On the notion of induced semiosis, with emphasis on anthropogenic semiosis
Morten Tønnessen, Associate professor at University of Stavanger
In this presentation Sharov’s notion of induced semiosis (“Functional information: Toward synthesis of Biosemiotics and Cybernetics” in Entropy 12: 1050–1070), which represents a valuable contribution to biosemiotic vocabulary, will be analysed and a further development of the term suggested. According to Sharov agents, which are either living organisms or their products, “are defined as systems with goal-directed programmed behaviour” (1052), and semiosis “can be inherited or induced by higher-level agents” (1050). In Sharov’s conception, induced semiosis concerns sign exchange which is induced (initiated) by some higher-level agent for some purpose. The various forms of anthropogenic induced semiosis can in the perspective of human ecology (aka ecosemiotics) be considered as constituting a further effectory layer in humankind’s control system qua global species. Non-human agents involved in such sign exchange are generally only vicariously goal-directed – it is our goals they are set to pursue.
But what about the myriad of cases in which biosemiotic sign exchange is triggered by our global civilization but not intended by any human agent? Is not such semiosis induced (and anthropogenic) as well? We thus have to distinguish between induced semiosis qua communicative system triggered by some intending agent and induced semiosis as triggered by the activity of some communicative system but not intended by its controlling agents. This latter kind, enveloping a variety of unintended consequences, is arguably an equally informative measure of our ecological impact.