Abstract: WESS Conference (Washington Evolutionary Systems Society), May 1988, Georgetown

Panel: Evolutionary Philosophy, Information and Semiotics (S. Salthe, organizer)

Topological Semiosis and the Evolution of Meaning in Ecosocial Systems

J L Lemke

The multi-level self-organizing systems which humans cohabit with soils, streams, sewers, crops, pets, pests, and pollutants are simultaneously social-semiotic and material-ecological networks of interdependent processes and practices. These ecosocial systems are ecosystems whose dynamics are highly specified by the role of meaning categories and values in human cultural practices which bias the couplings among many of the material processes which constitute the emergent organization of the system on multiple levels.

How did ecosocial systems with discrete semiotic couplings evolve from precursor systems with underlying continuum dynamics? i.e. what pathways of emergence of critical roles in system dynamics for qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, differences have led to what kinds of new emergent properties in ecosocial systems? What are the evolutionary precursors of categorial, value-based, meaning-dependent choices and actions in ecosocial systems, and what are the generic consequences of such semiotic couplings for system dynamics?

If we extend currently dominant models of semiosis, which focus on practices that construct categorial or "typological" meaning, to include also forms of meaning-by-degree -- quantitative, spatial-kinetic, visual-relational, "topological" meanings -- then the conceptual and evolutionary gaps between continuum dynamics and discrete values, between physical information and cultural meaning can more easily be bridged in evolutionary theories of the emergence of qualitatively new system behaviors.