Category Archives: teleology

What is Biosemiotics?

At #8 in my Biosemiotics Series, this video is a little belated, but worth the wait.

Why do biologists refer to a something excreted by one cell and taken up by another as a signal?  Doesn’t this invest the cell with intentionality that it doesn’t really have? Why don’t biologists just refer to the process of chemical exchange as simply a chemical reaction?

A molecule passed between cells is called a “signal,” if it sets off a response that is ultimately good for both cells and/or the body they’re part of. So a signal has a function for survival and maintenance, and the cells have been evoloved by natural selection to process signals. A chemical in the body that does not have this kind of effect is not a signal.

Biosemiosis offers real explanatory power for science. It explains why people believe things that aren’t true. It explains why we can have allergic reactions to neutral things. It explains how life first emerged. It explains how meaningless things can acquire new meanings. It explains how creativity is possible. It explains why AI fails compared to Biological intelligence when it comes to adapting to contexts.

This video is based on the preface to a talk by V.N. Alexander at Moscow State University, Department of Philosophy, entitled, “Group Think: The Diffusion of Signals” at the 19th annual gathering of biosemiotics, on July 3rd 2019, Moscow, Russian Federation.

Should we let Artificial Intelligence decide for us?

“AI, Stereotyping on Steroids and Alan Turing’s Biological Turn,” by V. N. Alexander, in The Democratization of Artificial Intelligence

The fact that AI has not yet passed a Turing Test has not prevented it from being sold to the public as a superior kind of intelligence capable of handling vast amounts of data and therefore capable of making “evidence-based” decisions about human behavior. There is no basis for this claim. AI uses advanced statistics to fine-tune generalizations; it is a glorified actuary table, not an intelligent agent. At the time of his death in 1952, Alan Turing was exploring the differences between biological intelligence and his initial conception of AI. This paper focuses on those differences and sets limits on the uses to which current AI can legitimately be put.

Victoria Alexander receives Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to Russia

I am very excited to have the opportunity to do research this spring at ITMO University in St Petersburg, Vladimir Nabokov’s home and Cyber Capital of Russia.

ITMO — which stands for Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics — has recently launched a Digital Humanities Lab where I will be working with graduate students on “The Poetics of Science.” The idea is to bring the tools of the arts into science and the inspiration of science into the arts.  Nabokov famously argued that neither art nor science can be done well without the other. One of the projects I hope to be undertaking in my time there is working with programmers to design a digital simulation of butterfly wing pattern development to test Nabokov’s theory of insect mimicry.  Using non-linear mathematical techniques first developed by Alan Turing, we may be able to use our digital imaginations to discover what kinds of designs nature would be capable of creating in the absence of natural selection.

Continue reading

Futuretech Podcast

 

“In biosemiotics, we say that the human ability to interpret signs—which is the ability to think really, to think creatively and adaptively and learn new things—didn’t just emerge with animals; rudimentary sign reading emerged in the simplest forms of life with single-celled organisms,” says Victoria Alexander, biosemiotician, Director of Dactyl Foundation, Fulbright specialist, and author of The Biologist’s Mistress: Rethinking Self-Organization in Art, Literature, and Nature. Continue reading

Propaganda & Art: How we process information when we aren’t thinking

We have been hearing a lot about “fake news” and “propaganda” lately, and it is as important as ever to use our critical thinking skills. But we also need to understand how propaganda works and why it is so difficult to counteract with logic. Propaganda takes advantage of the way our brains function when we are not paying attention. When we are paying attention our analytical skills are engaged. When we are not, our brains go on processing information in a non-analytical way, using what might be called a poetic logic, based mainly upon similarities, coincidental patterns, associations, repetition, and emotion. There are sound biological reasons for this mindless type of processing, which actually helps us learn faster, retain memories longer, and make appropriate decisions without really thinking. In this presentation, we will explore how and why art and poetry may actually be more helpful in developing critical thinking skills. Art also works with the poetic logic of subconscious processing, but does so in a way that is not manipulative, deceptive or dishonest.

Free Range Humans: What Makes Good Government?

[This is a version of a talk I originally presented at the 2018 Biosemiotics conference in Berkeley last June, re-presented on Dec 9th to a Biosemiotic study group online organized by Pille Bunnell. The video is a little rough. The brilliant Qs that sparked some of my As were cut because I neglected to get permissions from all the participants beforehand. Thank you, Pille, for organizing the session.]

Synopsis Representative Democracy, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism or Anarchy? No matter what philosophy you begin with, over time political systems tend to concentrate wealth and power. Government and individual freedom should really be co-creative of one another. Why is it that we can’t seem to achieve this? As a biosemiotician, I have learned that creative and intelligent behavior emerge in complex systems when individuals have semiotic freedom and enabling constraints. Government/culture should provide the enabling constraints (language, tradition, borders, laws, courts, currency, public buildings, hospitals, schools, mass transportation, energy and communication networks) but the people making use of those constraints should have the semiotic freedom (i.e., the ability to interpret rules and even misinterpret rules) to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and enjoy/suffer the consequences.

Alexander selected to serve on Fulbright Specialist roster, 2018-2020

Victoria Alexander has been selected for a three-year term as a Fulbright Specialist, available to serve institutions in over 150 countries worldwide. Alexander is an expert in Vladimir Nabokov’s non-gradualist approach to the evolution of insect mimicry.

“As the number of students interested in arts and humanities programs declines worldwide, my work has focused on showing how these disciplines are vital to developing critical and creative thinking skills. My specialty, biosemiotics (the study of signaling and sign-use in living systems), combines the fields of poetics, complexity science, philosophy of language, aesthetics, and biology to investigate the nature of creativity, adaptation, learning, and intentionality.”

The Fulbright Specialist program is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and World Learning, Non-US institutions interested in hosting Dr. Alexander can apply at https://fulbrightspecialist.worldlearning.org/eligibility-host-institutions/