Biosemiotics (from the Greek βίος bios, "life" and σημειωτικός sēmeiōtikos, "observant of signs") is a field of semiotics and biology that studies the prelinguistic meaning-making, biological interpretation processes, production of signs and codes and communication processes in the biological realm.
Biosemiotics integrates the findings of biology and semiotics and proposes a paradigmatic shift in the scientific view of life, in which semiosis (sign process, including meaning and interpretation) is one of its immanent and intrinsic features. The term biosemiotic was first used by Friedrich S. Rothschild in 1962, but Thomas Sebeok and Thure von Uexküll have implemented the term and field. The field, which challenges normative views of biology, is generally divided between theoretical and applied biosemiotics.
Biosemiotics is biology interpreted as a sign systems study, or, to elaborate, a study of
- signification, communication and habit formation of living processes
- semiosis (creating and changing sign relations) in living nature
- the biological basis of all signs and sign interpretation
According to the basic types of semiosis under study, biosemiotics can be divided into
- vegetative semiotics (also endosemiotics, or phytosemiotics), the study of semiosis at the cellular and molecular level (including the translation processes related to genome and the organic form or phenotype); vegetative semiosis occurs in all organisms at their cellular and tissue level; vegetative semiotics includes prokaryote semiotics, sign-mediated interactions in bacteria communities such as quorum sensing and quorum quenching.
- zoosemiotics or animal semiotics, or the study of animal forms of knowing; animal semiosis occurs in the organisms with neuromuscular system, also includes anthroposemiotics, the study of semiotic behavior in humans.
According to the dominant aspect of semiosis under study, the following labels have been used: biopragmatics, biosemantics, and biosyntactics.
Apart from Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) and Charles W. Morris (1903–1979), early pioneers of biosemiotics were Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944), Heini Hediger (1908–1992), Giorgio Prodi (1928–1987), Marcel Florkin (1900–1979) and Friedrich S. Rothschild (1899–1995); the founding fathers of the contemporary interdiscipline were Thomas Sebeok (1920–2001) and Thure von Uexküll (1908–2004).
In the 1980s a circle of mathematicians active in Theoretical Biology, René Thom (Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques), Yannick Kergosien (Dalhousie University and Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques), and Robert Rosen (Dalhousie University, also a former member of the Buffalo group with Howard H. Pattee), explored the relations between Semiotics and Biology using such headings as "Nature Semiotics", "Semiophysics", or "Anticipatory Systems"  and taking a modeling approach.
The contemporary period (as initiated by Copenhagen-Tartu school) include biologists Jesper Hoffmeyer, Kalevi Kull, Claus Emmeche, Terrence Deacon, semioticians Martin Krampen, Paul Cobley, philosophers Donald Favareau, John Deely, John Collier and complex systems scientists Howard H. Pattee, Michael Conrad, Luis M. Rocha, Cliff Joslyn and León Croizat.
In 2001, an annual international conference for biosemiotic research known as the Gatherings in Biosemiotics was inaugurated, and has taken place every year since.
In 2004, a group of biosemioticians – Marcello Barbieri, Claus Emmeche, Jesper Hoffmeyer, Kalevi Kull, and Anton Markos – decided to establish an international journal of biosemiotics. Under their editorship, the Journal of Biosemiotics was launched by Nova Science Publishers in 2005 (two issues published), and with the same five editors Biosemiotics was launched by Springer in 2008. The book series Biosemiotics (Springer), edited by Claus Emmeche, Donald Favareau, Kalevi Kull, and Alexei Sharov, began in 2007 and since published 23 volumes.
The International Society for Biosemiotic Studies was established in 2005 by Donald Favareau and the five editors listed above. A collective programmatic paper on the basic theses of biosemiotics appeared in 2009. and in 2010, an 800 page textbook and anthology, Essential Readings in Biosemiotics, was published, with bibliographies and commentary by Donald Favareau.
In 2016, Springer published Biosemiotic Medicine: Healing in the World of Meaning, edited by Farzad Goli as part of Studies in Neuroscience, Consciousness and Spirituality.
In the humanities
Since the work of Jakob von Uexküll and Martin Heidegger, several scholars in the humanities have engaged with or appropriated ideas from biosemiotics in their own projects; conversely, biosemioticians have critically engaged with or reformulated humanistic theories using ideas from biosemiotics and complexity theory. For instance, Andreas Weber has reformulated some of Hans Jonas's ideas using concepts from biosemiotics, and biosemiotics have been used to interpret the poetry of John Burnside.
