.
A transdisciplinary theory of cognition and communication based on the process self-organizing and autopoietic system theory of Niklas Luhmann integrated with a triadic semiotic paradigm of experience and interpretation with phenomenological and hermeneutical aspects of C.S. Peirce, goes beyond info-computationalism in its integrating of phenomenological and hermeneutical aspects of Peircean semiotic logic with a cybernetic and autopoietic systemic emergentist process view. This makes the emergence of mind and transdisciplinary view of sciences possible.
After Thomas Sebeok’s proposal of global semiotics in the 70s, an attempt to move beyond anthroposemiotics to the realm of zoosemiotics, phytosemiotics, endosemiotics, and, ultimately, to the all-encompassing realm of biosemiotics was made. Semiotics was then established as a serious candidate as the transdisciplinary base of science and humanities –particularly from the triadic and pragmaticist semiotic proposal of C. S. Peirce. However, the semiotic attempt to explain the fundamental aspects of living systems from the standpoint of meaning production and reproduction demonstrate that in order to explain the meaning-making process in living organisms a systemic, biological, cybernetic and informational approach was also needed. The integrative visions have discovered some basic similarities among these theoretical perspectives from which it has been possible to recognize complementarities among them. At the same time, it also made possible to identify variations at the very bottom of each approach, which resulted in a complex task of theoretical integration. Thus, in order to uncover these tensions and complementarities, I will focus my attention in the process of communication in an attempt to move from cybernetics to semiotics and further on to cybersemiotics considering some aspects of biosemiotics, first and second-order cybernetics, Peircean semiotics, and information theory. The goal of this chapter is to overcome the problem of defining the limits and boundaries of communication as a physical, biological, and social phenomena and its nature as an academic field by proposing communication as a transdisciplinary concept from the point of view of cybersemiotics (Vidales, Commun Soc 30:45–67, 2017b), from which it is also possible to address the process of communication, explained in what Brier (Cogn Semiotics 4:28–63, 2009) considers to be the levels of cybersemiotics, and the consequences it may have for the explanation of meaning-making processes in living systems.
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This text proposes a conceptual model to understand and study the communicative phenomenon. It does this by understanding communication as a phenomenon of life, so that it can be conceptualized as an expressive behavior that results in an expressive act within the framework of the theory of evolution, which makes the expression as a unit viable of primary observation of communication. Although it is based on a concept of communication slightly different from that assumed in the cybersemiotic program, we consider that the biophenomenological proposal of the communication presented here can serve as an articulation for the development of at least three of the arms proposed by Brier in his Star Cybersemiotics, so that it contributes to the development of this ambitious and necessary transdisciplinary program.
The chapter outlines cybersemiotics in relation to the research fields of systems theory and semiotics in general. It introduces and defines the key concepts of the first, second, and third generations of systems theory and gives a survey of systems theoretical approaches to general and cultural semiotics. The author argues that the notions of system, communication, self-reference, information, meaning, form, autopoiesis, and self-control are of equal topical interest to semiotics and systems theory. In particular, the paper inquires into the way in which N. Luhmann, Maturana/Varela, and C.S. Peirce define and use these concepts and how these authors differ with respect to them.
Charles S. Peirce occupies a secure and significant position in the annals of American intellectual history. His impact on contemporary philosophy, logic, semiotic, literary theory and communication studies has been enormous. Nevertheless, only a handful of theologians and philosophers of religion have looked to his writings as an important resource; very few of his commentators have paid to the religious dimension of his thought the attention that it deserves.^ The purpose of this dissertation is to underscore the role that religious ideas played in shaping Peirce's philosophy, and to provide a systematic account of his philosophy of religion. There is a hermeneutical difficulty here; very few of Peirce's writings are devoted explicitly to religious topics. I contend, however, that Peirce's interest in and perspective on such topics are manifested throughout his corpus, in scientific and mathematical papers, as well as in his writings on metaphysics, cosmology and the normative sciences. I conclude that Peirce's religious ideas are continuous with and integral to his reflections on these other issues, so that they must be identified and understood if his work as a whole is to be interpreted properly. And I suggest that his writings ought to be considered an important resource for contemporary scholars of religion, briefly indicating at the end of my study those of his ideas that might be most fruitfully entertained and developed.^ Peirce's most famous essay in the philosophy of religion, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God," provides a useful sketch of his general religious perspective. I use the argument there to organize my study; an extended commentary on that essay comprises my fifth, penultimate chapter.
This book takes up the question of the degree of interplay between chance and law in the evolution of life from the standpoint of the philosophy of science, emphasizing the contribution made by information theory. With a preface by Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker Comments Nobel laureate Sir John Kendrew “This is an essential contribution toward the solution of one of the fundamental problems of biology“ Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker “Scientifically, this theory seems to close a gap that is perhaps comparable to the geographical discovery of the North-West-passage north of America“ Gregory Chaitin “It belongs to that handful of books, including Erwin Schrödinger’s 1944 classic ‘What is Life?’ that confront the most fundamental concepts of biology“
Irreversible processes are the source of order: hence 'order out of chaos.' Processes associated with randomness (openness) lead to higher levels of organisation. Under certain conditions, entropy may thus become the progenitor of order. The authors propose a vast synthesis that embraces both reversible and irreversible time, and show how they relate to one another at both macroscopic and minute levels of examination.-A.Toffler
A growing field of inquiry, biosemiotics is a theory of cognition and communication that unites the living and the cultural world. What is missing from this theory, however, is the unification of the information and computational realms of the non-living natural and technical world. Cybersemiotics provides such a framework. By integrating cybernetic information theory into the unique semiotic framework of C.S. Peirce, Søren Brier attempts to find a unified conceptual framework that encompasses the complex area of information, cognition, and communication science. This integration is performed through Niklas Luhmann’s autopoietic systems theory of social communication. The link between cybernetics and semiotics is, further, an ethological and evolutionary theory of embodiment combined with Lakoff and Johnson’s ’philosophy in the flesh.’ This demands the development of a transdisciplinary philosophy of knowledge as much common sense as it is cultured in the humanities and the sciences. Such an epistemological and ontological framework is also developed in this volume. Cybersemiotics not only builds a bridge between science and culture, it provides a framework that encompasses them both. The cybersemiotic framework offers a platform for a new level of global dialogue between knowledge systems, including a view of science that does not compete with religion but offers the possibility for mutual and fruitful exchange.