The Semiosphere

On 25 oktober 2018

Jesper Hoffmeyer -Signs of meaning in the universe- introduces The Semiosphere. Like other spheres the semiosphere incorporates all forms of communication; smells, sounds, movements, colours, electrical field, thermal radiation, chemical signals etc. Every organism is born into a species specific semiosphere. All plants and animals (including humans) life in a world of signification. Everything an organism senses signifies something for that organism: food, sex, danger, fear, joy.

Of course humans, as part of the natural world, have a species specific semiosphere too. We live in a human semiosphere. During our lifetime we develop a personal semiosphere as unique variation on the species specific semiosphere.  We life in a world of messages and signs.  As a consequence of which we differentiate between relevant and irrelevant messages and give meaning to those messages that are important to us. How do we do this? How do we select important messages in a cacophony of signs? And  how do messages and signs relate to our actions?

The key question for Hoffmeyer -and other biosemiotici- is: How could natural history become cultural history? More specifically Hoffmeyer asks himself in how humans in their biological evolution became ‘someone’, an individual that could express and share his (own) signification.

It is Hoffmeyers firm conviction that humans are more or less unique in signifying the natural world beyond signification of relevant messages for our own food, our own sex and our own survival. I myself use the word curiosity.

How did humans became curious and sensitive to messages and signs that originally were of no importance to us? Why and how did humans cross the semiotic line and learned to signify messages that are crucial for other animals and plants? Of what importance is it to us, humans, to know about the feeding strategies of ants? To know about the stars and celestial bodies? To signify and give meaning to mating rituals of bears?

Biosemiotics is a set of axioms and paradigms with special meaning for me. In The Netherlands this set of scientific theory is underexposed. I think this is a missed opportunity. For one reason biosemiotics is multidisciplinary. Biosemiotici try to reconcile knowledge and insides from neuroscience, biochemistry, bio-molecular science, evolutionary biology and semiotics. Secondly their ideas are inspirational. They open a so called Third Window on natural science and physics, and humanities and philosophy.

We, humans, are (bio)semiotic animals. We became a signifying and meaning giving species. The Sexual and Social Intelligence Hypothesis is based on the works of biosemiotici like Jesper Hoffmeyer, John Deely, Thomas Sebeok, Donald Favareau, Claus Emmeche and others. The Sexual and Social Intelligence Hypothesis concerns an alternative narrative on human biological and (bio)semiotic evolution. It provides an answer to the question why and how humans, as one of many biosemiotic mammals, became semiotic and semantic animals many million years ago.

How did the human semiosphere evolved into  models and theories and systems presenting the natural world? Why did we become scientists anyway? How did we evolve from something into someone? As Jesper Hoffmeyer puts the question. 

In the Sexual and Social Intelligence Hypothesis female sexual selection has been key factor in the evolutionary split of Pan and Homo over more than 5-6 million years ago. The SSIH presumes that due to anatomical variations in sexual organs two sexual cultures emerged. These sexual cultures can be interpretated as identifying and signifying and selecting the sexual partner along other criteria. The sexual partner of choice is represented in the brain (endoseimiosis) and at the same time part of exoseimiosis (Umwelt) as Hoffmeyer puts it. Out of this overlap in endo- en exoseimiosis the human evolution slowly expanded from biosemiotics to semiotics (too).

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