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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 29, Issue 2, 2001

Paul Bouissac
Pages 627-644

On signs, memes and MEMS
Toward evolutionary ecosemiotics

The first issue raised by this paper is whether semiotics can bring any added value to ecology. A brief examination of the epistemological status of semiotics in its current forms suggests that semiotics' phenomenological macroconcepts (which are inherited from various theological and philosophical traditions) are incommensurate with the complexity of the sciences comprising ecology and are too reductive to usefully map the microprocesses through which organisms evolve and interact. However, there are at least two grounds on which interfacing semiotics with ecology may prove to be scientifically productive: (a) the very looseness of semiotic discourse can be an important catalyser for multidisciplinary interactions, an important condition for the emergence of truly holistic ecology; (b) the present semiotic conceptual apparatus is not carved in stone. All its notions, frames of reference and types of reasoning can evolve in contact with the problems encountered in evolutionary ecological research. Semiotics, as an open-ended epistemological project, remains a proactive intellectual resource. The second issue raised by this paper is precisely to call attention to the opportunity provided by recent developments for rethinking and furthering semiotic inquiry. An attempt is made to show that counterintuitive theories such as memetics and new frontiers in teclmology such as nanotechnology, could help recast ecosentiotics along more intellectually exciting lines of inquiry than the mere rewriting of ecological discourse in terms of the traditional semiotic macroconcepts. It goes without saying that memetics and nanotechology are not presented here as definitive solutions but simply as indicative of possible directions toward a comprehensive evolutionary ecosentiotics that would radically transform the basis of the 20th century sentiotic discourse and its ideological agenda.

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