Life Processes as Proto-Narratives

Integrating Theoretical Biology and Biosemiotics through Biohermeneutics



Vegetative semiosis; Morphogenesis; Kalevi Kull; C.H. Waddington; Biosemiotics; Biohermeneutics; Process Metaphysics; C.S. Peirce;, F.W.J. Schelling, A.N. Whitehead, Anton Markos; Robert Rosen; Anticipatory Systems, Narratology, David Carr; Paul Ricoeur


The theoretical biology movement originating in Britain in the early 1930’s and the biosemiotics movement which took off in Europe in the 1980’s have much in common. They are both committed to replacing the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and they have both invoked theories of signs to this end. Yet, while there has been some mutual appreciation and influence, particularly in the cases of Howard Pattee, René Thom, Kalevi Kull, Anton Markoš and Stuart Kauffman, for the most part, these movements have developed independently of each other. Focussing on morphogenesis understood as vegetative semiosis, in this paper I will argue that the ideas of these movements are commensurate. Furthermore, synthesising them would enable us to see life processes as proto-narratives. Doing so will involve synthesising biohermeneutics, Peircian biosemiotics with Waddington’s theoretical biology and Piagetian genetic structuralism, and this, I claim, would strengthen the challenge of these traditions to mainstream biology. At the same time, this should contribute to overcoming the opposition between the sciences and the humanities, developing a broader tradition of Schellingian thought which involves developing the humanities and then demanding of the physical and biological sciences that they are consistent with and can make intelligible the emergence of humans as conceived by the humanities.

Author Biography

Arran Gare, Swinburne University


Ahl, Valeriae & T.F.H. Allen. Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary, and Epistemology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

Alexander, Christopher. The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and The Nature of the Universe, Book Four: The Luminous Ground. The Center for Environmental Structure, 2002.

Arnold, Markus, ‘Images, diagrams, and narratives: Charles S. Peirce’s epistemological theory of mental diagrams’, Semiotica, 186-1/4, 2011: 5-20.

Ash, Mitchell G. Gestalt Psychology in German Culture 1890-1967. Cambridge University Press, 1998

Barbieri, Marcello, The Organic Codes: An Introduction to Semantic Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Bergson, Henri. [1889; 1910]. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. New York: Harper & Row, 1960.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Trans. Richard Nice, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990.

Čapek, Milič. Bergson and Modern Physics. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1971.

Carr, David. Time, Narrative, and History Volume 1. (3 vols) Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pallauer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Carr, David, Charles Taylor & Paul Ricoeur, ‘Discussion: Ricoeur on Narrative’. In: On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, London: Routledge, 1991, pp.160-187.

Depew, David J. & Weber, Bruce H. Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection. MIT Press, 1996.

Eco, Umberto, A Theory of Semiotics, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.

Emmeche, Claus & Kalevi Kull. Towards a Semiotic Biology: Life is the Action of Signs. London: Imperial College Press, 2011.

Emmet, Dorothy. The Effectiveness of Causes. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Emmet, Dorothy. The Passage of Nature. Houndmills: Macmillan. 1992.

Faltynek, Dan and Ludmila Lacková, ‘In the Case of Protosemiosis: Indexicality vs. Iconicity of Proteins’, Biosemiotics, 14, 2021: 209-226.

Gare, Arran. ‘The Semiotics of Global Warming: Combating Semiotic Corruption’, Theory & Science, 9(2), Spring, 2007.

Gare, Arran. ‘From Kant to Schelling to Process Metaphysics: On the Way to Ecological Civilization’, Cosmos & History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol.7(2), 2011: 26-69

Gare, Arran. ‘Overcoming the Newtonian paradigm: The unfinished project of theoretical biology from a Schellingian Perspective’, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, 113, 2013a: 5-24.

Gare, Arran. ‘From Kant to Schelling: The Subject, the Object, and Life’. In: Objectivity after Kant: Its Meaning, its Limitations, its Fateful Omissions, Ed., Gertrudis van de Vijver and Boris Demarest. Hildesheim, Zürich; New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2013b: pp.129-140.

Gare, Arran. The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization. London: Routledge, 2017a.

Gare, Arran. ‘Chreods, Homeorhesis and Biofields: Find the Right Path for Science through Daoism’, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Issue 131, December, 2017b, 61-91.

Gare, Arran. ‘Biosemiotics and Causation: Defending Biosemiotics Through Rosen’s Theoretical Biology’, Cosmos & History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 15(1), 2019: 31-90.

Gare, Arran. ‘Henri Bergson and the Mind-Body Problem: Overcoming Cartesian Dualism’, Cosmos and History, 16(2), 2020: pp.165-181.

Gare, Arran. ‘Code Biology and the Problem of Emergence’, BioSystems, 208, 2021: 1-9.

Goodwin, Brian. Temporal Organization in Cells: A Dynamic Theory of Cellular Control Processes. London: Academic Press, 1963.

Goodwin, Brian, ‘Changing from an Evolutionary to a Generative Paradigm’. In: Evolutionary Theory: Paths into the future. Ed. J.W. Pollard. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1984. ch.4.

Goodwin, Brian and Peter Saunders (Eds.). Theoretical Biology: Epigenetic and Evolutionary Order from Complex Systems. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Goodwin, Brian. Nature’s Due: Healing Our Fragmented Culture. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2007.

Hintikka, Jaakko. Lingua Universalis vs. Calculus Ratiocinator. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1996.

Hintikka, Jaakko. Socratic Epistemology: Explorations of Knowledge-Seeking by Questioning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Ho, Mae-Wan. The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms. New Jersey: World Scientific. 2008.