In 2021, the American philosopher Jason Josephson Storm has drawn on biosemiotics and empirical research on animal communication to propose hylosemiotics, a theory of ontology and communication that Storm believes could allow the humanities to move beyond the linguistic turn.
John Deely's work also represents an engagement between humanistic and biosemiotic approaches. Deely was trained as a historian and not a biologist but discussed biosemiotics and zoosemiotics extensively in his introductory works on semiotics and clarified terms that are relevant for biosemiotics. Although his idea of physiosemiotics was criticized by practicing biosemioticians, Paul Cobley, Donald Favareau, and Kalevi Kull wrote that "the debates on this conceptual point between Deely and the biosemiotics community were always civil and marked by a mutual admiration for the contributions of the other towards the advancement of our understanding of sign relations."
- Favareau, Donald (ed.) 2010. Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary. (Biosemiotics 3.) Berlin: Springer.
- Alexandrov, Vladimir E. (2000). "Biology, Semiosis, and Cultural Difference in Lotman's Semiosphere". Comparative Literature. 52 (4): 339–362. doi:10.2307/1771352. JSTOR 1771352. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
'Biosemiotics.' This discipline focuses on the manifold possible connections between biology and semiotics, such as studying biological processes from a semiotic perspective and communication from a biological perspective, or searching for a way to theorize biological phenomena (Laubichler 'Introduction').
- On the early use of the term, see: Kull, Kalevi 2022. The term ‘Biosemiotik’ in the 19th century. Sign Systems Studies 50(1): 173–178.
- Kull, Kalevi 1999. Biosemiotics in the twentieth century: A view from biology. Semiotica 127(1/4): 385–414.
- Brentari, Carlo (2018-12-01). "From the Hiatus Model to the Diffuse Discontinuities: A Turning Point in Human-Animal Studies". Biosemiotics. 11 (3): 331–345. doi:10.1007/s12304-018-9329-8. ISSN 1875-1350. S2CID 49478848. Retrieved 2022-01-05.
- Ryan, John Charles (2012). "Passive Flora? Reconsidering Nature's Agency through Human-Plant Studies (HPS)". Societies. 2 (3): 101–121. doi:10.3390/soc2030101.
- Hayles, N. Katherine (2019). "Can Computers Create Meanings? A Cyber/Bio/Semiotic Perspective". Critical Inquiry. 46 (1): 32–55. doi:10.1086/705303. ISSN 0093-1896. S2CID 202953465.
- Witzany, G. 2006. Plant Communication from Biosemiotic Perspective. Plant Signaling & Behavior 1(4): 169-178.
- Kull, Kalevi 2000. An introduction to phytosemiotics: Semiotic botany and vegetative sign systems. Sign Systems Studies 28: 326–350.
- Maran, Timo; Martinelli, Dario; Turovski, Aleksei (eds.), 2011. Readings in Zoosemiotics. (Semiotics, Communication and Cognition 8.). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
- Kull, Kalevi 2014. Zoosemiotics is the study of animal forms of knowing. Semiotica 198: 47–60.
- Favareau, D. (ed.) (2010). Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary. Berlin: Springer.
- Kergosien, Y. (1985) Sémiotique de la Nature, IVe séminaire de l'Ecole d'automne de Biologie Théorique (Solignac, juin 1984), G. BENCHETRIT éd., C.N.R.S.
- Kergosien, Y. (1992) Nature Semiotics : The Icons of Nature. Biosemiotics : The Semiotic Web 1991, T. Sebeok et J. Umiker -Sebeok (eds), Berlin : Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 145-170
- Thom, R., (1989) Semio physics: a sketch. Redwood City, Calif. : Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
- Rosen, R. (1985) Anticipatory systems, Pergamon Press
- See an account of recent history in: Petrilli, Susan (2011). Expression and Interpretation in Language. Transaction Publishers, pp. 85–92.
- Rattasepp, Silver; Bennett, Tyler (eds.) 2012. Gatherings in Biosemiotics. (Tartu Semiotics Library 11.) Tartu: University of Tartu Press.
- Favareau, Donald 2005. Founding a world biosemiotics institution: The International Society for Biosemiotic Studies. Sign Systems Studies 33(2): 481–485.
