Evolution of Natural Agents: Preservation, Advance, and Emergence of Functional Information

Biosemiotics 9 (1):103-120 (2016)
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Abstract

Biological evolution is often viewed narrowly as a change of morphology or allele frequency in a sequence of generations. Here I pursue an alternative informational concept of evolution, as preservation, advance, and emergence of functional information in natural agents. Functional information is a network of signs that are used by agents to preserve and regulate their functions. Functional information is preserved in evolution via complex interplay of copying and construction processes: the digital components are copied, whereas interpreting subagents together with scaffolds, tools, and resources, are constructed. Some of these processes are simple and invariant, whereas others are complex and contextual. Advance of functional information includes improvement and modification of already existing functions. Although the genome information may change passively and randomly, the interpretation is active and guided by the logic of agent behavior and embryonic development. Emergence of new functions is based on the reinterpretation of already existing information, when old tools, resources, and control algorithms are adopted for novel functions. Evolution of functional information progressed from protosemiosis, where signs correspond directly to actions, to eusemiosis, where agents associate signs with objects. Language is the most advanced form of eusemiosis, where the knowledge of objects and models is communicated between agents.

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