Meaning = Life (+ Culture): An outline of a unified biocultural theory of meaning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The article presents the outlines of an integrative theory of meaning based on the concept of value, understood both as a biological and as a socio-cultural category, synthesizing ideas from evolutionary and developmental psychology, semiotics and cybernetics. The proposal distinguishes between four types of meaning systems, cue-based, associational, mimetic and symbolic, forming an evolutionary and epigenetic hierarchy. The theory is applied to phylogenetic and human ontogenetic development, pointing out significant parallels between the two processes, involving both continuity and discontinuity between the different levels. Since one of the basic tenets of the theory is that only living systems have intrinsic value, which is a necessary and sufficient condition for possessing the category meaning, negative implications are drawn for the meaning potential of (current) artificial systems.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • language, epigenesis, meaning, mimesis, robots, signs, conventions, value
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-296
JournalEvolution of Communication
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Publication categoryResearch