Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > From Physical Causes to Organisms of Meaning > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

There are no consistent causes in the organism (2)

Remember that, in a play of meaning, every new element, every new encounter, every new “word” that is expressed may shift the connotation or significance of every other element. The whole purpose of meaningful expression is to add something to what has already been said — to re-shape an existing context in light of a further meaning; otherwise, no speaking, no gesturing, would be necessary. A coherently changing context is the very substance of meaning. When a deer is grazing in a meadow, its glimpse of a vaguely canine form in the distance changes the meaning of everything from the flowers and grass the deer was eating to its own internal digestive processes to the expression of its genes. This happens, not because the distant form is exerting some strange physical force upon the deer, but because that form becomes part of a now suddenly shifted pattern of meaning.

Or (to focus on the cellular level): when a cell enters into mitosis, just about every detail of its physiology and chemistry takes on an altered meaning in light of the changing context. Similarly with a cell experiencing heat shock, oxygen deprivation or other stress, a cell coming into contact with new neighbors, or a cell proceeding along a path of embryonic differentiation. The cellular environment, as an evolving context, is continually being re-interpreted and responded to — is itself a re-interpreting and responding.

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