Looking at life through the flow of meaning

Antony Crofts, Department of Biochemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The fluxes through which the biosphere is maintained include both those for energy and those for information. The energetic flux falls naturally into our standard thermodynamic framework. Information flow has thermodynamic components, but the semantic content cannot be assayed through standard physical measurement. It can be evaluated only in a specific context, and only through translational processing. I will show how this apparently insubstantial component can be included in serious scientific discussion, and demonstrate that recognition of this thermodynamically inaccessible element introduces new insights into topics such as biological complexity, the nature of consciousness, and the “vital force”. Some of these have been anathematized by the scientific community, but they fall naturally within the framework of a Universal Darwinism that links gene and meme through the common theme of semantic transmission, and the necessary component of semantic content.