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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 29, Issue 1, 2001

Jesper Hoffmeyer
Pages 277-290

S/E ≥ 1
A semiotic understanding of bioengineering

Natural (non-cultivated) systems are nmed to economize their use of energy as much as possible, and thereby to produce minimal amounts of entropy. It is suggested that this has been obtained by optimizing the evolutionary creation of semiotic controls on all processes of life. As long as biological (ultimately photosynthetic) energy sources satisfied most human needs for energy consumption, these biosemiotic controls remained largely undisturbed, with the result that production systems remained sustainable. The industrial revolution instantiated a ruphure of this balanced situation. The semiotic control function (S) would no longer match the size of the energy flow (E). In the industrial production system, energy flows have dramatically been increased, while the S component has not been taken care of. This has created a dangerously low S/E ratio, and it is suggested that this low S/E ratio constitutes a fundamental explanation of the environmental crisis. In order to restore a sustainable production system, we will now have to develop technological means for a strong increase in the S factor of the production system. It is suggested that this can be obtained through a development of considerate, gentle, and clever forms of biosemiotic technology.

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