Biosemiotics is the idea that all life is involved in meaning making. It has been defined as ‘the study of distinctions that make organisms, what they recognize, what they intend, and what they know’. This happens at the level of single-celled organisms, which can collect information and make decisions. The plasmodium of the slime mould Physarum polycephalum, for example, is an amoeba-like cell with some surprising abilities. When presented with a maze in the lab, it can find the shortest route through it in a way that would be impossible were it only to be responding to basic environmental signals with behavioural reflexes. You could say that the plasmodium has its own perception of the world, composed of a wide array of information collected from the environment, which it evaluates and uses to make decisions for future behaviour.
from PLANTA SAPIENS by Paco Calvo & Natalie Lawrence
I read about the amazing maze-running capability of slime mould in Ways of Being, but Biosemiotics is a new word for me.
Neurodiversity, gender identity, sexual preference, politics, religion, mental illness, physical wellness. While we aim for some personal goal or societal endpoint, all of our lives seem to be lived on a spectrum. A sliding scale. A gradient. A tapestry.
What if all points on any spectrum were acceptable?
What if everything’s a spectrum? – Mediatinker
I have long thought that everything is a spectrum. Everything is on a scale. There is so much space between the end points. To think in black and white means losing out on so much differentiation. It means missing the beauty that lies in subtle gradations. Imagine a gas pedal (accelerator pedal for electric vehicles) that only has two positions: on and off. Imagine only running or standing still. Too often we look at either / or instead of that which lives in between the two.
It is at once comic and tragic, as Borges might have noted, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.
The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question. On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations.
Noam Chomsky: The False Promise of ChatGPT
Thanks to Steve for sending the article.
In Stanner’s 1956 essay, “The Dreaming”, he attempted to tease out a translation of Indigenous temporality. “The Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred, heroic time of the indefinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the present”, he suggested. “One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen.”
‘Dates add nothing to our culture’: Everywhen explores Indigenous deep history, challenging linear, colonial narratives
Meet Everywhen, my new favorite word.
Our alphabet grew out of pictograms and in some letters we can still see that development. The Q came from a pictogram of a monkey, the m came from water, the letter O came from the eye. For many thousands of years humans have tried to prove themselves apart from nature, existing in nature rather than of nature. But we have language! We are not of nature! And then another layer was added. Not just separation from nature but also separation from other humans. Many elements of language were invented purely to show that the person who could properly navigate the grammar was educated. A plural form isn’t necessary… two chair works just as well as two chairs. Most creoles do just fine without plural forms. Or the endless variations of verbs and tenses!
Language separates us from the world. Which is why almost every religion or spiritual path advises to be silent. Pema Chodron said Slow down, look out, and there’s the world.… I think I would like to amend that to Slow down, shut up, look out, and there’s the world.
I said that sometimes you have to “squint your ears”
Never Do Without You: Adding the seasoning – Anil Dash
I love that: Squint your ears.
I asked a friend in Portugal to suggest a name for the first piece I recorded in Lisbon. She suggested “Serendipity”.
I knew the meaning of “Serendipity” but not the etymology. So I looked it up.
I discovered that the word was coined by Horace Walpole, in 1754, from the Persian fairytale “The Three Princes of Serendip”. The tale tells the story of three heroes who possess an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by chance. They were magnets for lucky accidents. I also learned that the word “Serendip” is the Classical Persian name for… Sri Lanka.
The Persian tale, about princes from Sri Lanka, was published in Italian in Venice in 1557, adapted from Amir Khusrau’s Hasht-Bihisht from 1302. It was translated into English and the new word was coined. That’s an interesting journey and reminds me of the word Sapo (toad). Here is my 2001 post about Sapo. (What I didn’t know then was that the game originated in South America and traveled from there to Spain, from where the word journeyed to North America.)