Hyland, G.J. Herbert Fröhlich: A Physicist Ahead of His Time. Heidelberg: Springer, 2015.

Ji, Sungchul, ‘The Linguistics of DNA: Words, Sentences, Grammar, Phonetics, and Semantics’. In: Molecular Strategies in Biological Evolution, Vol 870, Annales of the New York Academy of Science, May, 1999: pp.411-417.

Ji, Sungchul, The Cell Language Theory: Connecting Mind and Matter. London: World Scientific, 2017.

Kauffman, Stuart, ‘Emergence and Story: Beyond Newton, Einstein and Bohr?’ Investigations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000: pp.119-140.

Kauffman, Stuart, ‘From Physics to Semiotics’. In: Issues in Science and Theology: What is Life? Ed. Dick Evers, Heidelberg: Springer, 2015: pp.3-19.

Kauffman, Stuart A. and Arran Gare, ‘Beyond Descartes and Newton: Recovering life and humanity’, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Issue 119, 2015, pp.219-244.

Köhler, Wolfgang. [1938] The Place of Value in a World of Facts. New York: Mentor, 1966.

Kull, Kalevi, ‘An Introduction to Phytosemiotics: Semiotic Botany and Vegetative Sign Systems’, Sign System Studies, 28, 2000: 326-350.

Lacková, Ludmila and Dan Faltynek, ‘The lower threshold as a unifying principle between Code Biology and Biosemiotics’, BioSystems, 210, 2021: 1-8.

Lemke, J.L. ‘Material Sign Processes and Emergent Ecosocial Organization’. In: Peter Bøgh Andersen, Claus Emmeche, Niels Ole Finnemann, Peder Voetmann Christiansen, Downward Causation: Mind, Bodies and Matter, Aarhus University Press, 2000, ch.9.

MacIntyre, Alasdair, ‘Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narratives and the Philosophy of Science’ . The Monist, 60(4), 1987: 453-472.

Markoš, Anton. Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolutionary Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Markoš, Anton ‘Towards a Darwinian Biosemiotics. Life as Mutual Understanding’. In: Marcello Barbieri (Ed.), Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis. Dordrecht: Springer, 2008.

Markoš, Anton et. al. Life as Its Own Designer: Darwin’s Origin and Western Thought, Dordrecht: Springer, 2009.

Markoš, Anton and Švorcova, Jana. Epigenetic Processes and the Evolution of Life. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2021.

Mead, George Herbert. The Philosophy of the Act. Ed. Charles W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. [1942] The Structure of Behavior. Trans. Alden L. Fisher. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963.

Nöth, Winfried, ‘Protosemiosis and physicosemiosis’, Sign System Studies, 29(1), 2001: 13-26.

Pattee, H.H. ‘Causation, Control, and the Evolution of Complexity’. In: Peter Bøgh Andersen, Claus Emmeche, Niels Ole Finnemann, Peder Voetmann Christiansen, Downward Causation: Mind, Bodies and Matter, Aarhus University Press, 2000, ch.4.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. Volume 2 (EP II.) The Peirce Edition Project. (Ed.) Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Pelkey, Jamin. ‘Peircian Semiotic for Language and Linguistics’, Bloomsbury Companion to Contemporary Peircian Semiotics. Ed. Tony Yappy, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, ch.14.

Piaget, Jean. Structuralism. Trans. Chaninah Maschler. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970.

Piaget, Jean. Insights and Illusions of Philosophy. Trans. Wolfe Mays. New York: Meridian, 1971a.

Piaget, Jean. Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations between Organic Regulations and Cognitive Processes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971b.

Piattelli-Palmarini, Massimo (Ed.). Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Prodi, Gieorgio. The Material Bases of Meaning. Trans. William N. Dodd, Tartu: Tartu University Press, 1921.

Ricoeur, Paul, Time and Narrative, Volume 1. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Ricoeur, Paul. ‘What is a Text? Explanation and Understanding’. In: A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection & Imagination. Ed. Mario J. Valdés. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1991, pp.43-64.

Rosen, Robert. Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Rosen, Robert. Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations, 2nd ed. New York: Springer, 2012.

Schelling, F.W.J. [1799] First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature. Trans. Keith Peterson. New York: SUNY Press. 2004.

Sibatani, Atuhiro. ‘How to Structuralise Biology?’ In: Dynamic Structures in Biology. Ed. Brian Goodwin, Atuhiro Sibatani and Gerry Webster, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989.

Simondon, Gilbert. Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information. Trans. Taylor Adkins. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2005.

Sperry, R.W. ‘Plasticity of Neural Maturation’. In Emergence of Order in Developing Systems. Ed. Michael Locke, N.Y. and London: Academic Press, 1968: pp.306-327.

Waddington, C.H. ‘The Practical Consequences of Metaphysical Beliefs on a Biologist’s Work: an Autobiographical Note’. In: C.H. Waddington (Ed.) Toward a Theoretical Biology: Sketches, Volume 2. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969, pp.72-81.

Waddington, C.H. ‘Cellular Oscillations and Development’. In: C.H. Waddington (Ed.) Toward a Theoretical Biology: Sketches, Volume 2. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969, pp.179-183.

Waddington, C.H. ‘Epilogue’. In: C.H. Waddington (Ed.), Biological Processes in Living Systems: Toward a Theoretical Biology, Volume 4. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1972. pp.283-289.

Webster, Gerry and Brian Goodwin. Form and Transformation: Generative and Relational Principles in Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



23-08-2022 — Updated on 31-08-2022


How to Cite

Gare, A. (2022). Life Processes as Proto-Narratives: Integrating Theoretical Biology and Biosemiotics through Biohermeneutics. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 18(1), 210–251. Retrieved from (Original work published August 23, 2022)