Prion-Like Phenomena Mediating Between Modes of Individuation
- 11 Downloads
Prions, prion-related diseases and prion-like phenomena are not only the subjects of rapidly growing scientific research interests, but also appear to be interesting from a philosophical perspective. In this study, we first present a brief review of the current prion research that includes a conceptual expansion of the notion of “prion” as a pathogenic conformation of a specific mammalian protein, towards more general “prion-like phenomena”, that can sometimes assume important beneficial functions in a broad range of biological contexts. Next, we introduce Gilbert Simondon’s theory of individuation, which is a philosophical framework applicable to all possible domains of becoming. In contrast to the common approach of dividing the realm of ontogenetic processes into distinct domains and treating them separately, Simondon distinguishes between different modes of the same process: i.e., the physical, vital, and psycho-collective modes. His theory thus appears relevant with regard to the notion of prion-like phenomena in the extended sense, which seems to provide a useful metaphor for better understanding different modes of individuation and transitions between them. In particular, the transition from the physical to the vital mode is closely related to some core questions of biosemiotics such as the emergence of life from non-life, as well as “how a molecule became a sign”, which today constitute blank spots where the classical specialised disciplines of natural sciences fall short of satisfactory explanations. When recent scientific findings on prion-related phenomena are interpreted in the context of Simondon’s ontogenetic framework, the question related to the origin of life in our provocative title gains a different meaning.
KeywordsPrions Prion-like mechanisms Simondon Individuation Origin of life
We would like to thank Jean-Hugues Barthélémy, the Director of the Centre international des études simondoniennes, for his very attentive and heedful guidance regarding the usage of Simondonian notions.
We are also indebted to Alexei Sharov, who –with his fruitful questions during the Sixteenth Annual Gathering in Biosemiotics (2016) and the valuable literature he has provided us with– has instigated us to a deeper discussion of the origin of life.
Finally, we want to express our gratitude to Fatima Cvrčková for bringing to our attention the very relevant publication on prion-related phenomena in the plant kingdom (Chakrabortee et al. 2016).
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Bardini, T. Relational ontology, Simondon, and the hope for a third culture inside biosemiotics. Biosemiotics, 2017, 10, 131–137.Google Scholar
- Barthélémy, J.-H. (2012). Glossary: Fifty key terms in the works of Gilbert Simondon. In A. De Boever (Ed.), Gilbert Simondon: Being and technology (pp. 203–231). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
- Barthélémy, J-H. (2015). Aspects of a philosophy of the living, trans. Barnaby Norman. In Life and technology: An inquiry into and beyond Simondon (pp. 15–44), Lüneburg: meson.press.Google Scholar
- Botsios, S., & Manuelidis, L. (2016). CJD and scrapie require agent-associated nucleic acids for infection. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 9999, 1–12.Google Scholar
- Cairns-Smith, A. G. (1982). Genetic takeover and the mineral origins of life. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Halfmann, R. (2014). The bright side of prions. Scientist, 28(1), 44–50.Google Scholar
- Heinrich, S. U., & Lindquist, S. (2011). Protein-only mechanism induces self-perpetuating changes in the activity of neuronal Aplysia cytoplasmic polyadenylation element binding protein (CPEB). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States America, 108, 2999–3004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hoffmeyer, J., & Emmeche, C. (1991). Code-duality and the semiotics of nature. In M. Anderson & F. Merrell (Eds.), On semiotic modeling (pp. 117–166). New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
- Illiadis, A. (2013). Informational ontology: the meaning of Gilbert Simondon’s concept of individuation. Communication +1, 2, Article 5.Google Scholar
- Jablonka, E., & Lamb, M. J. (2014). Evolution in four dimensions (2nd ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Lindquist, S. (2015). Lamarck was right: better living through chemistry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqVyU9iNUW4&t=162s.
- Lindquist, S. (2016). Prions: protein elements of genetic diversity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgVsU5iSypI.
- Mills, S. (2014). PhD thesis. Gilbert Simondon: Causality, ontogenesis & technology. EngD, University of the West of England.Google Scholar
- Pattee, H. H. (1969). How does a molecule become a message? Developmental Biology Supplement, 3, 1–16.Google Scholar
- Schrödinger, E. (1944). What is life? Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Simondon, G. (2009). The position of the problem of ontogenesis, tr. Gregory Flanders. Parrhesia, 1(7), 4–16.Google Scholar
- Toscano, A. (2006). Tertium Datur? Gilbert Simondon’s relational ontology. In The theatre of production philosophy and individuation between Kant and Deleuze (pp. 136–156). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Vonnegut, K. (1963). Cat’s cradle (p. 30). New York: Random House Publishing Group.Google Scholar
- White-Grindley, E., Li, L., Khan, R. M., Ren, F., Saraf, A., Florens, L., & Si, K. (2014). Contribution of Orb2A stability in regulated amyloid-like oligomerization of Drosophila Orb2. PLoS Biology, 12(2), e1001786. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001786.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar