The circulation of meaning: A biosemiotic perspective on the functional circle

By: Nicola Zengiaro


Volume: 09
Issue: 02:Winter 2023
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2023.0026
Pages: 209-225
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Functional circle
Jakob von Uexküll
Umwelt theory



The research field of contemporary biosemiotics is heir to the thought of Jakob von Uexküll, who focused on investigating the subjective world of animals. The Estonian biologist’s theory showed how sense-motor organisms’ perceptual and operational worlds are expressed in coordination based on signification. The umwelt comprises the interwoven relationship between organisms’ operational and perceptual marks. In this sense, the ‘functional circle’ notion has particularly interested investigations in biosemiotics. According to Uexküll, the functional circle is a general pattern that underlines the relationship between any animal and the world. Thus, the relationship between the subject and the world can only occur through recursiveness that constructs a semiotic signifying circle. The circulation of meaning has ripple effects concerning recursiveness: memory, anticipation, perception, and learning. The semiotic circle is thus the condition of possibility for experience, perception, and movement in the world. This article aims to analyze the idea of circularity within the research field of biosemiotics, with particular attention to Uexküll’s legacy, which is also carried on by cybernetics. Also, we will try to show how biosemiotics investigates the emergence of meaning in this signifying circle. The main aim is to show that recursiveness and circulation of meaning originate from a cognitive semiosis of a corporeal type.


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