A Short Course on Biosemiotics: 2. Evolution of natural agents: preservation, development, and emergence of functional information

Alexei A. Sharov
Laboratory of Genetics
National Institute on Aging (NIA/NIH)
Baltimore, USA
Presented in the Embryo Physics Course, April 18, 2012


The “modern synthesis” in evolutionary theory is ideologically-biased and ignores many well-described patterns and mechanisms. Biosemiotics offers an alternative interpretation of evolution by assuming that living organisms are not passive tokens sorted by Nature but active agents who select their development paths and behaviors based on functional information. Functional information is a set of signs that encode and control the functions of agents. Agents use signs to preserve and organize their functions as well as to disseminate them to other agents vertically and horizontally. Biological evolution has three major components: preservation, development, and emergence of functional information. Functional information is preserved in the encoded form and decoding is based on both simple algorithmic processes as well as complex interpretations. Development of functional information includes improvement and modification of already existing functions through genetic selection and directed changes controlled by the logic of agent behavior and embryonic development. Emergence of new functions is based on re-interpretation of already existing signs through recombining of actions, change of behavior (Baldwin effect), or cooperation (metasystem transition). The functional complexity of living organisms increased roughly exponentially and this dynamics suggests the extraterrestrial origin of life.



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