Semiotic individuation. From amoebae to humans
The concept of individuation has suffered from being mostly connected to Jungian psychology or nominalist philosophy*. In this paper individuation will be understood rather as a process, a series of stages (morphological and/or cognitive) that an organism passes through during its lifespan. In most species individuation is restricted to a shorter period in early life, as when birds acquire their species specific songs, while in humans - and a few other species of birds or mammals (although to a much lesser degree) - individuation is a life-long open-ended process. In this understanding individuation becomes narrowly connected to learning and since learning necessarily depends on what is already learned the trajectory of learning-based individuation is necessarily indefinite and dependent on the concrete chance events or steps whereby the process has proceeded. Semiotic individuation is a historical process, and this fact explains why systems biology** has not been capable of meeting the hope expressed already by Ernst Cassirer of bridging the mechanicist-vitalist gap in biology. Instead a semiotic approach is called for.
Human individuation, however, is special in a very important sense: languaging implies that humans from the earliest childhood inescapably become entangled in an 'as-if-world', a virtual reality, a story about whom we are and how our life now and here belongs in our life-history as well as in the greater pattern of the world around us. Human individuation thus is a double-tracked process consisting in an incessant reconciliation or negotiation between the virtual reality, we have constructed in our minds, and mind-independent reality as it impresses itself upon our lives. Human life cannot therefore be given by its uniqueness as a particular genetic combination, but must be defined rather by its uniqueness as a temporary outcome of semiotic individuation. This double-tracked character of human semiotic individuation implies that it is cast as just one particular outcome of a combinatorics with an infinite number of possible outcomes. It is suggested that our ingrained feeling of possessing a free will is buried in this fact.
Ernst Cassirer (1950 ): The Problem of knowledge. Philosophy, Science, and History since Hegel New haven and London, Yale University Press, p. 329
Hoffmeyer, J. (2008). Biosemiotics. An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs. University of Scranton Press, p. 329.
* A noteworthy exception is the concept of individuation developed by Gilbert Simondon
** as ustabilhed by Ludwig van Bertalanffy