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“Every cell in our body uses signs to interpret its environment and to respond intelligently, and to respond intelligently just means to preserve itself,” says Victoria Alexander, biosemiotician, Director of Dactyl Foundation, Fulbright specialist, and author of The Biologist’s Mistress: Rethinking Self-Organization in Art, Literature, and Nature. According to Alexander, biological cells do more than just react to their environment—they interpret the signs within it and respond accordingly, much like an intelligent being.

She explains that in the world of biosemiotics, which is the study of sign use in biological systems, anything can be a sign, such as a pressure or sugar gradient, picture, word, smell, or sound. Alongside randomness and competition, Alexander argues that evolution can be explained by a system of biological cell interpretation made possible by the ability to read signs.

This leads her to the topic of her current research, which is focused on the differences between artificial and biological intelligence. For example, she ponders whether computers can be trained to interpret signs that depend on the context within which they exist, as opposed to merely identify signs.

“We have to stop treating the body like it’s a machine that just has reactions to codes in the world; the body is an organic machine, it has responses or interpretations to signs, which means it’s flexible, it can learn, it can adapt, and it can make terrible mistakes,” she adds.

Among many other topics, Alexander discusses how the placebo effect might be related to the association between properties of different stimuli, her theory on the causal nature of unexplained syndromes and conditions, and evolutionary agency. Tune in to hear all the details and check out her book on Amazon for a more in-depth investigation into all things biosemiotics.

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