Biosymbols: Symbols in Life and Mind


The strong continuity thesis postulates that the properties of mind are an enriched version of the properties of life, and thus that life and mind differ in degree and not kind. A philosophical problem for this view is the ostensive discontinuity between humans and other animals in virtue of our use of symbols—particularly the presumption that the symbolic nature of human cognition bears no relation to the basic properties of life. In this paper, we make the case that a genuine account of strong continuity requires the identification of some sort of correlate of symbol-use in basic life properties. Our strategy is three-fold: 1) we argue that examples of proto-symbolism in simple living systems would be consistent with an evolutionary trajectory that ultimately produced symbolic cognition in humans; 2) we introduce Gordon Tomkins’ biological notion of ‘symbol’ as something that represents to the organism a feature of its environment that is significant to its survival; and 3) we employ this biological understanding of symbol-use to suggest that the symbolic nature of human cognition can be understood as an enriched version of the basic symbolic properties of life, thus preserving life-mind continuity in this context.

DOI: 10.1007/s12304-009-9066-0

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@article{Swan2009BiosymbolsSI, title={Biosymbols: Symbols in Life and Mind}, author={Liz Stillwaggon Swan and Louis J. Goldberg}, journal={Biosemiotics}, year={2009}, volume={3}, pages={17-31} }