Heterarchical semiosis: From signal transduction to narrative intelligibility

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This chapter intends to offer a framework for contributing to bridge the gap between biosemiotics, cognitive semiotics and, eventually, cultural semiotics. Instrumental to this bridge is the discussion about semiotic thresholds and the hierarchical organization of semiotic processes in Nature. Therefore, as a starting point I review and compare four different models of hierarchical organization of semiosis implying different semiotic thresholds. The current debate seems to put too much exclusive emphasis on evolutionary issues at the cost of paying little attention to the developmental questions in synchronous embedded semiotic processes, which are the focus of the present work. It is argued that a sound description of such processes needs to challenge a view that adheres to a strictly hierarchical organization, being preferable to opt for a heterarchical approach. What is important to map in these models of hierarchies is the continuity and/or the causal links of the increasing semiotic freedom from the lowest to the higher levels, which is then what determines not only the (evolutionary) transitions from proto intentionality and subjectivity to the full-blown versions, but also the heterarchical embeddedness of these levels which are by necessity manifested in simultaneity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Handbook of Semiotics
EditorsPeter Pericles Trifonas
Number of pages19
PublisherSpringer Science+Business Media
Publication date12 May 2015
ISBN (Print)978-94-017-9403-9
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-017-9404-6
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2015


  • Semiosis
  • Hierarchy
  • Heterarchy
  • Semiotic freedom
  • Heterarchical embeddedness
  • Representation
  • Pattern
  • Embodiment
  • Triadic causality
  • Biosemiotics
  • Cognitive semiotics


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