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The Relationship between Autopoiesis Theory and Biosemiotics: On Philosophical Suppositions as Bases for a New Information Theory
Published: 04 July 2010 by MDPI in The 4th International Conference on the Foundations of Information Science session FIS 2010
Abstract: This paper discusses methodological issues related to a possible framework for a unified theory of information. The question we would like to ask here is what kind of philosophical suppositions are important as bases for a new information theory. We concentrate on the relationship between systems theory and semiotics, or to put it more concretely, the relationship between autopoiesis theory and biosemiotics. These theories give rise to two decisive viewpoints that seem potentially contradictory and consequently provoke a fruitful controversy which is conducive for the consideration of philosophical suppositions vital for a new information theory. As the first step in our analysis, we examine the cybersemiotics of Søren Brier and Fundamental Informatics (FI) of Toru Nishigaki, which are both oriented to systems theory and semiotics and look toward a new fundamental theory of information. It is pointed out that cybersemiotics eventually takes a pan-semiotic view; FI, on the contrary, is mainly based on systems theory. Next, we reveal the potential problem between systems theory and semiotics through a discussion on the treatment of the notion of information in the early autopoiesis theory. The standpoint of autopoiesis theory is fundamentally different from the standpoint of biosemiotics. The former presumes that life just keeps operating and has no concern with the difference between inside and outside of itself, whereas the latter presumes that life distinguishes its environment as the other from itself and acts autonomously. This corresponds to the gap between mechanical views on life and semiotic views on life, and constitutes an aporia of views on life. Nevertheless, a way to overcome this contradiction can be found in systems theory itself. Although semiotic explanations are evaluated as merely arbitrary views of an observer in autopoiesis theory, we have to remind ourselves of the relativity of observing that is the most important epistemological feature of second-order cybernetics and autopoiesis theory. Since any distinction implies the work of an observer, it is impossible to strictly distinguish systemic phenomenology from our description, nor can we insist that either explanation has an intrinsically superior status. Some philosophical suppositions vital for a new information theory are derived from this discussion. The following three points are given in our context as basic principles: epistemology rather than ontology, constructivism rather than metaphysics, meta-theoretical recursiveness rather than linear consistency. These three suppositions have some affinity to the features of second-order cybernetic systems theory, but we can also see similar features in certain aspects of semiotics.