Alfred Lang

University of Bern, Switzerland

The Evolutive Semiotic Function Circle -- Some Remarks Elucidating the Emblem
The following diagram schematically represents the essence of semiotic ecology and therefore is used as an emblem.

The diagram depicts an ecosystem, i.e. a living being together with its environment (Umwelt) in the surrounding world at large and indicates the sequencing of structure formating processes within that system. The idea is to conceive of the totality of the animal and human condition as a becoming or evolving universe consisting of a changing constellation of concrete structures formed, modified, actualized or demised altogether by interaction among some of the existing structures. Over time this results in changes both in the living and the environmental subsystems and this changes their place in the larger surround. The latter relation is not diagrammed.

Note that the diagram essentially depicts a concrete ecosystem at a specific time stretching over one sequence of the four essential interactional phases that constitute the system's continuous becoming: interactions between and within the organismic and the environmental subsystems. The diagram is, of course, intended to depict the general structure and process of ecosystems that is characteristic of all ecosystems however simple or complicated they are. The same diagram may also present a general schema of the ecological system, such as in the present context; this should be taken into account inferring from the specific context.

These interactions are in fact transactions insofar they results in gradual changes of structures throught a sort of "dialogue". Ecologically the basic transaction is between living organisms or their parts and selected parts of the subset of their surrounds which are their environments. These transactions are mutual and, over time, constitute and regulate these two major parts of any ecosystem, the individual and its environment. However, the "dialogue" is progressive while dialoguing entities _____exchange, levels____ Formations and reformations go in both directions and thus come about within the organismic and in the environmental subsystems of the ecosystem. Note that any organism constitutes and is constituted and regulated by its proper environment.

In what respect and extent the involved structures are active or passive is an empirical question and should not be presupposed by defintion, if this is a meaningful question at all. While there are processes among structures entirely within the individual and entirely within its environment, in all transactional processes are based by an encounter of structures from both subsystems. Semiotic ecology as a theory operates on the concrete or singular process and concrete or singular structure level. This conception of dialogical evolution (in contradistinction to what is often called "self-organisation") is well known in the biotic domain; in semiotic ecology it is transformed into an abstract principle and then generalized to cover all evolution. In particular, it deals with interweaving of biotic, individual and cultural evolutions.

In the diagram which refers on the type level to all singular concrete ecosystems in operation, the organismic subsystem is represented by the upper reddish background, its environmental subsystem by the lower greenish background. Any particular ecosystem singled out occurs naturally within the larger surround or universe which may be seen represented in the rest of the webpage on screen or paper.

The semiosic arrow (Ref - Int - Pre) represents the triad of entitites involved in any process conceivable in any ecosystem. It combines into an inseparable process unit the three roles partaking in any transaction: a Referent (indicated by the circle), an Interpretant (indicated by a ribbon) and a Presentant (indicated by a rhombus). The semiosic arrow represents the process of a referent structure being transcribed by an interpretant structure into a presentant structure. The presentant incorporates thus the referent in the light of the the interpretant. The semiosic arrow symbolizes the basic causation or condition-effect process of any evolution: an encounter of A and B resulting in C. It is to be distinguished from the common linear notion of causation of an active A affecting a passive B. Linear causation is a special case of triadic causation; triadic causation or generation cannot be thought of as composed of linear causation.

This type of process covers all transactions in the ecosystem. It pertains to transaction between organisms and their environment in both directions (extro and intro) and also comprises change within organisms (intra) and within the environmental subsystem (extra) of all ecosystems. These four classes of semiosis actually occur in sequence and readily form the four phases of the function circle comprising the sum total of relations between organisms and their environment if seen as laid out in time.

IntrO-Processes: Structure formation and modification processes of the organismic (sub)system itself result from encounters of a particular organismic (sub)structure with some suitable or affine environmental structure; organisms themselves and their understanding of and memories about and their action potentials in dealing with their environment etc. are formed that way. In terms of semiotic ecology: some organismic subsystem interprets (IntrO-Int) some environmental reference structure (IntrO-Ref) into some new, modified, or actualized internal structure (IntrO-Pre).












Referent, Presentant





Semiotic Ecology always deals with concrete discernible systems evolving within a larger environmental setting, of which the observer/researcher naturally is a part. The upper part reddish background in the diagram points to such target system singled out by the researcher for consideration. Usually it is a living organism or other symbolizing system existing over time, in particular a human person. The target system is always seen as a subsystem to its environmental system here represented by the lower part greenish background. The target system and its proximate environment (in the Uexküllian sense of Umwelt) are evolving, and therefore virtual systems not fully definable. Together they form what is called the particular ecological system; it is determined by the means and ways the two subsystems can specifically interact with each other.The ecological system is itself part of the environment at large which may be thought of as represented by the space surrounding it. This altogether forms the individual-environment- or ecologica relation in its static or structural aspect.

The dynamic or process aspect is represented in the diagram by the function circle and it four phases of semiosic structure formation. Each phase consists of a triadic semiosis including a Reference, and Interpretance, and a Presentance. The IntrA-Semiosis phase (top horizontal semiosic arrow pointing to the right in green) stands for the internal or psychological process in the traditional narrow sense. ExtrO-Semiosis (right down arrow in blue) points to the executive or acting phase. ExtrA-Semiosis (lower arrow in red) refers to the processes of social, physical, or cultural processes in the environment which are not immediately under control of the individual. IntrO-Semiosis (left upgoing arrow in yellow), finally, stands for the receptive or perceptual phase leading to structure formation within the individual under influence from the environment.