- Kull, Kalevi; Deacon, Terrence; Emmeche, Claus; Hoffmeyer, Jesper; Stjernfelt, Frederik 2009. Theses on biosemiotics: Prolegomena to a theoretical biology. Biological Theory 4(2): 167–173,
- Goli, Farzad (2016). Biosemiotic Medicine: Healing in the World of Meaning. Studies in Neuroscience, Consciousness and Spirituality. Vol. 5. Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-35092-9. ISBN 978-3-319-35092-9.
- Tønnessen, Morten; Maran, Timo; Sharov, Alexei (2018-12-01). "Phenomenology and Biosemiotics". Biosemiotics. 11 (3): 324. doi:10.1007/s12304-018-9345-8. ISSN 1875-1350. S2CID 54020391. Retrieved 2022-01-05.
- Bristow, Tom (2010). "Phenomenology, History, Biosemiosis: Heideggerian and Batesonian Poetics in John Burnside's Post-Romantic Process Ecology". Green Letters. 13 (1): 74–94. doi:10.1080/14688417.2010.10589071. ISSN 1468-8417. S2CID 171037754. Retrieved 2022-01-05.
- Storm, Jason Ananda Josephson (2021). Metamodernism: The Future of Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-226-78665-0.
- Cobley, Paul; Favareau, Donald; Kull, Kalevi (2017). "John Deely, from the point of view of Biosemiotics". Biosemiotics. 10: 2–3. doi:10.1007/s12304-017-9291-x. S2CID 41549373.
- Cobley, Paul; Favareau, Donald; Kull, Kalevi (2017). "John Deely, from the point of view of Biosemiotics". Biosemiotics. 10: 3. doi:10.1007/s12304-017-9291-x. S2CID 41549373.
- Alexander, V. N. (2011). The Biologist’s Mistress: Rethinking Self-Organization in Art, Literature and Nature. Litchfield Park AZ: Emergent Publications.
- Barbieri, Marcello (ed.) (2008). The Codes of Life: The Rules of Macroevolution. Berlin: Springer.
- Emmeche, Claus; Kull, Kalevi (eds.) (2011). Towards a Semiotic Biology: Life is the Action of Signs. London: Imperial College Press.
- Emmeche, Claus; Kalevi Kull and Frederik Stjernfelt. (2002): Reading Hoffmeyer, Rethinking Biology. (Tartu Semiotics Library 3). Tartu: Tartu University Press.
- Favareau, D. (ed.) (2010). Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary. Berlin: Springer.
- Favareau, D. (2006). The evolutionary history of biosemiotics. In "Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis." Marcello Barbieri (Ed.) Berlin: Springer. pp 1–67.
- Hoffmeyer, Jesper. (1996): Signs of Meaning in the Universe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (special issue of Semiotica vol. 120 (no.3-4), 1998, includes 13 reviews of the book and a rejoinder by the author).
- Hoffmeyer, Jesper (2008). Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs. Scranton: University of Scranton Press.
- Hoffmeyer, Jesper (ed.)(2008). A Legacy for Living Systems: Gregory Bateson as a Precursor to Biosemiotics. Berlin: Springer.
- Hoffmeyer Jesper; Kull, Kalevi (2003): Baldwin and Biosemiotics: What Intelligence Is For. In: Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew (eds.), Evolution and Learning - The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered'. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
- Kull, Kalevi, eds. (2001). Jakob von Uexküll: A Paradigm for Biology and Semiotics. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. [ = Semiotica vol. 134 (no.1-4)].
- Rothschild, Friedrich S. (2000). Creation and Evolution: A Biosemiotic Approach. Edison, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
- Sebeok, Thomas A.; Umiker-Sebeok, Jean (eds.) (1992): Biosemiotics. The Semiotic Web 1991. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Sebeok, Thomas A.; Hoffmeyer, Jesper; Emmeche, Claus (eds.) (1999). Biosemiotica. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. [ = Semiotica vol. 127 (no.1-4)].
- Tønnessen, Morten; Maran, Timo; Sharov, Alexei (2018). "Phenomenology and Biosemiotics". Biosemiotics. 11 (3): 323–330. doi:10.1007/s12304-018-9345-8. ISSN 1875-1350. S2CID 54020391.
- International Society for Biosemiotics Studies, (older version)
- New Scientist article on Biosemiotics
- The Biosemiotics website by Alexei Sharov
- Biosemiotics, introduction (Archive.org archived version)
- Overview of Gatherings in Biosemiotics
- The S.E.E.D. Journal (Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, and Development)
- Jakob von Uexküll Centre
- Zoosemiotics Home Page