Towards a heterarchical approach to biology and cognition

Luis Emilio Bruni, Franco Giorgi

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In this article we challenge the pervasive notion of hierarchy in biological and cognitive systems and delineate the basis for a complementary heterarchical approach starting from the seminal ideas of Warren McCullock and Gregory Bateson. We intend these considerations as a contribution to the different scientific disciplines working towards a multilevel integrative perspective of biological and cognitive processes, such as systems and integrative biology and neuroscience, social and cultural neuroscience, social signal transduction and psychoneuroimmunology, for instance. We argue that structures and substrates are by necessity organized hierarchically, while communication processes – and their embeddedness – are rather organized heterarchically.

Before getting into the implications of the heterarchical approach and its congeniality with the semiotic perspective to biology and cognition, we introduce a set of notions and concepts in order to advance a framework that considers the heterarchical embeddedness of different layers of physiological, behavioral, affective, cognitive, technological and socio-cultural levels implicit in networks of interacting minds, considering the dynamic complementarity of bottom-up and top-down causal links. This should contribute to account for the integration, interpretation and response to complex aggregates of information at different levels of organization in a developmental context. We illustrate the dialectical nature of embedded heterarchical processes by addressing the simultaneity and circularity of cognition and volition, and how such dialectics can be present in primitive instances of proto-cognition and proto-volition, giving rise to our claim that subjectivity and semiotic freedom are scalar properties. We collate the framework with recent empirical systemic approaches to biology and integrative neuroscience, and conclude with a reflection on its implications to the understanding of the emergence of pathological conditions in multi-level semiotic systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProgress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology
Volume119
Issue number3
Pages (from-to) 481–492
Number of pages12
ISSN0079-6107
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

Fingerprint

Neurosciences
Cognition
Psychoneuroimmunology
Biological Phenomena
Systems Biology
Signal Transduction
Communication
Organizations

Keywords

  • Heterarchy
  • Hierarchy
  • Second-order emergence
  • Embeddedness
  • Cognition/volition
  • Proto-subjectivity
  • Semiotic freedom
  • Systems biology
  • Integrative neuroscience

Cite this

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Towards a heterarchical approach to biology and cognition. / Bruni, Luis Emilio; Giorgi, Franco.

In: Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology, Vol. 119, No. 3, 12.2015, p. 481–492.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Towards a heterarchical approach to biology and cognition

AU - Bruni, Luis Emilio

AU - Giorgi, Franco

PY - 2015/12

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N2 - In this article we challenge the pervasive notion of hierarchy in biological and cognitive systems and delineate the basis for a complementary heterarchical approach starting from the seminal ideas of Warren McCullock and Gregory Bateson. We intend these considerations as a contribution to the different scientific disciplines working towards a multilevel integrative perspective of biological and cognitive processes, such as systems and integrative biology and neuroscience, social and cultural neuroscience, social signal transduction and psychoneuroimmunology, for instance. We argue that structures and substrates are by necessity organized hierarchically, while communication processes – and their embeddedness – are rather organized heterarchically.Before getting into the implications of the heterarchical approach and its congeniality with the semiotic perspective to biology and cognition, we introduce a set of notions and concepts in order to advance a framework that considers the heterarchical embeddedness of different layers of physiological, behavioral, affective, cognitive, technological and socio-cultural levels implicit in networks of interacting minds, considering the dynamic complementarity of bottom-up and top-down causal links. This should contribute to account for the integration, interpretation and response to complex aggregates of information at different levels of organization in a developmental context. We illustrate the dialectical nature of embedded heterarchical processes by addressing the simultaneity and circularity of cognition and volition, and how such dialectics can be present in primitive instances of proto-cognition and proto-volition, giving rise to our claim that subjectivity and semiotic freedom are scalar properties. We collate the framework with recent empirical systemic approaches to biology and integrative neuroscience, and conclude with a reflection on its implications to the understanding of the emergence of pathological conditions in multi-level semiotic systems.

AB - In this article we challenge the pervasive notion of hierarchy in biological and cognitive systems and delineate the basis for a complementary heterarchical approach starting from the seminal ideas of Warren McCullock and Gregory Bateson. We intend these considerations as a contribution to the different scientific disciplines working towards a multilevel integrative perspective of biological and cognitive processes, such as systems and integrative biology and neuroscience, social and cultural neuroscience, social signal transduction and psychoneuroimmunology, for instance. We argue that structures and substrates are by necessity organized hierarchically, while communication processes – and their embeddedness – are rather organized heterarchically.Before getting into the implications of the heterarchical approach and its congeniality with the semiotic perspective to biology and cognition, we introduce a set of notions and concepts in order to advance a framework that considers the heterarchical embeddedness of different layers of physiological, behavioral, affective, cognitive, technological and socio-cultural levels implicit in networks of interacting minds, considering the dynamic complementarity of bottom-up and top-down causal links. This should contribute to account for the integration, interpretation and response to complex aggregates of information at different levels of organization in a developmental context. We illustrate the dialectical nature of embedded heterarchical processes by addressing the simultaneity and circularity of cognition and volition, and how such dialectics can be present in primitive instances of proto-cognition and proto-volition, giving rise to our claim that subjectivity and semiotic freedom are scalar properties. We collate the framework with recent empirical systemic approaches to biology and integrative neuroscience, and conclude with a reflection on its implications to the understanding of the emergence of pathological conditions in multi-level semiotic systems.

KW - Heterarchy

KW - Hierarchy

KW - Second-order emergence

KW - Embeddedness

KW - Cognition/volition

KW - Proto-subjectivity

KW - Semiotic freedom

KW - Systems biology

KW - Integrative neuroscience

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DO - 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2015.07.005

M3 - Journal article

VL - 119

SP - 481

EP - 492

JO - Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology

JF - Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology

SN - 0079-6107

IS - 3

ER -