Mind, Agency, and Biosemiotics

Volume 19
Issue 2
Alexei A. Sharov
Development of artificial cognition, one of the major challenges of
contemporary science, requires better understanding of the nature and function of
mind. This paper follows the idea of Searle that mind is more than computation,
and explores the notion that mind has to be embodied in agency that actively
interacts with the outside world. To avoid anthropocentrism and dualism, I
develop the concept of agency using principles of biosemiotics, a new discipline
that integrates semiotics (science on signification and meaning) with biology. In
evolutionary terms, human cognition is an advanced form of agency that emerged
from simpler ancestral forms in animals, plants, and single-cell organisms.
Agency requires autonomy, informed choice, and goal-directedness. These
features imply a capacity of agents to select and execute actions based on internal
goals and perceived or stored signs. Agents are always constructed by parental
agents, except for the most simple primordial molecular-scale self-reproducing
agents, which emerged from non-living components. The origin of life coincides
with the emergence of agency and primitive communication, where signs are not
yet associated with objects, and instead used to activate or regulate actions
directly. The capacity of agents to perceive and categorize objects appeared later
in evolution and marks the emergence of minimal mind and advanced
communication via object-associated signs. Combining computation with
agential features such as goal-directedness, adaptability, and construction may
yield artificial systems comparable in some respects to human mind.

Keywords: biosemiotics, constructivism, multi-levelness, autonomy,
protosemiosis, eusemiosis, autonomous learning.