Tag Archives: –biosemiotics

Pathologies: Mass Hysteria and Auto-Immune Disease

Palacky University, Olomouc, Czechia
Biosemiotics Gathering June 26, 2022

Abstract My research has long been focused on trying to understand creativity from a Biosemiotic perspective. According to my theory of biosemiosis, a system is capable of intentional behavior insofar as the effect of its response to a sign tends to reinforce that type of response to that type of sign. This entrains the system to achieve its goal (it’s always sort of backward looking), but due to the flexible nature of signs, room for creative improvement exists insofar as chance structures can be harnessed as signs to achieve new goals (or same goals via new means). Significantly, the kind of chance I am looking at is not random; it is constrained by the relative similarity and relative proximity of the biological signs.

The other side of creativity by such biosemiosic means is pathology, e.g., mass hysteria, auto-immune disease, and unhealthy addictions. Óscar Castro García, J. Augustus Bacigalupi and I (2021) recently looked at the biosemiosic mechanisms underlying what could be called learned pathological behavior of slime mold. The world has lately witnessed similar kinds of pathology in the “mass formation” behavior, noted by psychologist Mattias Desmet (2022), that has arisen from propaganda related to the pandemic. Desmet’s theory is supported, I believe, by 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

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

Meno’s Stories on the Strange Recital Podcast

The Strange Recital, Episode 20021
A podcast about fiction that questions the nature of reality.

VNA reads two short stories from her collection, Chance that Mimics Choice. Stay tuned for the interview that follows the stories.

Meno’s Stories is a series of four about a paradoxical scientist who stumbles his way to discovery. This program features “Winter Flies”* and “The Walk.”

*Reproduced by permission from the Antioch Review, Vol. 77, No. 2 (Spring, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by V. N. Alexander.

Futuretech Finding Genius 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.

My Mimicry Research Translated into French: Papillons et feuilles mortes

fabulaimg-2“Butterflies and dead leaves: A Biosemiotic Approach to Nabokov’s Theory of Mimicry,” based on VN Alexander’s lecture at “Living Matter / Literary Forms”, organized at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in April 2013  by Liliane Campos, Yasna Bozhkova and Pierre-Louis Patoine. Text translated by Pierre–Louis Patoine.

Vladimir Nabokov n’a pas publié que des romans. On compte aussi à son actif plusieurs articles à propos des papillons, publiés par des journaux scientifiques. Au cours des années 1940, Nabokov est conservateur pour la section sur les papillons du Musée de zoologie comparée de l’université Harvard, et il développe une théorie – que peu prennent au sérieux à l’époque – à propos d’un groupe de papillons connu sous le nom d’Argus (Blues). Il croyait en effet que ceux‑ci avaient migré d’Europe aux Amériques via le détroit de Béring, en vagues successives, sur une période d’une dizaine de millions d’années. Cette théorie se révélera étonnamment juste, comme le démontrent en 2011 Roger Vila et son équipe, grâce au séquençage génétique. C’est cependant sans accès à l’information génétique que Nabokov formule son hypothèse. Il observe simplement le résultat de l’action des gènes et les variations structurelles différenciant un spécimen d’un autre. Ces observations lui donnent une compréhension intuitive de ce qui se passe au niveau des nucléotides (éléments de base de l’ADN), comme s’il avait pu visualiser l’image animée du développement de l’organisme et de l’évolution de l’espèce. Nabokov : une imagination magistrale, nourrie par une observation intensive. Nabokov comprenait bien les processus créatifs, le travail de cet « autre V. N., la visible nature ». Se reconnaissant dans la nature, et la reconnaissant en  More…

May 11, VN Alexander on Nabokov at Library in Rosendale, NY

rosendale WEDNESDAY, MAY 11 7 PM FREE

“Vladimir Nabokov and Insect Mimicry: The Artist as Scientist”

Victoria N Alexander

Public Scholars, NY Council for the Humanities: In collaboration with the NY Council for the Humanities, the Rosendale Public Library presents a slide/lecture on the controversial novelist and lepidopterist, Vladimir Nabokov, that reveals his insights into the mysteries of mimicry and how the scientific community responded to his studies. Fantastic images of insect mimicry will be used as examples of how important art is to good science. This event is made possible through the Public Scholars program with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.