Category Archives: –biosemiotics

2023 Was the Year of the ChatGPT-4 Scare. What’s Next?

2023 was the year that an artificial intelligence (AI) known as ChatGPT-4 spectacularly passed the Turing Test. For a hundred million users, interacting with the Chat bot was indistinguishable from interacting with a human being. The bot appeared to be able to understand questions and reason out competent answers.  Although its replies were sometimes vapid and sophomoric, that may have made them seem even more convincingly human.

ChatGPT is capable of processing text inputs (prompts and commands) and outputting text whose patterns have a high statistical probability of occurring after such prompts. Its apparent intelligence is a kind of magic trick insofar as the product seems similar to human reason, but it is really high-speed, brute force statistical pattern matching of words in specific contexts. (How human reason works differently will be the subject of a future essay.)  Nevertheless, the impressive performance stoked fears that AI is on the verge of becoming conscious, writing itself new and better code, and then replacing human beings as rulers of the Earth. Continue reading

Can the Cells in your Body Act Irrationally?

In The Journal of Physiology, special issue on The Physiology of Evolution, edited by Denis Noble

The Creativity of Cells: Aneural Irrational Cognition
V. N. Alexander

In “On Having no Head: Cognition throughout Biological Systems” (2016), František Baluška and Michael Levin review the literature on aneural cognition in single-celled organisms, plants, and animal tissue, all of which exhibit abilities for memory, learning, decision-making, and goal-direction. “Cognition,” they argue, need not involve neurons per se.  Cells of all kinds appear to be capable of intelligent behavior that emerges from dynamical networks that propagate signals and alter connections in response to the environment—very like neuronal activity. In fact, as Baluška and Levin conclude, neural tissue seems to have merely improved upon ancient mechanisms used by all living systems generally.

This paper extends the exploration of the mechanisms of cognition by considering whether or not aneural cells may be capable of irrational cognition, making associations based on coincidental similarities and circumstantial factors.If aneural cells do harness such semiosic qualities, as with higher-level creativity, this might be how they are able to overcome old algorithms and invent tools for new situations. Continue reading


What Can Technosemiotics Do?
May 8 @ 18:00 – 19:30 EEST
The second seminar in the Technosemiotics discussion series will explore the conceptual apparatus offered by biosemiotics and its cybernetics-inspired analytical models.

Relying on a recently published joint paper,* Victoria Alexander, Josh Bacigalupi and Òscar Castro discuss the qualitative or interpretive aspects of biological semiosis. The slime mold as a minimal cognitive organism is compared to the quantitative deep learning algorithms and their generations. The paper in question also proposes a concept of Turing systems as better artificial models for biological processes.

* Alexander, V.N., J. Augustus Bacigalupi, and Òscar Castro Garcia. 2021. “Living Systems Are Smarter Bots: Slime Mold Semiosis versus AI Symbol Manipulation.” Biosystems 206 (August): 104430.

The Perils of Coding Humans: A Response to Transhumanism

15 week live online course
Mondays at 12PM EST starting Jan 9, 2023
Instructor: Dr. V. N. Alexander

The September 12, 2022 White House Executive Order* pledges R&D funds to the biotech industry to enable it “to write circuitry for cells and predictably program biology in the same way [emphasis added] in which we write software and program computers.” We may be glad of this implied admission that the biotech industry currently cannot “predictably program biology” nor effectively “write circuitry for cells,” as demonstrated by the failure of the COVlD-19 synthetic mRNA injections. But we may also be concerned that technocrats—who believe that such advances will be possible once they “unlock the power of biological data, including through computing tools and artificial intelligence”—will continue to use us as lab monkeys as they pursue impossible goals.

Some see the issue as a battle between the ideologies of pure mechanism and spiritualism. As long as we see the problem this way, it might remain irreconcilable. In this course, we will use lessons learned from science—complex systems science, the philosophy of creativity, and Continue reading

Is counting things always more “objective”?

Social science researchers employ so-called qualitative methods, such as case studies, interviews, documentary evidence, participant observation, and the quasi-quantitative method of survey research. Physical science researchers employ quantitative methods; they take measurements, collect and count data points, and formulate equations that model how systems change. The difference in methods is said to make the social sciences more subjective compared to the hard sciences. Interdisciplinary studies departments worldwide now offer courses combining quantitative and qualitative methods as a compromise intended to resist the privileging of one method over the other. In this talk, I will argue that we’ve been coming up with answers to the wrong question. Continue reading

Free Range Humans

In my latest paper, “Free-Range Humans: Permaculture Farming as a Biosemiosic Model for Political Organization,” I apply the lessons of my field to governance and economics.  The title is a mouthful, I know, but it’s actually a pretty accessible read. I offer this as an alternative to the Great Reset, which proposes to centralize all assets under the control of a Corporate State and, essentially, make us into livestock. 

Abstract: Modern agricultural approaches attempt to substitute biological self-reinforcing networks, which naturally sustain healthy food economies, with technology that seeks to control nature — not work with it. Artificial solutions (caging, pesticides, genetic engineering) tend to address symptoms of problems that the artificial approach has itself created. The great error of modern agriculture is the assumption that Nature is not intelligent. In fact, we can learn much from natural smart technologies that far out-perform recently invented artificial “smart” technologies. These lessons can also be applied to other political and economic systems, allowing self-organization to foster creativity and intelligence in the populace at large.

Download PDF.



Slime Mold is Smarter than AI

The Next Rembrandt is a multi-million dollar project, funded in part by a Big Bank and Microsoft, which trained AI to mimic the style of the great master in order to paint a mediocre original painting (left). In this article,  J. Augustus Bacigalupi, Òscar Castro Garcia and I show how complex and sophisticated even the most primitive forms of life are as they sense and respond to their worlds.  Artificial Intelligence, in comparison, is slow-witted, boring, and completely unable to get puns or jokes, much less to make art. We caution against anyone who might argue that current AI can begin to replace human judgement in, for instance, medicine or education.  We also offer a means by which machine sensors might be designed so that they are a little bit closer the abilities of slime mold. Click to download: Living systems are smarter bots: Slime mold semiosis versus AI symbol manipulation

Continue reading

Chance the Mimics Choice published in Pangyus

I’ve working on a collection of short stories and essays about artistic creation entitled after a line from Nabokov, “chance that mimics choice, the flaw that looks like a flower.” The introduction to the collection describes my work as a philosopher of science and literary fiction author and how these two parts of my life are seamlessly interwoven.  This month the online and print journal Pangyus offers the introduction in their science section.

My work in science and art has been inspired by Nabokov and the volume will include several Nabokovian stories and essays about Nabokov’s work in lepidoptery. My science is also inspired by Alan Turing, who provided some theories about butterfly wing pattern development that I’ve used in my work on Nabokov’s theory of the evolution of mimicry, and I also need to mention Goethe, who, as the quintessential artist-scientist, plays an important role in all this too. The last story in the volume is a Faustian tale about Turing with Nabokov making a cameo appearance.

I hope you enjoy this piece.