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Wendy Wheeler

This essay argues that recent developments in evolutionary biology require us to reformulate the Darwinian Synthesis which has dominated evolutionary understandings from the 1930s to Neo-Darwinism and Evolutionary Psychology in the present. Introducing the new interdiscipline of biosemiotics, which understands all living things – from cells to organisms to ecosystems – as communicative makers of meanings, the essay argues that we can understand cultural and aesthetic life both as emergent from natural biosemiotic life and also as rearticulating nature’s patterns at a new symbolic level in humans. Drawing on the semiotic philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and on Michael Polanyi’s understanding of tacit embodied knowledge, the essay suggests that the power of literature lies in its capacity to remind us of the generative power and creative evolution of semiosis, both in nature and in culture.