The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 24, Issue 1/3, 2008


Luis Emilio Bruni
Pages 57-73

Semiotic Freedom
Emergence and Teleology in Biological and Cognitive Interfaces

The emergence of organic, metabolic, cognitive and cultural codes points us to the need for a new kind of explanatory causality, and a different kind of bio-logic — one dependent on, but different from, the deterministic logic derived from mechanical causality, and one which can account for the increase in semiotic freedom which is evident in the biological hierarchy. Building upon previous work (Bruni 2003), in this article I provide a stipulative definition of semiotic freedom and its relation to causality in biological and cognitive systems. To do so, I will first discuss the close relation that triadic causality and semiotic freedom have to the notions of teleology and emergence, and how the latter two are interrelated in living systems. I pinpoint some of the reservations that these notions have encountered in the history of science (including evolutionary biology and cognitive science), but stress also their necessity in the study of any given biological and cognitive system. I draw a distinction between horizontal and vertical emergence in order to arrive at a notion of ‘second order emergence’ that affords us a more viable definition of semiotic freedom. I will then attempt to show that all of these concepts are of paramount importance when we come to study processes of sensing, perception and cognition at any level of a living system. Accordingly, these ideas are part of a framework-in-development to research the scale of thresholds of semiotic freedom, by assuming a top-down approach i.e., by starting from the highest levels of semiotic freedom and cognitive processes, and exploring how those processes disaggregate into lesser degrees of freedom. I thus hope to bridge the gap between those levels from above.