Baltic accent

2022 Vol. 13 №2

Back to the list Download the article

Semio-poiesis: on the birth of the semiosphere from the biosphere



The article discusses a possible development of Yuri Lotman’s concept of semiosphere by supplementing it with the idea of semio-poiesis. Analysis of the processes of origination, evo­lution and functioning of the genetic code makes it possible to describe the main mechanisms of these processes. The associations of material phenomena (in this case nucleotides and amino acids) led to the establishment of semiotic links, resulting in mechanisms of information stor­age and transmission, allowing the creation of stable life forms. The increasing complexity of organization leads to the crystallization of informational and semiotic origins. Semio-poiesis, a recursive autoreference of the semiotic system, becomes a form of organization of the bio­world, where such parameters as sense and purpose become determinative. Such an under­standing of these processes makes it possible to develop Lotman’s concept of the semiosphere and, firstly, to confirm his assumptions that semiosis can be preceded only by a previous se­miotic form, and, secondly, to show the original mechanisms of semiosphere self-organization and autonomous functioning. The very dualism of the genetic code, its simultaneous biochem­ical and linguosemiotic organization, and the processes of gene expression can be compared with what Lotman considered to be the basic principle of semiosphere functioning — the in­teraction of oppositely organized heterogeneous mechanisms.


Barbieri, M., 1981. The Ribotype Theory on the Origin of Life. Journal of Theoreti­cal Biology, 91, pp. 545—601.

Barbieri, M., 2008. The Code Model of Semiosis: The First Steps Toward a Scien­tific Biosemiotics. The American Journal of Semiotics, 24 (1—3), pp. 23—37.

Barbieri, M., 2012. Codepoiesis — the deep logic of life. Biosemiotics, 5 (3), pp. 297—299.

Carter, Ch. W., Jr., Wills, P. R., 2021. Reciprocally-Coupled Gating: Strange Loops in Bioenergetics, Genetics, and Catalysis. Biomolecules, 11 (2), 265. doi: https://doi. org/10.3390/biom11020265.

Chebanov, S. V., 1999. Biohermeneutics and hermeneutics of biology. Semiotica, 127 (1—4), pp. 215—226. doi:

Deacon, T., 2011. Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Eigen, M., 1971. Self-organization of matter and the evolution of biological mac­romolecules. Naturwissenschaften, 58, pp. 465—523. doi: BF00623322.

Hoffmann, G. W., 1975. The stochastic theory of the origin of the genetic code. Annual Review of Physical Chemistry, 26, pp. 123—144.

Hoffmeyer, J., 1998. The Unfolding Semiosphere. In: G. van de Vijver, S. Salthe and M. Delpos, eds. Evolutionary Systems: Biological and Epistemological Perspectives on Selection and Self-Organization. Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 281—293.

Hoffmeyer, J., 2007. Semiotic scaffolding of living systems. In: M. Barbieri, ed. In­tro­duction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 149—166.

Kel’bert, O. Ya., Trunin, M. V. and Uspenskii, B. A., 2016. Yu. M. Lotman — B. A. Uspenskii. Perepiska 1964—1993 [Yu. M. Lotman — B. A. Uspensky. Correspondence 1964—1993]. Tallinn (in Russ.).

Koonin, E. V., Novozhilov, A. S., 2017. Origin and Evolution of the Universal Ge­ne­tic Code. Annual Review of Genetics, 51, pp. 45—62.

Kotov, K., 2002. Semiosphere: A Chemistry of Being. Sign Systems Studies, 30 (1), pp. 41—55.

Kotov, K., Kull, K., 2011. Semiosphere is the Relational Biosphere. In: C. Em­meche and K. Kull, eds. Towards a Semiotic Biology: Life is the Action of Signs. London: Imperial College Press, pp. 179—194.

Kull, K., 1999. Towards biosemiotics with Yuri Lotman. Semiotica, 127, pp. 1—4.

Kull, K., 2015a. A semiotic theory of life: Lotman’s principles of the universe of the mind. Studies in Ecocriticism, 19 (3), pp. 255—266. doi: 14688417.2015.1069203.

Kull, K., 2015б. Evolution, choice, and scaffolding: Semiosisis changing its own buil­ding. Biosemiotics, 8, pp. 223—234. doi:

Kull, K., Maran, T., 2021. Juri Lotman and Life Sciences. A Semiotic Theory of Culture. In: M. Tamm and P. Torop, eds. The Companion to Juri Lotman: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 461—475.

Lewontin, R. C., 1983. The Organism as the Subject and Object of Evolution. Scien­tia, 77 (18), pp. 65.

