Frames /sing


Umwelt, Umwelten and The Animal Defined By Its Relations

I’ve been reading into the depths of the concept of Umwelt which which I have felt some dissatisfaction. It is a concept that exists in a variety of forms, flowing from the much more phenomenological, Kantian enriched experiential world of its inventor, Jakob Uexküll, all the way to heavily systemic, semiotic-functional interpretations which mark its place in much of contemporary biosemiotics. For those unfamiliar with the variety I present a few of these, and article links which may prove interesting reading



Umwelt is the semiotic world of organism. It includes all the meaningful aspects of the world for a particular organism. Thus, Umwelt is a term uniting all the semiotic processes of an organism into a whole. Indeed, the Umwelt-concept follows naturally due to the connectedness of individual semiotic processes within an organism, which means that any individual semiosis in which an organism is functioning as a subject is continuously connected to any other semiosis of the same organism. At the same time, the Umwelts of different organisms differ, which follows from the individuality and uniqueness of the history of every single organism.

Umwelt is the closed world of organism. The functional closer, or epistemic closer is an important and principal feature of organisms, and of semiotic systems. This has been described by Maturana and Varela (1980) through the notion of autopoiesis.


The expressions ‘collective Umwelt’, or ‘swarm’s Umwelt’, should also be in accord, since organism can hardly be modeled as a centralized system. However, the relationship between the Umwelt of organism and the Umweltsof its cells requires further explanation and more detailed analysis. The whole becomes seen through functional circles which, for example, includethe body of the (swarm-)organism moving together, in one piece. More generally, there are always at least two aspects (processes) which participate in making a multitude of pieces into a whole in living systems: (1) there are many individual processes which take part as steps in a functional circle, the latter being responsible for the appearance of intentional aspects of behavior, and (2) the functional circle always includes recognition, a matching of forms (the pre- existing with the actual), whereas recognition does not work in an algorithmic way (i.e. bit-to-bit checking) but as a simultaneous compatibility (coherence) of forms (e.g., enzymes recognizing their substrates). Thus, the principle of code duality can be extended to the principle of making wholes, Gestalts.

Semiosphere is the set of all interconnected Umwelts. Any two Umwelts, when communicating, are a part of the same semiosphere.

 “On semiosis, Umwelt, and semiosphere” Kalevi Kull, Semiotica, vol. 120(3/4), 1998, pp. 299-310 [click here].


The Umwelt may be defined as the phenomenal aspect of the parts of the environment of a subject (an animal organism), that is, the parts that it selects with its species-specific sense organs according to its organization and its biological needs (J. von Uexküll 1940; T. von Uexküll 1982a, 1989). In that sense, the subject is the constructor of its own Umwelt, as everything in it is labelled with the perceptual cues and effector cues of the subject. Thus, one must at least distinguish between these concepts: (1) the habitat of the organism as ‘objectively’ (or externally) described by a human scientific observer; (2) the niche of the organism in the traditional ecological sense as the species’ ecological function within the ecosystem, (3) the Umwelt as the experienced self-world of the organism.

Does a robot have an Umwelt?: Reflections on the qualitative biosemiotics of Jakob von Uexküll [click here], Claus Emmeche

But really the best treatment that I found was from Paul Bains’s informative and provokingly synthetic The Primacy of Semiosis: an ontology of relations (2006) [click here]. For those interested in the possibilities of the concept I highly recommend reading at least the chapter on Umwelten (page 56), available on line, and watch Bains skate effortlessly and illuminatingly between Uexküll, Kant, Duns Scotus, Deleuze and Guattari, Heidegger, Deely and more. I quote extensively here from the passage in which he explicates the notion via Uxeküll choice of the “tick” (which in well-known fashion Deleuze and Guattari adopts). Here Bains presents the bare essentials of Umwelt  organization, the notion of functional cycle and counterpuntal rhythm.

[Quoting Uexküll] “We are not concerned with the chemical stimulus of butyric acid, any more than with the mechanical stimulus (released by the hairs), or the temperature stimulus of the skin. We are concerned solely with the fact that, out of the hundreds of stimuli radiating from the qualities of the mammal’s body, only three become the bearers of receptor cues for the tick. Why just three and no others?” (J. Uexküll, A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men, 1957)

The answer for von Uexküll is that living organisms respond to perceptual signs (Merkzeichen) or “meaning” (Bedeutung), not to causal impulses. Physical, chemical, or thermal changes to the receptor organs are interpreted as signs of the (not yet perceptable) “perceptual cues” of an object as counterpart for a specific behaviour. Von Uexküll argues that the “subect” (tick) and the “object” (mammal) dovetail into each other and constitute a systematic whole or functional cycle. The organism or interpreter receives signs from its environment, and these perceptual signs trigger specific action impulses or operation signs (Wirkzeichen). The whole cycle is a process made not of static objects but rather of sign relations – a semiosis. For example, with the tick there are three functional cycles, which follow each other in processual succession…In this functional cycle the mammal (object) is a connecting link between the tick’s effectors and receptors, which metaphorically “grasp” the object like the two jaws of a pair of pinchers. The “perceptual jaw” gives perceptual meaning to the object, and the “operational jaw” gives an effector meaning. For von Uexküll there is a counterpoint or contrapuntal relation between the organism as a “meaning-utilizer” or interpretant, and the perceptual cues or “meaning-factors” of the object – Nature as Music. Living beings develop in a kind of natural counterpuntal “harmony” or refrain, with one another and with their environment. Von Uexküll gives the example of the octopus, designated as the subject in its relation to seawater as the meaning carrier. In this scenario, the fact that water cannot be compressed is the precondition for the construction of the octopus’s muscular swim bag. The pumping movement of the swim bag on the non-compressible water propells the animal backwards. Von Uexku/ll claims that the rule that governs the properties of seawater acts on the protoplasm of the octopus, thereby shaping the melody of the development of the octopus’s form to express the properties of seawater. The rule of meaning that joins point and counterpoint is expressed in the action of swimming – an energetic interpretant.

So the Umwelt is a model of a species’ significantsurroundings. The essential claim is that organisms interpret their environment and are not merely the passive objects of natural selection, as emphasized by much contemporary Darwinian evolutionary biology. The Umwelt/ consists of significant sign relationships. However, von Uexküll, in the prevailing context of Kantian idealism, presented his Umwelt research as a confirmation of a Kantian philosophy of mind

- The Primacy of Semiosis: an ontology of relations(2006), Paul Bains, 63-64

I want though to approach the concept from the perspective of a Spinozist understanding, one which necessarily would de-emphasize an phenomenological, or subject-oriented foundational basis. It for this reason that I have been playing with the notion of an Exowelt, under which we conceived of the experiential, but nonetheless epistemic relations between the organism and the world, not as an inner-theatre of apparitional events, but rather necessarily see the organism extended beyond its skin, one in which the Real differences in the world which make up the (semiotic) differences within the organism, may be considered as outlying organs of perception themselves: a running shore of epistemic wholeness.
Part of this can be seen to come out of some of Uexküll’s own images, for instance his appeal the the spider’s web which, spun from its body, literally extends that body, epistemically, physically, out into the world:
As the spider spins its threads, every subject spins his relations to certain characters of the things around him, and weaves them into a firm web which carries his existence” (A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men, 14)
What if invited by this analogy is, much as how Descartes invoked the Blindman’s cane, it is not immediately clear where the organism itself ends, and the “world” begins. The reason for this I hope to make clear, for at the moment all would still seem contained within the skin-limits of the beast (the treads are merely meant as internal semiotic threads in this case). Let us go further.In that these threads do connect to real things, real difference that make a difference in the organism, we have to deal with exactly how to parse out the internal difference from the external one (a process that Deely marks as essentially ontological univocal). I will suggest that the process takes place just further out than we regularly, and obviously would like to grant.

Essential perhaps is Uexküll notion of the counterpuntal, the musical co-ordination between an “external” stimulus and an “internal” semiotic event. This fundamental binary seems to be the very stuff that presents the internal/external divide at the surface of the body (or thereabouts). Even the simplest of organisms forms a kind of musical echoing of aspect of nature, and does so as a distinction separate entity. We are told by many in Biosemiotics that this minimal exchange is what distinguishes plant and fungus from animal (which are capable of more complex function cycles). The locus of “self” or subject is at most at the internal shore of the semiotic interpretation, where the sign arrives, qua sign, so to speak. And what distinguishes the animal from the human is that humans are able to actually perceive the relationships between counterpuntals, and therefore the very nature of Umwelten themselves.

What I want to suggest is that if indeed what distinguishes counterpunctals is the semiotic interpretation of real events, and that what makes information “Information” are differences that make a difference, it is very difficult to isolate where and/or if the relations between two counterpunctals are experienced or not, since the very structural coherence of the organism is such that the relations are built-in to the very experience of “sense”, the semiotic recursion of the organism. While this event (difference) solicits this kind of reaction, and that event solicits that kind of reaction, we can never deny that the correspondence between the two does not leave some trace on at least higher animals.

To give an example of what I mean by the knowing of connections between differences that make a difference, if my dog and I are walking in a dark, remote part of town and turn down an empty alley, it may very well be the case that in the pit of my stomach I will get “a bad feeling” about the situation. Now this affective response indeed is the semiotic response to Real differences in the world (and perhaps of real events in the past, and/or instinctive reactions), but this is not a “phenomenal” appearance of the world around me (though perhaps shadows now look darker). It is an epistemic judgment that has no location. We could say that my body is undergoing counterpunctal relations (a music) with the entire environment, “reading” it, but from whence is the apprehension of its dangerousness? Which specific differences in the world am I reading as “danger”? The constellation itself presents itself to my organism. Distinct, experiential “awareness” of connections is not locatable as it is largely, if not entirely, unconscious.

Now, my dog who is with me also senses something and the hair on her back is raised. I see this and the hair on my arms goes up. What events in the world colluded to raise my dog’s hair? What variety of counterpuntals speaks to the knowledge of danger? When is it merely the relation between counterpunctals that actually that which is reacted to?

This brings me to my final, determinative point. Morten Tønnessen, in his “Umwelt ethics,” (Sign Systems Studies 31.1, 2003) attempts to bring a ethical joining of Arne Næss’s Deep Ecology and Umwelt theory. It is a wonderful outline of the possibilities of the thought including an informing critique of Uexküll’s actual political views, but it seems to lack a thorough connection between the two streams, presenting more a juxtaposition. Therein he mentions in passing how Næss identifies with a mountain, though in a manner which is strictly “subjective” and not “intersubjective”
Although he admits that mountains are not alive in a strict scientific sense, Næss himself claims that he identifies with Hallingskaret, where he has a cottage. Identification, as Næss conceives of it, has no natural barrier, and is not an inter-subjective, but a subjective phenomenon (5)

The counterpuntals  that form the outer reach and reference to the semiotic events within my skin, become themselves linked and signs for extended other differences in the world. This is to say, just what difference an organism is fully responding it can never be precisely determined. One can make a tick drop from a blade of grass by exposing it to the appropriate chemical stimulus, but what the tick is responding to is not butyric acid in some form of one-to-one correspondence (though you can make the tick drop again and again), but rather the tick is responding to the entire constellation of historical/genetic relations between chemical and mammal presence. When I look to my dog and see that she too is reading the world as dangerous the counterpuntal between her hair raised, and mine becomes expressive of other factors of the world. I am literally reading the world off of my dog’s states. My dog has become an organ of my perception.

The key to this perceptual logic is found in Spinoza’s Ethics:

E3, Proposition 27: If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect.

But I would like to depart from Spinoza’s rigorous and rather satisfying treatment of imaginative Ethics, and look instead to a semiotic, Exowelten, basis for the powers of this transmission of affects, one which will undermine the distinctly “subjective” character of even mountain-identification. And this way forward is provided if we cease to define the boundary of the subject at the skin, or somewhere there abouts, or at the locus of a phenomenological appearance of “outer world”, and realize that epistemically the limits of the organism exist at the locus of real, signifying events in the world, where the spider’s threads connect. The Exowelt is the manner in which contrapuntals open up to other differences that make a difference. This is to say, the differences that make an immediate difference in our organism themselves express relations which are making differences to the depths of an organism’s structure. The reason why my dog can become an organ of perception for me is that our Exowelten overlap, and to a great extent. The differences that form the outer limit of my epistemic body, out to which awareness reaches as how the blindman literally feels the world at the end of his cane, also compose the outer limits of my dog’s epistemic body, such that we are intimately (affectively) and semiotically linked. Ethics are foundationally experientially epistemic; and the organs of our perception go far beyond our ear and eye tissue.

The reason why Næss’s identification with Mt. Hallingskaret is not merely subjective is that subjectivity is necessarily Exowelt-bound, and the very sharing of Exowelt nexus points determines some degree of an implicit inter-subjectivity. And yes, mountains have Exowelten. If a musculature of an octopus’s swim motions can express the rule that water cannot be compressed, then where - what specific sign - in the octopus is this compressibility difference registered as a difference? Where is it “experienced” and making its appearance? And if not locatable, where not do the forces of gravity, wind and sun register their semiotic differences, reflectant in the mountain?

There is much to be said, for instance, about what a Spinozist/Davidsonian analysis could contribute to Morten Tønnessen’s Deep Ecology ethics, and even more to investigate in terms of just how Exowelten could overlap, and with what consequence. I hope to have opened up an avenue of extra-somatic interpretation of the real way that awareness crosses boudaries and resides in organs of  perception beyond what is well-considered our “body”.

So an animal, a thing is never separable from its relations with the world
- Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (125)
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54 responses to “Umwelt, Umwelten and The Animal Defined By Its Relations

  1. Mark Crosby May 5, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Good stuff, Kevin (but I haven’t had time to fully read it ;( I was bit surprised that UMWELT was generally conceived as “the closed world of organism”. Not being directly involved in biosemiotics, I had always interpreted UMWELT more along the lines of your EXOWELT. (I was similarly surprised by the way you dug out the vicar in vicarious causation ;)

    Kalevi Kull’s article also emphasizes Lotman’s “organism as text”. I recall old D&G-L discussions with Paul Bains where he insisted that Guattari found this unacceptable as a basis for semiosis (too many shades of deconstruction ;)

    Perhaps there’s still a bit of residual correlationism in many of these biosemioticians. If you haven’t seen it, this string of very recent discussions among all the major biosemiotics personas is worth reading. Go to and click on the PDF link for “Another Collage of Letters”, or

  2. kvond May 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm


    I haven’t read the link yet, but I will. As to correlationalism, Bains does a great job of connecting the Kant dots in the notion of Umwelt I think (but, as a panpsychist, I don’t viewcorrelation in terms of access as such a problem).

    I do though believe that the internal, phenomenalist aspects of Uexkull’s Umwelt do need to be addressed, as the potentially set up all the traditional inside/outside dilemma’s of Idealism. I hope to be posting soon on Tonneson’s article on Umwelt ethics (to which I gave short shrift), which goes right to the heart of the Umwelt conceptual difficulty. I say, let’s let go of the whole Phenomenologist/Idealist legacy, and go radically right to the non-subject core, Spinoza.

    • Mark Crosby May 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm

      Agreed. I shouldn’t speak about correlationism, since I don’t understand it, nor do I understand Kant (no training in classical philosophy). I like Reza’s critique of Meillassoux’s “spectral dilemma”. I’ve also been working my way through Balibar (taqilla of the multitude – to mix things up ;) )

      My only concern with panpsychism is this, from your 4/29 query to “Latour: Networks, Actors and Collectives”: “Why would this not expand out to a TOTALIZATION of all connections, Spinoza’s Substance?” Levi didn’t answer this because he’d answered, some time ago, as I would, that we’re not ALL equally connected to ALL relations. This might be where Leibniz’s monads or perspectivism would come into play (but I can’t claim to understand Leibniz, either..)

  3. kvond May 5, 2009 at 5:14 pm


    I don’t know what it would mean to be “equally” connected to ALL relations, or what sort of claim this would be. Spinoza, for instance says both, of course “we” (and the delination of what is “me’ and “not me” is contingent) are all expressions of Substance. But what would an “equal” expression be? We are all “equally” dependent upon Substance, but because our relative acts of becoming active are all already Substance expressions, acting more and more comprehensively, the differential in power is a kind of illusion (an illusion of perspective description). Substance is NOT becoming more and more active, over time. So, there are relative difference in connection, but this relative difference is itself dependent upon description, falling to the totalization itself.

    Glad you’re looking through the Balibar. He poses some very interesting arguments/analysis.

    Always happy to hear your views.


  4. Mark Crosby May 5, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Okay. Presumably I misunderstand what you mean by “a TOTALIZATION of all connections”. I also don’t immediately see how “We are all ‘equally’ dependent upon Substance”. Perhaps I’m too object-oriented, but the bacteria at the bottom of the sea exists in a rather different ‘substance’ from the ‘substance’ that I exist in. Yes, same Earth, but scale and quality varies. Substance (whatever this is supposed to mean) may not be becoming more active over time; but, it seems to me, to vary from place to place.

  5. kvond May 5, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Hmmm. I’m sorry, I presumed you were familiar with Spinoza’s notion of Substance, which distinctly is not the Aristotlean idea of substance. Substance is for Spinoza the totalizing view of everything, under a form of eternity. Substance is the only thing that causes itself, all other forms of existence are caused by something outside of it. Substance expresses itself in two Attributes, Thought and Extension, that the human mind can attend to. In this way bateria at the bottom of the sea and you both are expressions of Substance, in parallel Attributes of Thought and Extension (which also can be called Mind and Body). Now, certainly the bacteria is less active (it is in a much more passive state than you), and you are much more the cause of your actions (while still being rather thoroughly determined by effects you don’t understand – Spinoza denies the freedom of the will as an ignorance of causes). But your activity and the activity of the bacteria are only relatively free to the only one free thing, Substance. Substance is what we often refer to as “Nature”.

    Off the top of my head, that is the general thought.

    • Mark Crosby May 5, 2009 at 9:50 pm

      Sorry to play the dumb student, Kevin. Yes, I’ve read all this before, but just don’t clearly see the meaning behind many of these words. I’m home, now, where I actually keep a copy of SPINOZA: PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY on my desktop as a glossary. I was checking these terms just before logging on..

      SUBSTANCE: “What is in itself and is conceived through itself”. UGH: I’m stumped! Let’s try yours: “Substance is the only thing that causes itself, all other forms of existence are caused by something outside of it”. Well, at least by the assumption in the first clause, I can follow S’s conclusion that there is nothing outside it; but, a “thing that causes itself” makes no more sense to me than Harman’s object that “in its inner life is never touched by any of the entities that bump, crush meddle of carouse with it” (GM, 73).

      I once put Levi through “20 questions” trying to understand ‘what is a concept?’ with little success.. So, I won’t bore you with my simplistic questions – I’m looking at more defintions in SPP (pages 44-45: “First, there are the classes… Second, there is number… Third, there are the transcendentals”), for the umpteenth time – which I partially understand but find extremely difficult to translate into terms that are meaningful to me..

      Please, get back to EXOWELTS and “differences in the world as organs of perception”. That’s something I can more easily understand and relate to. THANKS, Mark

  6. paul May 23, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    this looks v. interesting. I will have to come back later and look more closely. Saw your link on Fido’s page.

  7. kvond May 23, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks Paul, glad to have your eyes/thoghts. The more cross-pollination the better.

  8. Paul May 23, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Yes, networks are good – I’m slowly realising that these blogs seem to have replaced the old lists.

    Still trying to get breakfast, but here’s a quick line. Uexkull did see the umwelt in kantian terms (Deely is good on this) but it can easily be freed from this as Deely does in New Beginnings – so you don’t really need an ‘exowelt’ altho I like the idea…

  9. kvond May 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Paul: “Uexkull did see the umwelt in kantian terms (Deely is good on this) but it can easily be freed from this as Deely does in New Beginnings – so you don’t really need an ‘exowelt’ altho I like the idea…”

    Kvond: I see from Fido the Yak that you are the wonderful author I reference. It may be that if one was trying to flee only Kant then indeed there would be no need for an Exowelt, but my concern is not really with Kant. It is both with the entire internalist Phenomenological bent towards interpreting the meaning of experience (that is the way in which Umwelts are experiential realms, a sort of hermetic sphere); but also, (and this is where I suspect you and I will diverge), I very much find problem with the privileging of the human realm as categorically distinct in its operations (rejecting Deely’s Peircian foundation). What an Exowelt gives us is, and this is my assertion of course, is a terminus to the perceptual body itself, and the joining nodes between perceptual bodies, freeing semiotics from signification, so to speak.

  10. kvond May 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Or Paul, if I can say with more conciseness, so that you know where I am coming from, both Peirce’s sign (as representation), and the Intentionality of Phenomenology (and Idealism in general) suffer from something of Brentano’s Intentionality Thesis, which in its ultimate source comes down to the Cartesian subject, a Central Clarity Conception of human consciousness which in my view is insufficient to describe all the semiotic processes that occur between objects, entities, states, etc. Both the Phenomenological/Idealist concern with Intention and the Sign-as-Representation over-specify what is required for semiosis, in my view, privileging only particular aspects of what is human. A notion of Exowelt works against this centralization, primarily with an aim towards a bio-ethics, a moral positioning which understands even the most abstact human engagements as consumately and semiotically joined beneath any privilege of intentionality to shared differences in the world.

    I think you can see this direction in my review of Morten Tønnessen’s article and a discussion of the question of the moral subject:

  11. Paul May 25, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    I don’t think we would diverge that much.

    One of the main thrusts of PoS was to precisely break out of a phenomenalogical bubble, via Deleuze and Deely. As for intentionality see fn.8 p.151. and p. 43.
    Btw, I would see Kant as a Proto phenomenolist/hyper Scotist!

    guattari was happy to keep the term intentionality in Chaosmosis.
    It is not a question of privileging the human which Peirce certainly didn’t want to do. See his ‘Sop to Cerebus’. The ‘interpretant’ does not have to be mental mode of being – or be ‘human.’
    Even Maturana would only accept ‘languaging’ in a relation btwn humans and non-humans.
    But I am far from all this now. There are non-human persons, that is, ‘self moving’ empsyched beings, dogs, possums, chickens, fish, – but not oysters or trees, or ticks, or current computers.
    You need a theory, not a position ‘on principle.’

    This needs an examination of themes I cannot do justice to now or here. Check out Palindrome by Mario Crocco on the web. You have to have an electroneurobiological organ like a ‘brain’ but it would not have to be ‘wet’ – it could be manufactured. I will look at your review of Morten’s article before saying any more…..

  12. kvond May 26, 2009 at 2:12 am

    Hmmm Paul. I’m not sure what this means “You need a theory, not a position ‘on principle.’” If you mean that I have simply take a principle, and am simply making up a theory, I”m not sure if its cart or horse. Principles (intutions of them) and theories work hand in hand.

    But my “theory” is Spinoza’s position, and I am simply expanding beyond the domain he put it to. So I suppose I have both a theory and a principle. There is the chance I simply didn’t understand your comment though and you mean something far less flippant.

    As far as Deely and Deleuze I’m much happier with the latter, as he is Spinoza-informed and I can find many bridging points. Deely and his sign centrality certainly in my view privleges the human, placing his semitotic, (representational) process in a heirarchy above all others.

    As to: “You have to have an electroneurobiological organ like a ‘brain’ but it would not have to be ‘wet’ – it could be manufactured.” I have no problem with the wet/dry at all, but I do have a problem with the “you have to have”.

    I am a fan of Manturana and Varela.

    Thanks for all your references.

    If you feel though that you have popped the Phenonomenological bubble and thoroughly centered human action, then of course my thoughts here will not be of much interest.


  13. kvond May 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm


    Here is the relevant passage from your book that for me points directly to the human-centric framing of the issue for you (and Deely):

    “I will seek to elaborate the critical distinction between the animal and human Umwelten – or species-specific objective worlds as Deely presents it. This distinction is timely, because although it has similarities with Heidegger’s treatment of exactly the same question, I will claim that Deely provides a more articulate and nuanced analysis. Those who are shocked by and criticize Heidegger’s “abyss” between man and animal might find this approach of value, even if only to distinguish themselves from it. The ultimate issue is this: To what extent it can be said that a non-languaging, non-human animal apprehends its Umwelt or milileu/envirioning world as a world at all: Deely’s distinction between zoosemiosis and anthroposemiosis intersects with Wittgenstein’s approach to forms of life and expressive capacities that can only exist in language: “We say a dog is afraid his master will beat him, but not, he is afraid his master will beat him tomorrow, Why not?”…The concept of objective being introduced in the preceding chapter (i.e., as something existing only insofar as it exists within awareness) will be seen as providing the relational network for the fabrication of species-specific objective worlds or Umwelten. Deely writes…” (page 60).

    If I could take it piece by piece.

    1. I don’t find the distinction between human and animal Umwelten “critical” as you do. That is, there is no substantive difference here, no heirarchy.

    2. While Deely might be more nuanced than Heidegger in regards to the “abyss” he certainly maintains it, and does so in ways that are quite human-centric.

    3. Your “ultimate” question is also quite human-centric (not to mention quite rather Kantian flavored with your choice of “apprehension” as the “ultimate” value). I do not accept that apprehending one’s Umwelten “as world” is of critical, ontological distinction at all. This reflective notion is highly Idealist, and you are right to bring Heidegger up.

    4.While I accept that there are distinctions between zoo and anthropo semiosis, anthropo semiosis is irrevocably joined to zoo. It is zoo. And to this I would add that I do not stop there at the biotic world when I am speaking of semoitic processes. For me semiosis goes ALL the way down.

    5.Wittgenstein’s treatment of animals I find most problematic due to the highly eliptical and aphrostic style of his “arguments”. In particular here, the oscillation between “languaging” and “forms of life”. I offer my thoughts on the failings of Wittgenstein’s reading of animals here, if interested:

    6. I distinctly reject the notion that there are species-specific Umwelten, pretty much along the same line of reasoning that there are (individual human) mind-specific languages. Wittgenstein’s private language argument’s theme ends up disentangling every boundary.

    It is specifically in terms of “experience”, what Deely calls a “sphere of experience”:

    {Deely writing]”Elements of the physical environment are networked objectively, i.e., so as to establish the sphere of experience as something superordinante to and strictly transcending, all the while containing partially and resting upon aspects of, the physical environment in its ‘natural’ or ‘mind-independent’ being. Umwelten are thus species specific: No two types of organism live in the same objective worlds, even though they share the same physical environment.”

    Just as there is no Beetle in the Box (it gets crossed out) there is no sphere of experience that necessarily is objectively distinct by species. It is only a phenomenologial skew of what we think of determinative that ultimately thinks that communication between species is a communication between “worlds”

    Or, to put it another way, taking up my notion of Exowelten, because there are real differences in the world that make up the terminus and perceptual limits of our bodies, and the bodies of other biotic and non-biotic forms, any strict species-specific distinction of realms or “spheres” has no ultimate footing. Our “Forms of Life” are already Semiotically Conjoined.

  14. Pingback: Human Centric Semiosis in the Name of Umwelten « Frames /sing

  15. Paul May 26, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    For Deely and Peirce, semiosis goes all the way down ‘the grand vision.’ Not for me tho….

    for the very heideggerian Maturana, non-languaging animals are unconscious.

    still have to read the morten review.
    My little bk was an ‘exploration’ – not definitive.
    have to rush off, later

  16. kvond May 26, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    So, if Deely finds the semiosis goes all the way down, do the “species-specific” Umwelten (or some other homologous constant sufficiently diminished) of igneous rocks, differ by category from the Umwelten of sedimentary rocks?

    By the way, whether your book was an exploration or not, it was quite beautifully written and conceived.

  17. Paul May 27, 2009 at 12:24 am

    good question. Imagine someone thinking (smile)

  18. Paul May 27, 2009 at 12:29 am

    btw, you ‘should’ consider sending your work to kalevi Kull for publication in Sign Systems. I’m sure he would be interested.

    • kvond May 27, 2009 at 12:26 pm


      Thank you very much for this. I am quite unfamiliar with biosemiotic publications. Morton was kind enough to forward my critique of his essay to Deely and Hoffmeyer who had a few brief things to say, and even contacted Kati Lindström at “Sign Systems Studies” who recommended specific academic form adjustments. Perhaps I should follow your suggestion as well. It is just that these are not my waters.

      I appreciate the open mind you bring to my prospective thoughts.

      Right now I suppose that I am working on a critique of Hoffmeyer’s idea of Code Duality which I feel I must have if I am to hone the paper on Morten’s bio-ethics. I have strong intuitions how to proceed there, and really only have to put into written form.

  19. kvond May 27, 2009 at 7:56 pm


    I do have one question. You seem to be satisfied with the notion of species-specific Umwelten (Deely), but you also seem to have a great deal of influence/agree with Deleuze (and Guattari). How do you reconcile species-specific experiential spheres, and the D&G assertion that a Plow Horse has more in common with a Plow Ox, than a Race Horse. This is precisely the kind of assertion which an Exowelt conception would be able to handle/address quite well. I can’t see how Deely’s position can be justified within a D and G approach.

  20. Paul May 29, 2009 at 3:38 am

    I’m getting the questions…v. busy with a play rehearsal but am still thinking – I’m not sure I can reconcile d/g with deely. the thing I noticed was that D’s univocity was like the univocity of the sign relation.
    I guess an autistic person who can make a video is certainly engaging with your umwelt. By empathy or, in a reflection, by inference.
    I don’t infer that you’re communicating with me. But maybe I’m a computer program….are we sharing a world thru intersubjectivity?

    deely’s physiosemiosis of rocks wouldn’t have an umwelt. So, yes, there is a ‘difference’ –

    maturana would say the same, – see the quote p.114 PoS, and p. 118, ‘every “thing” is human responsibility.’

  21. kvond May 29, 2009 at 7:38 am


    I thought that the univocality homology was really brilliant on your part, making a sort of bridge, but perhaps this was a rhetorical rather than conceptual bridge. It made one feel a certain connnection that perhaps cannot be fully negotiated between Deely and D/G.

    I like your Turing Test reference, but this certainly would violate every Umwelt as species-specific “sphere of experience” that Deely would propose. And it is explicitly this behaviorist, need we say Wittgensteinian approach that makes Umwelt specificity (due to experiences) superfluous.

    In the end species-specificity would have a very great and tall task trying to integrate the kinds of cross-species fertilizations and communications D/G is trying to emphasize. Indeed these are affect-based, stressing a sharing of experiences (the plow horse/ox, the maschochist/horse), but it is our (and other things’) ability to co-oridinate within the same matrix of outer differences that defines our capacities to be. It is for this reason that I take something of an Exowelt to be a requirement of analysis. The Umwelt simply starts from the same, anti-Wittgensteinian, phenomemological, inner-world foundation.

    An autistic person indeed can “engage” with our Umwelt, just as a dog can. But the question is, What is gain by saying that they do or do not share our Umwelt-sphere which is defined by some kind of inner experiential determination. If there are experiential bases for separating beings out I would imagine that these are cross-species artifacts, so to speak.

    I understand that you are very busy thanks for your rushed thought. Best of luck with your play.

  22. Paul May 29, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    good points. Still no time. I hope you got the Deely essay I sent by email? I only glanced at it yesterday… Probably confirm your suspicions
    but he is trying to say that the umwelt is ‘suprasubjective’ and potentially intersubjective.
    An ‘objecticve’ world in its semiotic sense (not objective in the modern sense).

    we communicate across specifies but I’m sure we live quite different ‘worlds’.

  23. kvond May 29, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Hmmm. Didn’t receive the article (or the email itself) and would be quite interested in it. My email is, in case there was a sidetrack.

    I still don’t understand why species distinctions would be the deciding value which determines semiotic objectivity. Perhaps his article will explain why.

  24. Paul May 29, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    ok, trying the earthlink address. Keep asking questions! i was going to go the ‘world semiotic conference’ in Coruna (Spain) in Sept but too far from nz. ‘Everyone’ will be there, Deely, Kalevi, Hoffmeyer – abstracts closed tomorrow but you could still ‘observer’ – there is a ‘biosemiotics’ group.

  25. kvond May 29, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Paul, thanks for your enthused support of questions! Sounds like a wonderful conference; I’m sure much will come of it.

  26. kvond May 30, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Thanks for the essay Paul, (now having read it) but it really repeats much of what I have read, and even what you expressed nicely in your book (albeit in a concise, Deely fashion).

    I have significant problems with Deely’s trajectory, though where he lands has some limited correspondence to my position.

    To be brief about it, he balances the whole of “modernity” as if an inverted pyramid on the meager Cartesian phrased conception of man as the res cogitans. Sure. But he utterly misses (I assume intentionally), Spinoza’s next-generation correction of Descartes, not saying that man is res cogitans, but rather that God [Nature, Substance] is a res cogitans. This tosses out his entire narrative of corrective philosophy, not to mention resolving the problematic of the ens reale and ens rationalis which Deely views as central.

    Further though, while I agree with a sense of a zoosemiosis that works as underlay, his (phenomenological) conception of Innenwelt does not justify a species specifity. There are 3aspects of this.

    1). He does not, in my view, appreciate the cross-currented semioses that occur in what I call conjoined semiosis, breaking apart the coherence of boundary/self. The exapted have their own coherent and tidal autonomies which operate both within and without the organism boundary.

    2). I completely deny the notion that only human beings have biologically under-determined semiotic relations. Any being that triangulates with aspects of the world on other aspects of the world are in this condition (to say the least).

    3). His informing semiology seemingly, or at least significantly in description “stops” at the zoosemiosis, where I require that it goes all the way down. semiotic sublayers (and conjoined cross-currents) are not only biotic, but abiotic.

    In short (and this has not been as short as I would have liked it), he still sets up a phenomenological driven, overly representationalist conception of a heirarchy of semiotic organization, with “man” at the top, and he does so at the great expense of failing to account for Spinoza’s correction to Descartes (not to mention, I am not sure that he fully appreciates Davidson).

    Here are a few posts on some of the concepts offered here, if any are interested:

    Conjoined Semiosis:

    How to handle Spinoza’s panpsychism:

    Thoughts on the ens reale/rationalis:

    To round up, Deely really cannot account for the D and G trans-species transformations (horse/horse/ox), and minimizes the powers of animal orientations.

  27. Paul May 30, 2009 at 3:18 am

    oh shit, just lost a reply – I navigated away to look at ‘the problem with panpsychism’…and there was no warning about losing incredible thoughts.
    Anyway, I was writing that your approach is coherent from the perspective you take.
    I need to look at the panpsychism piece before saying much else.
    I used to be inclined this way but not so now.

    I am more tempted by a modern hylozoism in which there is a hylozoic hiatus – empsyched beings amidst a non-empsyched nature.
    Where does the sand dune or mountain begin or end?
    Raymond Ruyer invoked ‘primary true forms’ which were not aggregates…. a bit platonic. He is taken up by d/g in WIP. The brain in absolute survey = absolute immanence – no supplementary dimension.
    Anyway, why are you a Spinozist? ‘One is sucked up, drawn into the system of composition’ (Pract. Phil, 129). A plane of immanence – conceptual-affective continuum – no forms. In fact, I’m not sure there any any real índividuals there??
    Wrote a v. naive M.A. thesis on Bateson/Maturana/Deleuze 17yrs ago….embarrasing to look at now.

  28. kvond May 30, 2009 at 3:36 am

    I’m a Spinozist first (in time) through Deleuze, but then through Spinoza himself in a host of inner conversations I have had with his text (and then an investigation into his optics). So I am much less a Deleuzian Spinozist than when I began a while back. (Deleuze takes liberties.) I don’t know why you would say that there are no real individuals there (this is Hegel’s misplaced charge, an acosmism). Individuals are all concretely and firmly (dynamically manifest), and I take it only an undue reliance upon subjectivity as core gives one pause. The individual for me is always transpeirced, always a cross-weave of individuals.

    I am quite committed to at the very least an epistemic panpsychism, which means that we necessarily read the states of other things affectively, as holding organizational experiences which reveal states of the world for us and others, and I can’t see why this should not be an ontological status as well (as the two are one for Spinoza). Further, I have found unexpected confluence between Davidson and Spinoza which works to join the analytic/continental divide. These are some of the reasons.

    Here is another, fairly brief;

    I look foward to your thoughts.

  29. kvond May 30, 2009 at 3:38 am

    p.s. I’m sorry about the loss of incredible thoughts via e-navigation. I’ve been there many times.

  30. Paul May 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Cadacualtez -’each one ness’ to be distinguished from heidegger’s ‘jemeinigkeit.’How’s your Spanish?

    Just pasting this link – the audio link is yours truly! (not sure both links work?)

    Your writing is v. fine – well written and illustrated..

    You can see some conjoined bodies here:

    Still thinking. Just been glancing at ‘conjoined bodes.’
    Thanks for the review of Deely. You should be publishing beyond this site???’


  31. kvond May 30, 2009 at 10:47 pm


    My Spanish is not good. My immediate inspiration for Conjoined semiosis was the brother’s Chang, so your link looks quite interesting, and I will look at it in depth if I can.

    Thanks for the good thoughts on my writing style; (Interestingly and generously I think Deely may have paid something of the same compliment to a third party, acknowledging though that we significantly disagree. It warmed me.)

    I’m glad you are thinking and glancing. Very good to have eyes and minds in a variety of interactions, tempos.

    I would like to write up something more substantial on the Deely essay you sent, as I think there are some very important principles at stake, and at least ones that should be delineated.

    As for writing/publishing I am a rather non-institutionalized thinker (as you might tell). It is a plus and a minus no doubt. I would not mind putting things into a more academic form if it were warranted or required.

    Right now I have to buckle down and write a Spinozist critque of Hoffmeyer’s code duality which I sense is very significant to the entire bio-ethical question. It has been brewing in me for a couple of weeks and should be something very good, or at least interesting, if I can get it out.

    Again, thanks for your good thoughts.

  32. Paul May 31, 2009 at 1:30 am

    I’m also ‘non-institutionalized.’ I have never had an academic post – apart from tutoring a terrible courses.

    did a bit of translatiing (Guattari, Stengers) and had hoped to get a postdoc but I think I started to late in life and my interests didn’t find a foothold in Oz where I spent the last 20yrs.
    You should use your desire and gift and write more – I’m sure Kalevi, who I is a charming and insightful dude, would be interested. He published that umwelten chapter in a semiotica special on von Uexkull years ago (maybe 2000/1).

    • kvond May 31, 2009 at 1:40 am

      How interesting, just as you posted this I realized (found on the web) that you had translated Chaosmosis, a fine distinction!

      The academic world is a foreign world to me, so I really don’t know those channels at all. I’ve had an offer to co-author a paper for a conference on Spinoza and Galileo in Paris next Winter (through a coincidence of a Princeton professor who found my theories on optics, and a book he had written, compelling), and then there was Morten Tonnesson’s suggestion that I spruce up my “moral subject” essay for a Semiotic journal. Aside from these recent developments I hadn’t really given it much thought.

      I do appreciate your enthusiasm, and if you suggest I contact Kalevi I certainly will. What do you think I should write on, or send to him?

      (I have the terrible feeling with semioticians that because I come from Spinoza, and reject Pierce et al, what I have to say might not be very interesting.) It goes to a different root. But I certainly will try.

      It is good to know that there are non-institutional thinkers out there doing interesting/good work.

  33. Paul May 31, 2009 at 4:50 am

    well, your concept of exovelt and why you cannot follow Deely (or Peirce). You’ve got enough material! Obviously you should say why you adopt a Spinozist pantheism.

    Also there would be other places or contacts…brian massumi might look at it – altho he’s always hopelessly busy.
    the other writer you might find interesting is Eric Alliez ‘The Signature of the World’ (one the best books on d/g imo) and Capital Times…

    Then there are writers like Andy Clark and that whole crowd – altho I’m not sure it’s that philosophically developed:

    An experiment is to go to PoS on Amazon and see what else people buy – then click on one that looks interesting – then click on what people buy with that! It provides quick an interesting related book search….
    There a plenty of non-institutional ‘knowledge workers’ – the only problem is access to good libraries and funding and time!
    I have problems with all the above – in fact I’m pretty much out of loop ‘chopping wood (literally) and drawing water.’
    Actually, I currently enjoying reading E=Mc2, the biography of the world’s most famous equation by David Bodanis
    There was a time when I had contact with Brian, and also Isabelle Stengers. I was instrumental in getting her recent ‘Capitalist Sorcery’ (La Sorcellerie Capitaliste) into translation (in press).

    there are plenty of possibilities – just keep writing and see what happens…good questions and persistence and clarity normally find a receiver.

    I have found it works.

    Did you ever see me ‘young’ essay ‘Subjectless Subjectivities’ in ‘A Shock to Thought’? It was deliberately non academic – probably the only account of Ruyer/D/g/ in English.


  34. Paul May 31, 2009 at 4:52 am

    ps. or just keep working on something you’ve already got feedback on…

  35. kvond May 31, 2009 at 11:17 am


    I thought I had not seen your essay, but it’s title pulled on me and indeed I did find it in my Deleuze essay file, and I recall reading it two years ago. But I should read it again because I’m a bit of the topic and I don’t remember its main points (I read a lot when things get going). I seem to have thought that its subjectlessness wasn’t as much as I wanted, but I’m not sure. When one begins with Spinoza and panpsychism, many other positions simply do not feel radical enough, so to speak. It’s nice though to have read you and not realized it.

    Thanks for the Amazon tip, a beautiful idea.

    As for contacting academics or successful authors, I have nothing in principle but it all flows out of my creative writing and conceptual process. For instance these thoughts on Deely and Conjoined Semiosis simply sprang of a my engagement with a couple of essays and a few discussion I was having. It was all there waiting, so to speak. I suppose that the intellectual framework I have developed over the years is significantly fecund to a variety of disciplines such that new approaches to contested questions are ‘ready-at-hand” all the time for me. Contacting others really comes down to a question of process. Mostly I just want to give these ideas away so that others can use them as resource for their own thoughts, research, etc., even as launching points of new disagreements. By and large professors are not really interested in that kind of thing, but rather defending old turf that they have painfully staked out. This being said, there is always the opportunity for new friendships – as even this one on-line bridge between you and I is only a boon.

    Really though, I don’t know why I think through these things, as I am really a fiction writer and poet by passion. The intellection is just part of the incubation process I imagine.

    Where are you chopping wood and carrying water? Sounds nice. And what is the book on the E=MC2 equation. (Right now I’m reading The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (Columbia/Hurst) (Hardcover)
    by Antoine J. Bousquet, which I am quitely approaching a few pages at a time. It is one of those books whose topic is so intellectually inviting, so possibly rich, I am afraid the author will veer from its brilliance. I love the first pages of a book when you discover the relations between the title, the topic and just what will be done.

    Eric Alliez’ ‘The Signature of the World’sounds interesting. I’ve never hear of it.

    Thanks for the positive support. The best.

  36. kvond May 31, 2009 at 11:42 am


    It occurs to me that I might alternately suggest that instead of all these books, articles, conferences, and fellows, you should be writing more, as in, you should be blogging your processes, or at least thought-kernels, so that others can inhabit them, let us say, at the very rhizomic level.

    It is a marvelous way to think (for instance I would never have written on, or even thought on, Bio-Semiosis in the recent months without it). And I just love that I was able to post not only my finished theories, but also my dead-end theories when conducting my Spinoza research. Like less successful sub-species, who knows where they will go in the minds of others in the future.

    It is quite easy to start a WordPress Weblog (five minutes).

    An invitation to mind. All this talk about rhizomes, one has to really live/think them.

  37. Paul May 31, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    So where can we see the fiction writing?

    My old piece on Ruyer did not
    really have ‘main points’ I just excited reading him in French (no translations) and actually understanding the term survol absolue – I think it inspires d/g with the notion of abs inmmanence.

    I agree, you don’t have to contact anyone – the blog is more than enough if you enjoy it – is the ‘fiction on the blog’? I should look more closely!

    I am not going to the semiotics conf. Infact I haven’t been to a conf for 10yrs. The people I knew (more and more in the past tense) arose during the thesis writing time (4-5yrs) finishing in 01. Since then I have moved to northern new zealand with my family where we live on the edge of a small town, Kerikeri, 3.5hrs from the Auckland. If I contact people they normally still reply! – but I am out of the loop and never really fitted in. I couldn’t get excited about Badiou or Lacan, or Foucault. And I’m not a ‘semiotician.’ I learnt French setting up and running a tiny wholefood restaurant in Montmartre, Paris 28yrs ago….
    As for blogging, maybe, I’m not sure I have much to blog about.
    The E=mc2 book is great – gives an historical account of how the equation came be. I had no idea Voltaire’s lover Emilie du Chatelet was responsible for E=mv2. Einstein ”only’ had to jump to c from v.
    Fascinating story about the development of each element of the equation. The people and places and dramas…damn good fun (smile).

    must stop blogging on your blog and go and learn some lines…

  38. kvond May 31, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    This of course makes a fine blog entry,

    “The E=mc2 book is great – gives an historical account of how the equation came be. I had no idea Voltaire’s lover Emilie du Chatelet was responsible for E=mv2. Einstein ”only’ had to jump to c from v.
    Fascinating story about the development of each element of the equation. The people and places and dramas…damn good fun (smile).”

    I’ve sent an email to Kull, dropping your name a bit, and Mortons, linking to entries and we’ll see if anything comes of it. I don’t mind contacting people, its just that people don’t have the interest unless things are specifically detailed toward their work. For instance I have been told by more than one expert on Spinoza and the history of science, that my research and theorizing on his Optics makes me the foremost expert on the subject on the matter, but contacting others and getting them to look at what I have come up with, even among those that express a lot of interest, has been pretty much a dead end. Academia just puts too much pressure (time/conceptual) upon people, making their work must less polyvalent than it could be, it seems.

