*reprinted with permission from Sign Systems Studies, 47 (3/4), (2019), Р.627-640.
The 19th annual Biosemiotics Gathering that took place on 1–5 July 2019, was hosted by the Philosophy Faculty of Lomonosov Moscow State University. That it was hosted by a philosophy faculty rather than a science faculty, and that it was hosted in Russia, are both significant. Biosemiotics is a challenge to mainstream biology, still struggling to gain acceptance despite the work of a great many researchers and a great many publications, along with nineteen annual biosemiotics gatherings. But it is much more than this, and this accounts for why gaining acceptance is so difficult. In Thomas Kuhn’s terminology, it is revolutionary science, not normal science. It has not yet achieved a consensus on philosophical issues, basic concepts and methods that allows its practitioners to get on with the business of puzzle solving and forget about philosophy. More importantly, it is a challenge not only to mainstream assumptions in biology but also a challenge to deeper assumptions about what counts as science, what is science, and what is the relationship between science and other cultural fields. It is also a challenge to the broader culture of modernity with its tacit acceptance of Cartesian dualism, manifest in the division between the sciences and the humanities. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate for this biosemiotics gathering to be hosted by a philosophy faculty.
Russia has been home to a long tradition of radical scientific and cultural thought, much of it attempting to advance beyond Cartesian dualism, even before the Bolshevik revolution. In the 1920s there was an explosion of radical ideas in the sciences and humanities going beyond reductionist materialism, vitalism and Idealism. Despite adverse conditions from 1930 onwards, research programmes originating at this time not only survived but advanced and had a major influence outside the Soviet Union. Until the field was suppressed in the 1930s, the Soviet Union led the world in research in ecology. Work on symbiosis by Lev Berg and others later influenced Lynn Margulis’s notion of symbiogenesis. Vladimir Vernadsky developed the notions of the biosphere and the noosphere, precursors to James Lovelock’s Gaia theory and Jesper Hoffmeyer’s notion of the semiosphere. Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s systems theory was influenced by Alexander Bogdanov’s tektology and the theoretical biology movement in Britain led by C. H. Waddington and Joseph Needham developed the notion of the morphogenetic field which originated with the Ukrainian biologist Alexander Gurwitsch.
Associate Professor, Swinburne University (Melbourne), and founder of the Joseph Needham Centre for Complex Processes (Melbourne, Australia)
Reference for citations
Gare, A. (2020). Report on the 19th Annual Gathering in Biosemiotics in Moscow. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 1(2). – URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru.