, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 57–77 | Cite as

Agency, Meaning, Perception and Mimicry: Perspectives from the Process of Life and Third Way of Evolution

  • R. I. Vane-WrightEmail author


The concept of biological mimicry is viewed as a ‘process of life’ theory rather than a ‘process of change’ theory—regardless of the historical interest and heuristic value of the subject for the study of evolution. Mimicry is a dynamic ecological system reflecting the possibilities for mutualism and parasitism created by a pre-established bipartite signal-based relationship between two organisms – a potential model and its signal receiver (potential operator). In a mimicry system agency and perception play essential, interconnected roles. Mimicry thus describes emergent biologically meaningful relationships based on synergy, and is not an object-based theory. Biosemiotics offers a particularly valuable discipline for analysing the dynamics and nuances of mimicry systems, and can thus pave the way for a better and more complete understanding of how mimicry has evolved in the past, and how it might evolve in the future—presented here with special reference to the need for an integrated, ‘third way of evolution’ approach to biological relativity. A revised definition of mimicry is proposed.


Mimicry Agency Perception Definition Process of life Synergism 



This is unfinished work of 50 years standing. Anything good here I owe to others; all mistakes, misunderstandings, omissions and other shortcomings are mine. Conrad Waddington, David Bohm, Willi Hennig, Ernst Mayr, Jean Piaget, Colin Patterson, Richard Gregory, Brian Goodwin, Andrew Packard, Erkki Haukioja, Fritjof Capra, Stuart Kauffman, Terence Deacon, Peter Corning, Patrick Bateson, Denis Walsh, Kalevi Kull, Wolfgang Wickler, Michael Boppré – and many many others – some known to me in person, some only from their writing (a few cited here), have all been very influential. Currently I need to read more John Dewey, Jakob von Uexküll, Thomas Sebeok and Evan Thompson. I am very grateful to the library staff of the Natural History Museum, London, for assistance, to Kalevi Kull and anonymous reviewers who helped me improve the manuscript, and to Timo Maran and Karel Kleisner for their kind invitation – and exceptional patience. This paper is respectfully dedicated to my late friend and mentor Lincoln Pierson Brower (1931–2018), who did so much to inspire and foster my interest in mimicry – and in milkweed butterflies.

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Conflict of Interest

The author has no conflict of interest with respect to the contents of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Life Sciences, Natural History MuseumLondonUK
  2. 2.Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and ConservationUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

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