This article addresses the conception of the environment (Umwelt) of the Estonian physiologist and biologist Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944). Uexküll’s core idea is that the Umwelt of animals and humans is a species-specific subjective construction. Two basic dynamics co-operate in this process: the first is a transcendental elaboration of the stimuli from outside reality, which creates potential signs ready to be used for the animal’s behavioural needs; the second is the re-assignation (Hinausverlegung) of these signs to the outside world. Uexküll’s theory about the construction of the Umwelt can only be understood by acknowledging both aspects (the transcendental and the semiotic) and keeping them together. A criticism could therefore be made of those interpretations of Uexküll’s thought that view the species-specific Umwelt as the product of a passive perception process. Finally, two critical points in Uexküll’s theory will be focused on: the risk of “species-specific solipsism” and an inadequate consideration of two peculiarities of the human semiotic environment (its high intra-specific variability and its inclusiveness towards other species’ Umwelten)
From the perspective of second order cybernetics this paper examines in which respects psychology can claim to be a science. It focuses on the limits of mechanistic description in the behavioral sciences. Through the Danish psychologist Iven Reventlow’s works, the article analyzes the use of the Galilean concepts of law in psychology. Reventlow attempts to create basic methods and concepts for a Galilean (law determined) psychology in the tradition of Kurt Lewin through work with animal models in the tradition of ethology. His standard experimental model is the male Stickleback guarding its nest – a small fish in its partly self-created world. Reventlow’s aim is to describe the “behavioral personality” of the organism keeping description and causal analysis and explanation on the behavioural level. To this end he works with a statistical model which do not hide the individuals characteristics by rolling them into an average. In this process, however, he finds that he cannot make a final separation of the organism and the environment. It is not possible to carry through either the mechanistic or the dualistic point of view. This finding is discussed in the light of von Foerster’s and Maturana’s second order cybernetic positions on the observer, observation, autopoiesis and the multiverse. The limitations of these theories carries the analysis further. A realistic, non-reductionistic and constructivistic viewpoint is developed from some of N. Luhmann’s formulations.
Brier S. (2000) Biosemiotics as a possible bridge between embodiment in cognitive semantics and the motivation concept of animal cognition in ethology. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 7(1): 57–75. https://cepa.info/3147
In the context of the question of the emergence of mind in evolution the present paper argues that the concept of linguistic motivation, through the theory of embodiment in cognitive semantics, can be connected with the concept of motivation in ethology. This connection is established through Lakoff and Johnson’s embodied cognitive semantics on the one hand and on the other hand through the theory of biosemiotics. The biosemiotics used is based on C. S. Peirce´s semiotics and the work of J. von Uexkull. Motivation will in this context be understood as a decisive factor in determining which kind of interpretant a living system constructs when perturbed by a significant disturbance in its signification sphere. From this basis the concept of sign stimuli in Ethology, based on the concept of innate release response mechanism (IRM,) is paralleled with the concept of embodied metaphorical categorization based on the concept of idealized cognitive models (ICM). It is realized that we are dealing with motivation on two different levels, that of the linguistic and that of the perceptual-behavioral level. The connection is made through pragmatic language and sign theory viewing language as getting its meaning through language games integrated in cultural life forms and animals signs to get their meaning through sign games and natural life forms. Further connection is made through the common insight of the significant role of embodiment to create signification through the construction of a signification sphere. The later concept is a Peircian biosemiotic conceptualization of von Uexkull’s orginal Umwelt concept.
Brier S. (2001) Cybersemiotics and Umweltlehre. Semiotica 134(1/4): 779–814. https://cepa.info/4800
Excerpt: I want to show how important Uexküll’s Umwelt idea was for Konrad Lorenz ethology, how Maturana and Varela’s autopoietic concept of cognitive domain is an attempt to give a modern second order cybernetic and functionalistic development of important aspects of Uexküll’s idea with its biological theory of the observer in a general system’s evolutionary framework. Interestingly, Luhmann extended this theory into the social and linguistic domain, making it the foundation of a general theory of communication and cognition. But even this cybernetics theory of the living system’s cognition and communication do not have a true phenomenological theory of signification/semantics, which was immanent in Uexküll’s concept. Hence I work to unite second order cybernetics with Peirce’s pragmaticist semiotics within the area of biosemiotics, combining them with Wittgenstein’s language game theory and Lakoff s cognitive semantics in order to make a new transdisciplinary framework for information, cognitive, and communication sciences. I call this new framework Cybersemiotics.
Brier S. (2008) The paradigm of Peircean biosemiotics. Signs-International Journal of Semiotics 2: 30–81. https://cepa.info/4789
The failure of modern science to create a common scientific framework for nature and consciousness makes it necessary to look for broader foundations in a new philosophy. Although controversial for modern science, the Peircean semiotic, evolutionary, pragmatic and triadic philosophy has been the only modern conceptual framework that can support that transdisciplinary change in our view of knowing that bridges the two cultures and transgresses Cartesian dualism. It therefore seems ideal to build on it for modern biosemiotics and can, in combination with Luhmann’s theory of communication, encompass modern information theory, complexity science and thermodynamics. It allows focus on the connection between the concept of codes and signs in living systems, and makes it possible to re-conceptualize both internal and external processes of the human body, mind and communication in models that fit into one framework.
Brinck I., Reddy V. & Zahavi D. (2017) The primacy of the “we”? In: Durt C., Fuchs T. & Tewes C. (eds.) Embodiment, enaction, and culture: Investigating the constitution of the shared world. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 131–147. https://cepa.info/5976
Excerpt: The capacity to engage in collective intentionality is a key aspect of human sociality. Social coordination might not be distinctive of humans – various nonhuman animals engage in forms of cooperative behavior (e.g., hunting together) – but humans seem to possess a specific capacity for intentionality that enables them to constitute forms of social reality far exceeding anything that can be achieved even by nonhuman primates. During the past few decades, collective intentionality has been discussed under various labels in a number of empirical disciplines including social, cognitive, and developmental psychology, economics, sociology, political science, anthropology, ethology, and the social neurosciences. Despite all this work, however, many foundational issues remain controversial and unresolved. In particular, it is by no means clear exactly how to characterize the nature, structure, and diversity of the we to which intentions, beliefs, emotions, and actions are often attributed. Is the we or we-perspective independent of, and perhaps even prior to, individual subjectivity, or is it a developmental achievement that has a firstand second-person-singular perspective as its necessary precondition? Is it something that should be ascribed to a single owner, or does it perhaps have plural ownership? Is the we a single thing, or is there a plurality of types of we?
Egbert M. D. & Di Paolo E. A. (2009) Integrating autopoiesis and behavior: An exploration in computational chemo-ethology. Adaptive Behavior 17(5): 387–401. https://cepa.info/325
It has been argued that the difference between an autonomous entity and an agent is in the ability of the latter to perform behaviors supplemental to processes of self-maintenance (autopoiesis). Theories have been proposed concerning how such behaviors might relate to autopoiesis, but so far, computational models of autopoiesis have paid little attention to these relations. In this article we present a new model designed to explore the relationship between mechanisms of autopoiesis and behavior. We report on three clarifications of the theory provided by the model: (a) mechanisms of behavior can be related to mechanisms of autopoiesis while remaining operationally distinct, (b) the organization of an operationally closed system can change over time while remaining operationally closed, and (c) behavior modulation based upon autopoietic efficacy has limitations that can be avoided through the use of a partially decoupled behavioral system. Finally, we discuss questions that have surfaced during examination of the model.
Autism has puzzled and intrigued psychiatrists, psychologists, and philosophers of mind since it was first identified as a diagnostic category by Kanner 1943 and Asperger 1944. The syndrome raises important questions about scientific knowledge and the knowledge possessed by autistic and normal subjects. This paper examines critically the theory of mind hypothesis, which is currently the most widely accepted explanation for the disorder. It argues that the computational model that supports the hypothesis cannot carry its explanatory burden, and it proposes an alternative explanation based on the principles of situated robotics, ethology, and dynamical systems theory. This allows knowledge to be conceptualized as the embodied and situated ability to act appropriately in a variety of contexts, and it sheds new light on the knowledge justification problem.
Lagerspetz K. Y. H. (2001) Jakob von Uexküll and the origins of cybernetics. Semiotica 134(1/4): 643–651. https://cepa.info/8130
Excerpt:Jakob von Uexküll studied muscle and nerve physiology of marine invertebrate animals, and before 1905 found the concept of causally efficient cycles and the importance of negative feedback in the control mechanisms within organisms. He developed this concept further in the 1920s, and in 1921, influenced by Kant’s philosophy, he introduced the concept of the function cycle which has later become a basis of animal ethology and semiotics. His idea of pattern recognition by parallel but interconnected nervous elements is similar to those later used as the basis of artificial neural networks for pattern recognition. Jakob von Uexküll’s work as a pioneer of cybernetics has not received attention previously.
Pask G. (1981) Organizational closure of potentially conscious systems. In: Zeleny M. (ed.) Autopoiesis: A theory of living organization. North Holland, New York: 265–308. https://cepa.info/6633
The notion of organizationally closed and autopoietic systems has been invented more or less independently and in various contexts, though the term itself and its careful application 10 living systems is due to Maturana and Varela. For example, much of von Neumann’s work on reproductive automata and the content of the early Macey Foundation meetings on cybernetics refers to similar constructs. So, on serious examination, does von Foerster’s first enunciation of “Self Organization” in 1958. as does McCulloch’s notion, “Redundancy of Potential Command.” Much the same is true of work in other disciplines: including that of Wiener and of Svoboda in mathematical cybernetics, Herbst in logic, Bateson and Mead in social anthropology, Waddington. Tyler Bonner, and others in embryology and genetics, Wynne Edwards in ethology. Ackoff and Beer in operational research, and numerous cosmologists and theoretical physicists. The list is enormous, because this quite basic reappraisal of what systems are and what stability is reflects a very fundamental change in thinking. Only in recent years, however, has there been cither the language required to express the pertinent notions or a sufficiently large body of shared concepts to render these notions communicable and generally intelligible. In this paper I attempt to give a systematic theoretical account of my own ideas, which originated independently (whatever that means) and am no longer at all certain) but fell into the context about 15 years ago of those of von Foerster. Maturana. and Varela. The concept of organizational closure is crucial to a psychological or social “theory of conversations,” in which the minimal conscious autopoietic system is known as a “P individual” (psychological individual). The empirical background for my own work came in part from studies of complex skill learning, especially from detailed examination of the conceptual mechanisms of educational psychology. More recently the work has been augmented by studies, in similarly detail of enquiry, concerned with complex decision making, social organization innovation (creativity, design, and the burgeoning field of applied epistemology).