Theses on the semiotic study of life as presented here provide a collectively formulated set of statements on what biology needs to be focused on in order to describe life as a process based on semiosis, or sign action. An aim of the biosemiotic approach is to explain how life evolves through all varieties of forms of communication and signification (including cellular adaptive behavior, animal communication, and human intellect) and to provide tools for grounding sign theories. We introduce the concept (...) of semiotic threshold zone and analyze the concepts of semiosis, function, umwelt, and the like as the basic concepts for theoretical biology. (shrink)
This essay – a collection of contributions from 10 scholars working in the field of biosemiotics and the humanities – considers nature in culture. It frames this by asking the question ‘Why does biosemiotics need the humanities?’. Each author writes from the background of their own disciplinary perspective in order to throw light upon their interdisciplinary engagement with biosemiotics. We start with Donald Favareau, whose originary disciplinary home is ethnomethodology and linguistics, and then move on to Paul Cobley’s contribution on (...) general semiotics and Kalevi Kull’s on biosemiotics. This is followed by Cobley with Frederick Stjernfelt who contribute on biosemiotics and learning, then Gerald Ostdiek from philosophy, and Morten Tønnessen focusing upon ethics in particular. Myrdene Anderson writes from anthropology, while Timo Maran and Louise Westling provide a view from literary study. The essay closes with Wendy Wheeler reflecting on the movement of biosemiotics as a challenge, often via the ecological humanities, to the kind of so-called ‘postmodern’ thinking that has dominated humanities critical thought in the universities for the past 40 years. Virtually all the matters gestured to in outline above are discussed in much more satisfying detail in the topics which follow. (shrink)
In this essay we argue for the possibility to describe the co-presence of species in a community as a consortium built by acoustic codes, using mainly the examples of bird choruses. In this particular case, the consortium is maintained via the sound-tope that different bird species create by singing in a chorus. More generally, the formation of acoustic codes as well as cohesive communicative systems (the consortia) can be seen as a result of plastic adaptational behaviour of the specimen who (...) can solve and avoid conflicts both with conspecifics and with other species in the vicinity. Thus, sign-relations appear to resolve potential conflicts, and as a foundation for symbiotic aggregations. The spatio-temporal configuration of consortia—their chronotope—includes several eco-fields as respective to different functions of the participating organisms. Biological study is combined with a semiotic approach that, as we suggest, should be more often used together to effectively describe ecological processes. (shrink)
The article gives an account of life and work of Jakob von Uexk?ll, together with a description of his impact to theoretical biology, behavioural studies, and semiotics. It includes the complete bibliography of Uexk?ll's published works, as well as an extensive list of publications about him.
We develop here a semiotic model of evolution. We point out the role of confusion and choice as a condition for semiosis, which is a precondition for semiotic learning and semiotic adaptation. Semiosis itself as interpretation and decision-making between options requires phenomenal present. The body structure of the organism is largely a product of former semiosis. The organism’s body together with the structure of the ecosystem serves also as a scaffolding for the sign processes that carry on the ontogenetic cycle (...) and the organisms’ behaviour, providing the experience-based channels for decision making in the indeterminate situations of choice. The stability and persistence of ontogenesis and behaviour are based on the plasticity, or the multiviality of organic dynamics. The same plasticity or multivial dynamics is providing the material for further potential evolution. Evolution has occurred when some change becomes irreversible via its stabilization, and it usually means a modification of existing constraints, or scaffoldings. Some examples of these processes are described in the article. (shrink)
This paper examines the biosemiotic approach to the study of life processes by fashioning a series of questions that any worthwhile semiotic study of life should ask. These questions can be understood simultaneously as: (1) questions that distinguish a semiotic biology from a non-semiotic (i.e., reductionist–physicalist) one; (2) questions that any student in biosemiotics should ask when doing a case study; and (3) still currently unanswered questions of biosemiotics. In addition, some examples of previously undertaken biosemiotic case studies are examined (...) so as to suggest a broad picture of how such a biosemiotic approach to biology might be done. (shrink)
Any biological species of biparental organisms necessarily includes, and is fundamentally dependent on, sign processes between individuals. In this case, the natural category of the species is based on family resemblances, which is why a species is not a natural kind. We describe the mechanism that generates the family resemblance. An individual recognition window and biparental reproduction almost suffice as conditions to produce species naturally. This is due to assortativity of mating which is not based on certain individual traits, but (...) on the difference between individuals. The biosemiotic model described here explains what holds a species together. It also implies that boundaries of a species are fundamentally fuzzy, and that character displacement occurs in case of sympatry. Speciation is a special case of discretisation that is an inevitable result of any communication system in work. The biosemiotic mechanism provides the conditions and communicative restrictions for the origin and persistence of diversity in the realm of living systems. (shrink)
The main aim of this brief and purposely radical essay is to investigate further possibilities for empirical research in natural classification of semiosis. Before introducing emon – a missing term in the taxonomy of signs – we make a distinction between the natural and artificial, and between the taxonomic and meronomic classifications of signs. Natural classifications or typologies are empirically based, while artificial classifications do not require empirical test. Meronomy describes the relational or functional structure of the whole, while taxonomy (...) categorizes individuals. We argue that a natural taxonomy of signs can be based on the existence of different complexity of operations during semiosis, which implies different mechanisms of learning. We add into the taxonomy a particular type of signs – emonic signs, which are at work in imitation and social learning, while being more complex than indexes and less complex than symbols. Icons are related to imprinting, indexes to conditioning, emons to imitating, and symbols to conventions or naming. We also argue that the semiotic typologies could undergo large changes after the discovery of the proper mechanisms or workings of semiosis. (shrink)
The paper focuses on the semiotic principles of the organisation of ecosystems, attempting to find concepts that point to relations and not to elements. (1) Consortium (the term introduced by Johannes Reinke around 1873) can be defined as a group of organisms connected via (sign) relations, or groups of interspecific semiosic links in biocoenosis. The consortial relations include trophic and topic relations, both implying a recognition (identification) of the object by an organism involved (these, i.e., are sign relations). These relations (...) are ecologically inheritable. (2) Umwelt (the term introduced by Jakob von Uexküll around 1909) can be defined as a set of relations an organism has in an ecosystem (as in a semiosphere). The formation of an umwelt is dependent on the modelling system of the organism. (3) Biophony (the term introduced by Bernie Krause around 2000) denotes the coordination of inter- and intra-species relations in a soundscape of a biological community. This can be seen as a special case of Komposition as defined by Jakob and Thure von Uexküll. (4) Ecological code (as introduced, e.g. by Alexander Levich around 1977) can be defined as the set of (sign) relations (regular irreducible correspondences) characteristic to an entire ecosystem. We also mention the concepts of ecomones and coactones (introduced by Marcel Florkin in 1965) as the substances which are responsible for mediation of ecological inter-individual relations. All the relations as sign-relations evidently imply both a static or structuralist description (in terms of codes), and a processual description (in terms of semiosis carried on by interpretation). We conclude that all the above mentioned concepts can be viewed as conceptually connected and are suitable for semiotic description of biological communities. (shrink)
This article deals with empty spacetime and the question of its physical reality. By “empty spacetime” we mean a collection of bare spacetime points, the remains of ridding spacetime of all matter and fields. We ask whether these geometric objects—themselves intrinsic to the concept of field—might be observable through some physical test. By taking quantum-mechanical notions into account, we challenge the negative conclusion drawn from the diffeomorphism invariance postulate of general relativity, and we propose new foundational ideas regarding the possible (...) observation—as well as conceptual overthrow—of this geometric ether. (shrink)
The concept of ‘semiotic fitting’ is what we provide as a model for the description and analysis of the diversity dynamics and nativeness in semiotic systems. One of its sources is the concept of ‘ecological fitting’ which was introduced by Daniel Janzen as the mechanism for the explanation of diversity in tropical ecosystems and which has been shown to work widely over the communities of various types. As different from the neo-Darwinian concept of fitness that describes reproductive success, ‘fitting’ describes (...) functional relations and aboutness. Diversity of a semiotic system is strongly dependent on the mutual fitting of agents of which the semiotic system consists. The focus on semiotic fitting means that, in the analysis of diversity, we pay particular attention to decision making, functional plasticity, recognition windows, the depth of interpretation of the agents, and the categories responsible for the structure of the semiotic system. The concept of semiotic fitting has an early analogue in Jakob von Uexküll’s concept of ‘Einpassung’. The close concepts of ‘semiotic fitness’, introduced by Jesper Hoffmeyer and by Stéphanie Walsh Matthews, ‘semiotic selection’, introduced by Timo Maran and Karel Kleisner, and ‘semiotic niche’, introduced by Hoffmeyer, provide different versions of the same model. If community is constructing itself on the basis of fitting, then nativeness of the community is a product of fitting, not vice versa. Nativeness is a feature that deepens in the course of community succession. The concept of ‘semiotic fitting’ demonstrates the possibility to analyse the role of both indigenous and alien species or other agents in a community on the basis of a single model. (shrink)
Jakob von Uexküll’s work was influential at the time of the biosemiotic turn in semiotics in the 1990s and, together with the hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches, laid the basis for a semiotic turn in biology without losing a connection to the morphology and physiology of organisms. His work appears to be attractive and promising in transforming the culture–nature divide into an understanding of the difference between the living and the non-living. The biological study of subjectivity makes the Uexküllian approach pertinent (...) to the 21st-century changes both in the humanities and in biology, as the acceptance of his theoretical biology marks the start of a post-Darwinian era after the long period of neo-Darwinism that dominated the 20th-century biological thought. A review and bibliography of 20th-century Uexküll studies was published in 2001; the following provides a bibliography of Uexküll studies in the two decades after 2001. (shrink)
The article provides a commentary on Umberto Eco’s text “Animal language before Sebeok”, and an annotated bibliography of various versions of the article on ‘latratus canis’ that Eco published together with Roberto Lambertini, Costantino Marmo, and Andrea Tabarroni.
Jakob von Uexküll’s evolutionary views are described and analysed in the context of changes in semiotic and biological thinking at the end of Modern age. As different from the late Modernist biology, a general feature of Post-Modern interpretation of living systems is that an evolutionary explanation has rather secondary importance, it is not obligatory for an understanding of adaptation. Adaptation as correspondence to environment is a communicative, hence a semiotic phenomenon.
Asking, whether plants have semiosis, the article gives a review of the works on phytosemiotics, referring to the tradition in botany that has seen plants as non-mechanic systems. This approach can use the concept of biological need as the primary holistic process in living systems. Demonstrating the similarity between the need and semiosis, it is concluded that sign is a meronomic entity. A distinction between five levels of sign systems is proposed: cellular, vegetative, animal, linguistic, and cultural. Vegetative sign systems (...) are those which are responsible for the morphogenesis and differentiation within an organism, thus belonging to all multicellular organisms. (shrink)
The article deals with the relationships between the concepts of life process and sign process, arguing against the simplified equation of these concepts. Assuming that organism (and its particular case — cell) is the carrier of what is called ‘life’, we attempt to find a correspondent notion in semiotics that can be equalled to the feature of being alive. A candidate for this is the textual process as a multiple sign action. Considering that biological texts are generally non-linguistic, the concept (...) of biotext should be used instead of ‘text’ in biology. (shrink)
The article gives a historical overview of the institutional development of semiotics in Estonia during two centuries, and describes briefly its current status. The key characteristics of semiotics in Estonia include: (1) seminal role of two world-level classics of semiotics from the University of Tartu, Juri Lotman and Jakob von Uexkull; (2) the impact of Tartu–Moscow school of semiotics, with a series of summer schools in Kaariku in 1960s and the establishment of semiotic study of culture; (3) the publication of (...) the international journal Sign Systems Studies, since 1964; (4) the development of biosemiotics, notably together with colleagues from Copenhagen; (5) teaching semiotics as a major in bachelor, master, and doctoral programs in the University of Tartu, since 1994; (6) a plurality of institutions — in addition to the Department of Semiotics in the University of Tartu, several supporting semiotic institutions have been established since 1990s; and (7) a wide scope of research in various branches of semiotics, including theoretical studies, empirical studies, and applied semiotics projects on governmental and other request. (shrink)
This article argues that from a territorial perspective a certain coherence and continuity can be identified in the Estonian cultural-theoretical tradition – a discursive body based on common sources of influence and similar fundamental attitudes. We understand Estonian theory as a local episteme – a territorialized web of epistemological associations and rules for making sense of the world, which favours some premises while discouraging others. The article focuses on the older layers of Estonian theory, discussing the work of Karl Ernst (...) von Baer, Victor Hehn, Gustav Teichmüller, Jakob von Uexküll, Hermann Keyserling, Johannes Gabriel Granö, Juri Lotman a.o. We examine the philosophical foundations of Estonian theory as well as its main epistemic facets. The article concludes that the conceptualization of Estonian theory could contribute to a general transformation of contemporary theory, a redefining of the relations between the centre and the peripheries. (shrink)
The interview with one of the founders of the Tartu–Moscow school, semiotician Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov (b. 1929) from August 2010, describes V. V. Ivanov’s opinions of several scholars and their work (including Evgenij Polivanov, Mikhail Bakhtin, Andrej Kolmogorov, Nikolaj Marr etc.), his relationships with his father Vsevolod Ivanov, as well as V. V. Ivanov’s views on the past and future of semiotics, with some emphasis on neurosemiotics, zoosemiotics, semiotics of culture, cybernetics, history of linguistics, study and protection of small languages. (...) The interview also deals with V. V. Ivanov’s book Even and Odd. (shrink)
In this dialogue, we discuss the contrast between inexorable physical laws and the semiotic freedom of life. We agree that material and symbolic structures require complementary descriptions, as do the many hierarchical levels of their organizations. We try to clarify our concepts of laws, constraints, rules, symbols, memory, interpreters, and semiotic control. We briefly describe our different personal backgrounds that led us to a biosemiotic approach, and we speculate on the future directions of biosemiotics.
Fundamental turns in biological understanding can be interpreted as replacements of deep models that organise the biological knowledge. Three deep models distinguished here are a holistic ladder model that sees all levels of nature being complete (from Aristotle to the 18th century), a modernist tree model that emphasises progress and evolution (from Enlightenment to the recent times), and a web model that evaluates diversity (since the 20th century). The turn from the tree model to the web model in biology includes (...) (1) a transfer from modern to postmodern approaches, (2) a shift of semiotic threshold to the border of life, and (3) building the semiotic models of living systems, i.e., the rise of biosemiotics. (shrink)
This article poses the hypothesis that the problem of the intrinsic value of nature that stems from the work of G. E. Moore and is widely discussed in environmental philosophy, bas a parallel in a contemporary discussion in semiotics on the existence of semiosis in nature. From a semiotic point of view. value can be defined as an intentional dimension of sign. This is concordant with a biological interpretation of value that relates to biological needs. Thus. a semiotic approach in (...) biology may provide a useful tool for further analysis of the intrinsic value problem in the biological realm. From an ecosemiotic point of view, the problem is also related to the concepts of bioart and ecoart. Ecoart viz environmental art is that which encompasses the human ambience, e.g., landscape or its components. Bioart call be defined as the art whose material ("clay") is a living body, living matter or communication of organisms (which may include, e.g., genetic engineering). It is concluded that the acceptance of biosemiotic view has implications for a large area of ecological philosophy. (shrink)
The present article is framed within the biosemiotic glossary project as a way to address common terminology within biosemiotic research. The glossary integrates the view of the members of the biosemiotic community through a standard survey and a literature review. The concept of ‘semiotic threshold’ was first introduced by Umberto Eco, defining it as a boundary between semiotic and non-semiotic areas. We review here the concept of ‘semiotic threshold’, first describing its denotation within semiotics via an examination on the history (...) of the concept, its synonyms, antonyms, etymology, usage in other languages and context in which it is used. Then we present a general overview of the survey among researchers, analyzing the difference in responses for the concept of ‘lower semiotic threshold’ and related concepts. From the answers we also review the difference between the general usage of ‘semiotic threshold’ versus its specific use within biosemiotics, and attempt to make a general synthesis of the concept taking into account what we have learned from the survey and the literature review. (shrink)
The question of cognitive endowment in animals has been fiercely debated in the scientific community during the last couple of decades, and indeed, all throughout the long history of natural philosophy. The scientific quest for an empirical, evolutionary account of the development and emergence of cognition has met with many philosophical objections, blind alleys and epistemological quandaries. I will argue that we are dealing with conflicting philosophical world views as well as conflicting empirical paradigms of research. After looking at some (...) examples from the relevant literature of animal studies to elucidate the nature of the conflicts that arise, I propose, in strict Darwinian orthodoxy, that cognitive endowments in nature are subject to the sort of continuum and gradation that natural selection of fit variant forms tends to generate. Somewhere between the myth of “free” humans and the myth of “behaviourally conditioned” animals lies the reality of animal behaviour and cognition. In the end, I hope to have softened up some of those deep-seated philosophical problems that puzzle and dazzle laymen, scientists and philosophers alike in their quest for knowledge about the natural world. (shrink)
Hereby we provide a list of all semiotic journals currently published in the world, which includes 53 titles. From among these, 42 are printed on paper (among them six international journals on general semiotics, 16 journals specializing in some branch of semiotics, and 20 regional semiotics journals), while 11 appearonly as electronic publications. All in all, these journals publish articles in 16 languages.
The ethics of hastened death are complex. Studies on physicians’ opinions about assisted dying exist, but changes in physicians’ attitudes towards hastened death in clinical decision-making and the background factors explaining this remain unclear. The aim of this study was to explore the changes in these attitudes among Finnish physicians. A questionnaire including hypothetical patient scenarios was sent to 1182 and 1258 Finnish physicians in 1999 and 2015, respectively. Two scenarios of patients with advanced cancer were presented: one requesting an (...) increase in his morphine dose to a potentially lethal level and another suffering a cardiac arrest. Physicians’ attitudes towards assisted death, life values and other background factors were queried as well. The response rate was 56%. The morphine dose was increased by 25% and 34% of the physicians in 1999 and 2015, respectively. Oncologists approved the increase most infrequently without a significant change between the study years. Oncological specialty, faith in God, female gender and younger age were independent factors associated with the reluctance to increase the morphine dose. Euthanasia, but not assisted suicide, was considered less reprehensible in 2015. In both years, most physicians withheld cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Finnish physicians accepted the risk of hastening death more often in 2015 than in 1999. The physicians’ specialty and many other background factors influenced this acceptance. They also regarded euthanasia as less reprehensible now than they did 16 years ago. (shrink)