    All the way in New Zealand, my the internet is fascinating. We’re up here in the Hudson Valley in New York, 50 miles from NYC. My wife eventually would love to move to Australia (I even have a couple of blue heelers), so in some way or fashion one day we may run into each other.

    I could never get excited about Badiou or Lacan, but Foucault fascinates sometimes. Do blog, if only random thoughts. You don’t have to publish mini papers, everyone has their own style. Anyways, giving you the suggestion, as others would be richer for it, no doubt.

    As for the fiction, I have several older stories, and a second novel awaiting a final edit. I think I’m holding the texts close to my breast for now until I decide what to do with them, but if you like I’ll email you something.

    Sounds like you entered the academic process later in life, as I did, but I simply dipped my foot in, finding the water cold, but not bracing.

  39. Paul May 31, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I don’t know if you read French but Eric Alliez also wrote a bk called ‘on the impossibility of phenomenology.’ I found it quite hard going and it was some years ago. He was a student of Deleuze’s and a founder of the journal ‘Multitudes’ which does publish work in English.
    Blue Heelers are great but they need plenty of space – sounds like you’ve got it.
    Funny who we all want to keep moving. I enjoyed 20yrs in OZ but there were many reasons for a change.

    Look forward to the fiction but must focus on this French Farce I got roped into ‘don’t dress for dinner’.

  40. kvond May 31, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I am language poor. Remedial Latin and some advanced but stilted Ancient Greek. All else osmosis. Forgive my ignorance, but what is OZ?

    You’re right, heelers are great, and do need space, but they, at least the ones I’ve had, also have this shut off switch if put to the calm. We are on a State Park so there definitely is some running about, but they sleep for hours and hours.

    Best of luck on your farce.

  41. Paul June 1, 2009 at 12:54 am

    OZ=Australia where the blue healers come from. nice to be on a state park. I do prefer living in the country – altho this is the furthest we have escaped from the urban fringe.

  42. kvond June 1, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I think I realized this a few minutes after I asked it, but for some reason I had thought OZ was some sort of University name, or program.

    I can’t say that it is “in the country” here, but at least there are small rivers and small mountains and wildlife, etc.

  43. Paul June 2, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Strange, this showed up today on the almost dead d/g list. semiotics and spinoza – might be of interest?

    *Deleuze and the Sign* ($16.95)
    *by Christopher M. Drohan*

    Deleuze and the Sign presents a concise introduction to Deleuze’s semiotics.
    Expounding upon Deleuze’s work on Proust, the author reveals a thoroughly developed theory of the sign that is at the heart of Deleuze’s ontology, epistemology, and ethics. Beginning with Deleuze’s concept of the sign as a “search for truth”, the author argues that the sign phenomenon is fundamentally an existential quandary. In turn, our engagement with signs reveals complex effects and affects, alluding to infinite “essences” within them. In the last chapter, the author demonstrates how Deleuze reconciles his existential semiotics with Spinoza’s ontology. In this scheme, signs occupy a rather unique place, existing at the threshold between modes and their essences. Searching signs, we merge with these essences so as to infinitely produce the new, in an existential engagement with the very truth and power of substance. Ultimately we discover that Deleuze’s semiotics is actually an ethical prescription, wherein he proposes the search of signs as a means of living in accordance with universal truth.

    Christopher M. Drohan is currently an Assistant Director at the European Graduate School of Media and Communication, Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Drohan is also Chief Editor of “Semiophagy: Journal of Pataphysics and Existential Semiotics”, an experimental on-line journal published bi-annually. Recently, he has published several articles on global semiotics, philosophy in graphic novels, and existential phenomenology.

    Dr. Christopher M. Drohan, MA, PhD

    Assistant Director, Canadian Group
    The European Graduate School
    of Media and Communication
    Saas-Fee, Switzerland

    Education Consultant
    The Study, Alternative Day School
    Toronto, Ontario

    Chief Editor
    “Semiophagy: Journal of Pataphysics and Existential Semiotics”

  44. kvond June 2, 2009 at 10:30 am

    How very interesting Paul. In particular for me…

    “In the last chapter, the author demonstrates how Deleuze reconciles his existential semiotics with Spinoza’s ontology. In this scheme, signs occupy a rather unique place, existing at the threshold between modes and their essences. Searching signs, we merge with these essences so as to infinitely produce the new, in an existential engagement with the very truth and power of substance.”

    I wonder if he connects this at all to Spinoza’s own thoughts on language, for instance how he reduces problems of disagreement to problems of naming:

    I am suspecting that much of the Deleuze solution is based upon Deleuze’s inventive transformation of Spinoza’s essences into points of intensity, but it also seems that the author has taken something of your point about the univocality of the semiotic, at least in the human realm. (Also, in reading “the search for truth” as the concept of the sign, Augustine comes to mind, another back door to Spinoza perhaps.)

    Thanks for this.

  45. kvond June 2, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Apparently there is this quite interesting sounding title by the same author (which I can find nowhere):

    Liquid Semiosis and Semiotic Disruption [microform] : an Exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s Several Regimes of Signs
    By Drohan, C. M. (Christopher Michael), 1978-, C M Drohan
    Published by University of Guelph, 2004
    ISBN 0612850439, 9780612850439

  46. Chris Drohan July 8, 2009 at 9:52 am

    “Liquid Semiosis and Semiotic Disruption” was actually my MA thesis. Sadly it only exists in hard-copy form on my bookshelf, though I will eventually post a copy of it at

    With regard to Said’s comment (“I am suspecting that much of the Deleuze solution is based upon Deleuze’s inventive transformation of Spinoza’s essences into points of intensity, but it also seems that the author has taken something of your point about the univocality of the semiotic, at least in the human realm.”), he’s hit the mark. In the book I argue that concrete signs are the products of essential relations, all essences being degrees of the same virtual and monistic power of Substance. Interpreting signs, we therefore intuit the infinite power of Substance, which is why signs produce so many different meanings/effects/relations.

    • kvond July 8, 2009 at 10:32 am


      I really like the argument you produced in your thesis (the comment on Deleuze was mine, as was the post). I would very much like to read it (my email is , if you feel inclined to let an e-copy of it out to an interested reader). If not, I’m looking forward to your posting of it on your site.

  47. Pingback: Kant’s Criticism of the Purpose of Spinoza’s God « Frames /sing

  48. Pingback: Umwelt, Umwelten and The Animal Defined By Its Relations | Frames /sing » renata lemos -

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