Volume 15 · Number 2 · Pages 122–134
A Critique of Barbieri’s Code Biology

Alexander V. Kravchenko

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Context: The key semiotic notion of interpretation as involving an organism’s adaptive response to the environment poses a problem for some biosemiotic theories. Code biology, or the study of “(organic) codes of life” - a theoretical framework developed by Marcello Barbieri - discards interpretation as irrelevant for semiosis, and views coding as the sole mechanism of semiosis in the organic world. Problem: This article offers a critique of such an approach, showing that the concept of “code” as a one-to-one correspondence between two sets of objects (sign vehicles) cannot explain living organization, which is based on relational dynamic properties. Method: The assumptions and metaphors employed by code biology are analyzed and critiqued. Results: When relational dynamic properties of living systems are seen as sets of arbitrary rules “selected” from a potentially unlimited number to “ensure” a specific correspondence between two “independent worlds of objects,” we are faced with a homuncular explanation in which lower-level components exhibit properties that are no simpler than those they are purported to explain. Implications: Rather than ignore the problem of interpretation, a comprehensive biosemiotic theory should approach it from a different perspective, focusing on its relational nature.

Key words: Semiosis, code biology, sign, information, interpretation, emergence, language, metaphor, epistemology.

Handling Editor: Alexander Riegler (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)


Kravchenko A. V. (2020) A critique of barbieri’s code biology. Constructivist Foundations 15(2): 122–134. https://constructivist.info/15/2/122

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