Lotman, M., 2002. Umwelt and Semiosphere. Sign Systems Studies, 30 (1), pp. 33—40.

Lotman, Yu. M., 1984. On semiosphere. Trudy po znakovym sistemam [Sign Sys­tems Studies], 17. Tartu, pp. 5—23 (in Russ.).

Lotman, Yu. M., 1989. Culture as a subject and an object to itself. Wiener Slawis­ti­scher Almanach, 23, pp. 187—197 (in Russ.).

Lotman, Yu. M., 1992. Brain — text — culture — artificial intelligence. In: Izbran­nye stat’i: v 3 t. T. 1: Stat’i po semiotike i tipologii kul’tury [Selected articles: in 3 vols. Vol. 1: Articles on semiotics and typology of culture]. Tallinn: Alexandra, pp. 25—33 (in Russ.).

Lotman, Yu. M., 1996. Vnutri myslyashchikh mirov. Chelovek — tekst — semiosfera — istoriya [Inside thinking worlds. Man  text  semiosphere  history]. Moscow (in Russ.).

Lotman, Yu. M., 2000. Semiosfera [Semiosphere]. St. Petersburg (in Russ.).

Lotman, Yu. M., 2022. Lecture at Tartu State University, March 13, 1981. Baltic accent, 13 (2), pp. 10—23 (in Russ.).

Luhmann, N., 1990. Essays on self-reference. New York: Columbia University Press.

Markoš, A., 2002. Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolu­tionary Biology. Oxford University Press.

Markoš, A., 2004. In the quest for novelty: Kauffman’s biosphere and Lotman’s semiosphere. Sign Systems Studies, 32 (1/2), pp. 309—327.

Markoš, A., 2014. Biosphere as Semiosphere: Variations on Lotman. Sign Systems Studies, 42 (4), pp. 487—98.

Maturana, H. R., Varela, F. J., 1980. Autopoiesis and cognition. Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing.

Monod, J., 1971. Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology. Fontana.

Nöth, W., 2006. Yuri Lotman on metaphors and culture as self-referential semio­spheres. Semiotica, 161, pp. 249—263. doi:

Nöth, W., 2015. The topography of Yuri Lotman’s semiosphere. International Jour­nal of Cultural Studies, 18 (1), pp. 11—26.

Pattee, H., 2007. The necessity of biosemiotics: Matter-symbol complementarity. In: M. Barbieri, ed. Introduction to biosemiotics. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 115—132.

Peirce Ch. S., 1976. Parts of Carnegie Application (L 75). In: Ch. S. Peirce, ed. The New Elements of Mathematics. Vol. 4: Mathematical Philosophy. Mouton Publisher, pp. 13—73.

Peirce, Ch. S., 1933. Vol. 4: The simplest mathematics. In: Ch. Hartshorne and P. Weiss, eds. Collected papers: in 8 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Prodi, G., 1988. Material bases of signification. Semiotica, 69 (3—4), pp. 191—242. doi:

Ratner, V. A., 2000. Chronicle of the Great Discovery: Ideas and Faces. Priroda [Nature], 6, pp. 22—30 (in Russ.).

Wills, P. R., 2014. Genetic Information, Physical Interpreters and Thermodynam­ics; The Material-Informatic Basis of Biosemiosis. Biosemiotics, 7, pp. 141—165. doi:

Wills, P. R., 2019. Reflexivity, coding and quantum biology. Biosystems, 185. doi:

Woese, C. R., 1969. Models for the Evolution of Codon Assignments. Journal of Molecular Biology, 43, pp. 235—240.

Zolyan, S., 2021. On the context-sensitive grammar of the genetic code. Biosys­tems, 208, pp. 104497. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2021.104497.

Zolyan, S., Zdanov, R., 2018. Genome as (hyper)text: From metaphor to theory. Semiotica, 6, pp. 1—18. doi:

Zolyan, S. T., 2021а. Semiopoesis: Formation of Meaning in Molecular Genetics and Biosemiotics. Kritika i semiotika [Critique and Semiotics], 1, pp. 57—77 (in Russ.).

Zolyan, S. T., 2021б. The Origin of the Genetic Code Sub Specie Semioticae. Me­tod: Moskovskii ezhegodnik trudov iz obshchestvovedcheskikh distsiplin [Method: Moscow Yearbook of Social Studies], 11, pp. 119—135 (in Russ.).

Zolyan, S., 2022. From Matter to Form: the Evolution of the Genetic Code as Se­mio-Poiesis. Semiotica, 245, pp. 17—61. doi: