Squids, Elements of Technozoosemiotics

Squids, Elements of Technozoosemiotics. A Lesson in Fabulatory Epistemology of The Scientific Institute For Paranatural Research is an essay by Louis Bec published in "TechnoMorphica," 1997.

1. Fabulatory epistemology involves introducing into the domain of knowledge the inventive, imaginary dimensions of face-to-face discussion, in a way that sends out their multiple reflections and endlessly reinvents their meaning.

A machine picks up in its own code a code fragment from another machine
G. Deleuze & F. Guattari

As a paranaturalist zoosystemician, I'm haunted by squids 2 (Superconducting QUantum Interference Devices). I tend to describe these objects as "pseudo-machines" that have undergone a curious theoretical and technical "naturalization" process. These acronymic 3 pseudo-machines are to my mind unclassifiable in current physical, mental, biological and communicatory terms, but I believe them to be gifted with strange powers, being able to compress the heterogeneous, chimerize the disparate, superfluidify communication and pervert the parameters on which the modeling of aliveness in artificial life depends.

2. Electronic devices using superconductors, squids are used as magnetic field detectors.
3. Acronym: word formed from the initial letters of other words.

They present as epistemological nodes uniting the "near-technique of aliveness and the near-aliveness of technique" and provide the signs of a new relationship between the machine and nature.

  1. Could these pseudo-machines take the form of an "enriched near-aliveness," producing a meaning "surplus" in technically bolstered living matter?
  2. Could they be produced by biotechnical artifacts which rechannel their functional mechanisms into the creation of a curious feedback loop leading to a "cybernatured" aliveness?
  3. What kind of mutagenic agent would make the transit in this shift from cognitive organism to technological device? Contaminated information?
  4. What exactly is the nature of these underlying "embryo-technological" functions? Could they be pre-adaptive agents, encysted within organic functions and stealthily putting future permutations out of phase?

The presence of these pseudo-machines gives rise to a number of considerations in the fabulatory epistemology field:

  • We are in the process of abandoning a "paradigm" that takes the technical artifact as an aid principle for the biochemically and biophysically alive and for an ecosystemically given natural setting.
  • The strategies for maintaining the viability of the alive and of its natural setting are thus out of phase.
  • The old methodologies now seem inappropriate and in some cases obsolete. However, via different assistance programs, they still allow biotechnology, artificial organs, behavioral robotics, artificial ecosystems and so on ... to compensate for shortcomings and disturbances.
  • The machine/nature relationship is now being built around a "Technobiome."
  • This latter is being developed out of multiple technological devices which extend the intentions and the adaptive and inventive activities of the alive.
  • These devices are progressively proliferating and diversifying. They are surrounding the alive with a network of steadily more innervated and interactive artificial operators; this gigantic techno-fantastical swelling tends to become an autonomous system which gives rise to an expanding, evolving, cognitive, self-organizing logic in which the communication aspect plays a decisive role.
  • This is why, from here on in, Machine/Nature interactions happen via Technozoosemiotic instrumentation. The technological, methodological and instrumentological tools used here are interfaces for the modes of interchange between biosphere phenomena and living species as a whole.
  • Thus the new task of the alive, and of humankind in particular, is to hook a programmed technological biodiversity plan into an interlinked semiosphere riddled with signs and signals, in a way that lays the foundations for a systemics of the alive.

In the present case, the study of squids represents a decisive step towards getting a handle on the new situation. Squids are detectors of electromagnetic fields. Their acronym points up the possession of biological and zoological functions, in particular those of a cephalopod equipped with specific communicatory aptitudes. In addition, their superconductivity is a major innovation in the area of information exchange. It means we can envisage resistance-free electricity and communication flow. This acronymic reduction and loop-creation clearly point up new machine reconfigurations.

The first sighting of these pseudo-machines took place during a zoosystemic study of the behavior of Loligo vulgaris, more commonly known as the squid. 4

4. A regular little writing set, the squid encloses a transparent pen and a sac of sepia ink; its body is the case.

The study gave rise to modelings called the "Poikiloligoidal Aberrations of Loligo appoplanensis," which aimed to show the phases of development of a "metalanguage" using the communicatory potential of the Loligo's morphogenesis and phylogenesis. 5

5. The evolution of Loligo vulgaris shows that it moved from the calcareous-shelled mollusc stage to a translucent communicative state after consuming its own shell.

This marine invertebrate's chromatophoric and bioluminescent communication codes make it simultaneously a semaphoric and a techno-cephalopodic object. This led me to digitize these cutaneous codes, with the aim of setting up a "dialogue" with these cephalopods by using an artificial skin to manipulate the chromatic and formal parameters involved.

The second meeting took place in the course of my current study of electric sensoriality. Here I am trying to establish whether the central role of the electric sense in the contemporary technological world can be seen as compensating for the absence of the electric sense from the human sensorial range. This time the model was an electric fish, Gnathonemus petersii, which uses inbuilt radar to move about in the muddy, congested waters of African lakes and electrocommunication for exchanging information with other members of its species. This fish, girded with technological devices for sending and picking up electric messages, is in itself a concatenated behavioral technology object, which is also simultaneously a cognitive transmitter and receiver. The data gathered and the modelings and experiments so far carried out with this "apparatus" -- Ichthyophony 6 and Logomorphogenesis 7 for example -- have opened up new pathways in the various areas of technozoosemiotics.

6. Ichthyophony: an experiment which made it possible to "converse" with electric fish by telephone.
7. Logomorphogenesis: the act of making a "discussion" between three electric fish physically perceptible via the emergence of a variable three-dimensional model.

The Ticks 8 (Transferers of Information to Creaturely Kin) and Rays (Releaser Assistance Yielders) I am currently working on can be regarded as prototypical extensions of the same order.

8. An allusion to J.V. Uexküll's famous tick in "Mondes animaux et mondes humains," édition Gonthier, Paris.

The third and last indication shows up transversally in the development of an Upokrinomenolgy. The basic work of the zoosystemician consists of modeling arbitrary zoological systems in which Upokrinomena develop in the form of singular zoologies, curious biologies and aberrant technomorphogeneses; this work gives rise to an intermediate construct, a rebellion in parallel, an autonomous annotation of the alive. The deliberate search for a Hypozoology -- a zoology whose emergence from under the appearances of objective zoology broadens and reveals the "hypocrisical" 9 sphere of the alive -- has made visible the complexity of the crafty dialogue the alive carries on with the alive; this would have been impossible without a technological infrastructure.

9. Related to "hypocritical"; from the Greek hypokrites, an actor or pretender, one who criticizes from behind a mask. Hypocrisics is a critical method used by fabulatory epistemology, but with none of the habitual moral overtones.

The zoosystemician then got to wondering what ability Artificial Life had to produce concepts and devices with a real aptitude for processing the "Machine -- Nature" connection. Analysis revealed that biomimetic near-alive modelings were wide off the mark. By simulating life as it is, they neutralized the inventive and heuristic side of the artifacts of life as it might be. These modelings aped the life of the ape, while ignoring the deviant -- cognitive -- ape. The resultant artifacts were unable to get free of the theoretical and methodological substratum inherited from biology and positivist epistemologies and could not come up with new forms of inventive adaptation suited to the systemic and technological changes taking place in the biosphere.

Analysis of the move by biomimetic modelings towards a computerized world is a major step.

  • The aim is to promote a proliferation of digitized biocultural organisms in communication networks. 10
  • These are the preconditions for the implementing of a technological biodiversity program, with the creation of as yet unknown life-forms and post-biological virtual worlds.
  • Only a new, totally and genuinely artificial space, a technobiomological 11 environment favorable to techno-ecosystemic niches 12, can make this possible.


10. See the work of Thomas Ray in his Tierra project. This new environment possesses a physical layer made up of cables, Hertzian circuits, optical fibers, satellites, computers, microprocessors and so on.
11. Technobiomological: relating to the study of technobiomes.
12. Ecosystemic niches: technological spaces housing modelings of artificial life in the network.

It is conceivable that in this environment riddled with electric signals, flows and symbols, the system as a whole will create a hybridized natural setting and thus become a comprehensive built-in assistance machine.

The alive is also present in the network environment in another way.

"Bits of the alive" 13 are embedded in the core of complex technological constructions so as to use the metabolic, biochemical and electrical properties found there.

13. Thanks, Aristotle!

As opposed to nanotechnologies directly implanted in organisms to make up for physical and mental deficiencies, the new ventures into hybridization of the alive inject aliveness into the network via the very computers used. With a view to building computer components, certain laboratories 14 are currently testing the properties of biological molecules, notably proteins stemming from the bacteria Bacteriorhodopsin which, via an intramolecular light-activated displacement, functions as a commutator. 15

14. The Keck Center for Molecular Electronics, the Syracuse University Information Center.
15. In the case of stable-state molecules, we can encrypt binary figures and make components that are smaller and a thousand times faster. Hybrid biomolecular liaison techniques are used with semi-conductors to make logic gates.

In this instance the machine is aided and oversized by the alive. Thus an aliveness artificialization loop seems to take shape around an intimate, computerized co-evolution.


Squids are pseudo-machines with variable semantic and technological geometry. They are the outcome of an acronymic technomorphogenesis and present themselves as a taxidermized designation, the dermis of which is made up of alphabetical terms. The dermis covers a superconductive electronic measuring device activated by quantum interference. Reduction to an acronym is a trick that allows chimerization of zoological appearance by creating access to the functions of quantum physics. This acronymic teratology also duplicates the cognitive capacity for information storage. On the one hand it recalls animality -- the behavioral attitudes and aptitudes of a species as classified in the evolutionary taxonomy of living things; and on the other, a superconductivity technique with a remarkable capacity to combine several quantum effects, of which resistance-free electricity flow is the most obvious.

This virtual object maneuvering in the world of words constitutes an entity whose stunning coherence neatly generates a complex information exchange loop, linking signals that are syntactically and semantically different.

Loligo vulgaris has managed to get rid of the mollusc's shell that kept it in the dark, prison-like world of muteness. By swallowing it, it transformed itself into a translucent invertebrate vertebrate and thus opened its body to the delights of chromatophoric communication with its fellows. The terminologically incarnated dermis that is the squid's surface recalls with great precision the logophoric, virtual appearance of a cephalopod destined, in its undersea world, to fulfil a very characteristic communicatory function.

Under the chromatophoric dermis lies a multiplexed superconductive physiology, a squid 30 micrometers long swimming in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of 77° Kelvin, or -196° Celsius.

This packaged metabolism behaves as a detector of electromagnetic fields and its functions are those of a nifty Superconducting QUantum Interference Device at large in the English linguistic universe. It is capable, for example, of detecting variations in the magnetic signals of the human body's electric currents. A squid placed against the head of a patient suffering from focal epilepsy picks up infinitely small magnetic fluctuations that reveal the brain lesion behind the affliction. Where the brain is concerned, these weak signals have a swing of only a few femtoteslas. The squid can construct a behavioral map, just as the zoological squid does with its chromatophores, and then communicate via a computer the types of brain lesions detected, in the form of a skin of digitized images made up of signals that would formerly have passed unnoticed.

To take a further example, it can also measure the minute disturbance due to the gravitational wave of a supernova when this is picked up by a five-ton aluminum bar suspended in a vacuum chamber and maintained at a temperature close to absolute zero.

The squid is thus a "bio-physical" ploy allowing mind-boggling linkages between magnetic fluctuations in outer space, the imperceptible quiverings of the alive and maybe even the premises of eventual communication with other forms of intelligence in the galactic universe. It offers the hostile terrain of the infinitely cold as a venue for absolute communication -- the resistance-free smoothness of superfluid superconductivity -- with no graininess in the messages, no noise and no code perversion.

It is the ideal, practicable metaphorical venue for interspecific communication -- the venue for technozoosemiotics and the communication of intelligence in its tiniest nuances, the miniaturized setting in which cryogenized codes develop.

As a surplus information interface, squids are part of technozoosemiotic relevance in that this latter encompasses and transcends the ethological, cognitive and zoosemiotic condition. They provide the means of approaching the "why" of ecosystemic information surplus processing, as well as the methodological and instrumental "how." The alive no longer appears as a material, autarkic unity, but as part of a network in which it forms an integration point for energy and above all for information. It is located at the intersection of multiple exchanges which link it to all the components of its biomass and of the natural and technological environment it constructs by producing a heterogeneous information surplus. But if this surplus is to take a hand in the alive's reciprocal activities, it must be processed by devices, by constellations of a syntactic and semantic nature that are irrevocably linked to the world of species itself, just as the other ecological factors are.

The need for machinic assistance results here from a broadening of the technical processing of the surplus of available information.

In this tissue of interactions, just what path does meaning take between signal, sign and technical device? The question of the siting of pseudo-machines -- of their ontological location -- arises within the different integration levels marked by the presence of living species. The result is that these technological devices have triggered a turnaround in regard to that basic contrast between sign and signal as a fundamental factor distinguishing human from animals. The notion of signal as something typically ethological -- active but surplus-free -- is now obsolete. The information provided by the alive is made up of innumerable clear or not-so-clear connotations, always found in association with denotations. In these cases, it is no longer possible -- as it is with a strictly utilitarian machine -- to seize the exact potential of the extra assistance provided by symbol manipulation.

How are we to evaluate the reciprocal aid resulting from this insertion of the different?

How are we to gauge the intermediary role of translation, and the relevance of what is added or subtracted to the interweavings of the information transferred?

If we broaden our view to include relationships with other "natural or artificial" forms of intelligence functioning in or on other life-support systems, we observe that over the last fifty years humankind has made an unprecedented effort to further modes of communication between all living.

In spite of results that still leave a lot to be desired, experimentation goes resolutely ahead, using the appropriate cognitive methods and technological tools. This enormous effort at getting very different communication procedures under way between men and animals is now well established in the scientific domain. Ethology is working on certain forms of language-learning for chimpanzees, while research into animal cognition models such social-animal behavior as the building of bird and insect 16 nests.

16. See the work of Guy Théraulaz and Eric Bonabeau in "Intelligence collective," Hermès, 1994.

Ethologists and psychologists have also come up with various techniques for getting information from animals. Their range of methods runs from repeated observations designed to discover the pattern of a given behavior to multiple conditioning and teaching techniques that include language-learning 17 via appropriate tools -- keyboards, screens, plastic symbols -- and interactive technological devices.

17. Jacques Vauclair: "Cognition animale," Presses Universitaires de France, 1996.

The example of the robots that show bees where to find food is an excellent illustration of this approach. Experiments using a robot 18 have shown that bees can hear and that their auditory system picks up the sounds associated with their dances.

18. Carried out by Wolfgang Kirchner at the University of Würzburg, Germany and William Towne of the University of Kurztown, USA.

Observation of the behavior of bees in the presence of a robot that sings and dances like one of their scouts has revealed that these insects simultaneously use sounds and dance movements to show their fellows where food is located. Experiments with a multi-motor robot that dances and emits sounds have been successful in indicating the pathway to food, with most of the bees who witness the dance managing to home in on the bait.

And so it is just as if, via distributed intelligence, the ongoing artificialization of the alive is channeling new potential for exchange and assistance among all parts of the alive.

Technozoosemiotics is working to this end. It is situated at the cross-roads of semiotics, ethology, the cognitive sciences, technology, computer science and artistic activity.

As an integral part of Zoosemiotics, which studies the signs developed by living species for intra- or interspecific communication, Technozoosemiotics contributes via technological and instrumentological means to the creation of digital interfaces, of transduction and transcoding areas between kinesthetic and paralinguistic systems, and of strings of signs that might possibly be intelligible between different living and artificial species. So it represents one of the fundamental elements of the Animal/Machine/Human relationship in respect of laying the basis for a communication continuum for the alive.

It postulates an aliveness logic whose long-term aim is to establish an interspecific communication covering all the living organisms of the biomass, with the possibility of humankind as one of its operators.

Functioning diffusely and permanently, this transversal interspecific communication could end up by laying the foundation for a new ecosystemic, geopolitical, geocultural and economic approach. And -- who knows? -- if the concept of culture comes to include animal protocultures, could it then be extended to all forms of intelligence in the biomass?

However, any type of interspecific communication will always require the discordant interpolation of a "translator/transductor" to come up with the offshoots of a metacode.

It's in this sense that squids are heuristic.

Already they're signaling the NATUROMACHINES of the future.

© 1997 Louis Bec / V2_

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