Tag Archive: semiosis


Enchantments to come

Thoughts for a spring equinox…

Complexity theorist (and colleague of mine here at the University of Vermont) Stuart Kauffman takes stock here of the Enlightenment and sings of a re-enchantment to come.

Disenchantment and re-enchantment are long-running tropes in the intellectual currents of modernity, which I’ve frequently explored in my writing (see here for a quick synopsis of those explorations, and here for an entry point into a discussion on The Immanent Frame, one of the most intelligent blogs exploring these issues).

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alternativelife.jpg

The Biology Blog’s post on shadow biospheres intrigued me in part because I’ve been reading Charles Sanders Peirce, for whom semiosis is writ large (and small) throughout all things. Musing philosophically about the search for life on other planets, the author, cyoungbull, writes, “Unless we know how to interpret the signs of such life, we may not be able to distinguish it from the natural background.” For Peirce, signs of life are everywhere. Indeed, signs are everywhere, as are meanings, at least for those equipped to bear them. Just as for Whitehead it’s experience all the way down, for Peirce it’s semiosis all the way down. (There are other parallels between Whitehead and Peirce; more on those in a future post.) Whether we can read them or not is the question — a question made all the more poignant when they destroy homes and topple buildings, as in Haiti recently or Chile this morning.

The Bioblog piece links to an Astrobiology article on the signatures of shadow biospheres and to an old Nature article by chaophilic scientists and SF writers Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, which includes the following (entertaining) list of “canonical answers” to Enrico Fermi’s 1950 question “if intelligent aliens exist, why aren’t they here?”:

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