Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Radical embodied cognitive science is split into two camps: the ecological approach and the enactive approach. We propose that these two approaches can be brought together into a productive synthesis. The key is to recognize that the two approaches are pursuing different but complementary types of explanation. Both approaches seek to explain behavior in terms of the animal–environment relation, but they start at opposite ends. Ecological psychologists pursue an ontological strategy. They begin by describing the habitat of the species, and use this to explain how action possibilities are constrained for individual actors. Enactivists, meanwhile, pursue an epistemic strategy: start by characterizing the exploratory, self-regulating behavior of the individual organism, and use this to understand how that organism brings forth its animal-specific umwelt. Both types of explanation are necessary: the ontological strategy explains how structure in the environment constrains how the world can appear to an individual, while the epistemic strategy explains how the world can appear differently to different members of the same species, relative to their skills, abilities, and histories. Making the distinction between species habitat and animal-specific umwelt allows us to understand the environment in realist terms while acknowledging that individual living organisms are phenomenal beings.
Bitbol M. (2019) Consciousness, being and life: Phenomenological approaches to mindfulness. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 50: 127–161. https://cepa.info/6661
A phenomenological view of contemplative disciplines is presented. However, studying mindfulness by phenomenology is at odds with both neurobiological and anthropological approaches. It involves the first-person standpoint, the openness of being-in-the-world, the umwelt of the meditator, instead of assessing her neural processes and behaviors from a neutral, distanced, third-person standpoint. It then turns out that phenomenology cannot produce a discourse about mindfulness. Phenomenology rather induces a cross-fertilization between the state of mindfulness and its own methods of mental cultivation. A comparison between the epochè, the phenomenological reduction, and the practice of mindfulness, is then undertaken.
Brentari C. (2013) How to make worlds with signs: Some remarks on Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory. Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio 7: 8–21. https://cepa.info/6642
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)
This paper discusses how the second order cybernetics of von Foerster, Maturana, Varela and Luhmann, can be fruitfully integrated with Peirce’s semiotics through the bio-semiotics of Hoffmeyer. The conclusion is that what distinguish animals from machines is that they are autopoietic, have code-duality and through their living organization constitutes a biological interpretant. Through this they come to inhabit a new life world: their games of life take place in their own semiotic Umwelt (von Uexküll). It is the biological context and the history of the species and the individual the determine the meaning of signs in the structural couplings that constitutes the channels of communication. Inspired by Wittgenstein’s theory of language games as the context that determines semantic content of the expressions of sentences, we suggest that animals participate in sign games.
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.
Bunke S. (2011) Das Subjekt und die Naturpartitur: Möglichkeit und Grenzen einer Biosemiotik am Beispiel Jakob v. Uexkülls [The subject and the natural score: The possibility and limits of biosemiotics using the example of Jakob v. Uexkülls]. In: Jahraus O. & Ort N. (eds.) Bewußtsein – Kommunikation – Zeichen. Wechselwirkungen zwischen Luhmannscher Systemtheorie und Peircescher Zeichentheorie. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Berlin: 129–152. https://cepa.info/7968
“Das Subjekt ist der neue Naturfaktor, den die Biologie in die Naturwissenschaft einführt,” denn Lebewesen sind keine Maschinen: Mit diesem Satz könnte man die Position zusammenfassen, die der estnische Biologe und Umweltforscher Jakob v. Uexküll (1864–1944) stets vehement verteidigt hat. Durch die Einführung des “Subjekts” in eine damit subjektbezogene Biologie kann er die je als einseitig verworfenen maschinistischen und vitalistischen Positionen überwinden. Vermittelt über den Subjekt-begriff rückt zugleich eine Auffassung von Biologie ins Zentrum, die alle Vorgänge in der belebten Natur als ‘bedeutungsvoll’ begreift. Nicht die Aufdeckung kausal erklärbarer Zusammenhänge ist die Aufgabe des Biologen, sondern das Nachvollziehen und Nachkonstruieren der Subjekt-Umwelt-Prozesse.
Cariani P. (2015) Sign functions in natural and artificial systems. In: Trifonas P. P. (ed.) International handbook of semiotics. Springer, Dordrecht: 917–950.
This chapter outlines a broad theory of sign use in natural and artificial systems that was developed over several decades within the context of theoretical biology, cybernetics, systems theory, biosemiotics, and neuroscience. Different conceptions of semiosis and information in nature are considered. General functional properties of and operations on signs, including measurement, computation, and sign-directed actions are described. A taxonomy of semiotic systems is built up from combinations of these operations. The respective functional organizations and informational capabilities of formal systems and computempiral-predictive scientific models, percept-action systems, purposive goal-seeking systems, and self-constructing systems are discussed. Semiotic relations are considered in terms of Morrisean semiotic triad of syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. Analysis of statetransition structure is used to demarcate functional boundaries, such as epistemic and control cuts. Capabilities for open-ended behavior, combinatoric and emergent creativity, and umwelt expansion are taken up. Finally, basic problems of neurosemiotics, neural coding, and neurophenomenology are outlined.
The term Umwelt (literally “around-world” or “surrounding-world”), which emerged as an important philosophical and biological term in the early twentieth century, has been defined in various ways. This paper first looks at the German biologist Jakob von Uexküll’s revolutionary notion of the animal’s Umwelt. It then explores the responses to, and critiques of, Uexküll’s notion of Umwelt: that of Ernst Cassirer, the German philosopher of Symbolische Formen (“symbolic forms”), and that of Martin Heidegger, the originator of Dasein (“being-there,” human being). It will be suggested here that, viewed on the synchronic axis of philosophical methods, their perspectives, though different, are fundamentally reinterpretations of the Kantian philosophy of logical form, the Kantian open-and-closed epistemological model. But it will also be suggested that Heidegger, with his hermeneutic circle of “understanding” and “interpretation,” comes closer than Cassirer to a view of the animal’s “around-world” that is congruent with Uexküll’s view of Umwelt.