Frames /sing

kvond

Human Centric Semiosis in the Name of Umwelten

The Apprehension of World

Through the pleasures of the Internet the author of one of the books I cited in my working development of a Spinozist theory of Exowelt responded to some of my thoughts. Paul Bains, whose excellent, articulate The Primacy of Semiosis I resourced, questioned any need at all for such an Exowelt thought, as he feels that Deely is already sufficiently non-Phenomenological and non-human-centric, two motivations for my working toward an Exowelt conception.

The exchange we had in the comments section seemed a bit scatter-shot between the both of us, but some interesting questions were raised. I repost my last thoughts here (changing the “person” of address), citing from a pivotal passage in Paul’s book which at least for him, conceptually sets the agenda at hand. Perhaps others will find the issues compelling, just as I do:

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).

Beetles and Things: Why Experience Creates No Sphere

If I could take it piece by piece.

1. I don’t find the distinction between human and animal Umwelten “critical” as Paul does. That is, there is no substantivedifference here, no hierarchy. Or, as Spinoza insists, humans do not form a kingdom within a kingdom.

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. Paul’s “ultimate” question is also quite human-centric (not to mention quite rather Kantian flavored with the 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 Paul is right to bring Heidegger up, a thinker who retains strong idealist, phenomenological roots.

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. Because Antropo semiosis is zoo, and relies upon zoo, there is no ostensive boundary of “world”.

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: The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation  [here].

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 phenomenological 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, and no delineation of experience can unjoin them.

 

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6 responses to “Human Centric Semiosis in the Name of Umwelten

  1. Stephen S. June 4, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    I am unfamiliar with your work, but it seems that your notion of an Exowelt, according to your 5/2/09 post on the subject, refers to that part of the environment which is cognitively accessible to an animal, and thus capable of entering its Umwelt. In harmony with Deely’s object/thing distinction (taken from Maritain, I believe), your Exowelt is constituted by those (physical, mind-independent) “things” that may become “objects” (of awareness) for that animal, and thus partly constitute the Umwelt (insofar as things, when they enter an Umwelt in which their presence is recognizable, may be said to partly “coincide” with it). Please correct me if I have misdescribed your account. Now, to your points:

    1. What would it mean for a difference to count as “critical” or “substantive”? Is not the moment of Dasein, languaging, etc. an important one? Heidegger, incidentally, claims in FCM that despite his seemingly evaluative terminology of “poverty of world,” his account is nonhierarchical. Every species, he says, is perfect and complete in itself. I believe Deely would admit as much as well.

    2. Unless you are taking abyss to refer to any species-specific difference, any quality that makes a group of animals essentially different (from within animality, not above or outside it), then I do not see how Deely can be said to admit an “abyss” between animals and nonanimals. This is clear, in ch. 7 of his What Distinguishes Human Understanding?, which is aptly titled “The Dependency of Understanding on Perceptual Semiosis.” What, by your lights, makes his account anthropocentric?

    3. First, why would you describe phenomenology as idealist? Husserlian phenomenology is a fence-sitting position with respect to the modern realism-idealism debate, and its Heideggerian version comes fairly close to the standpoint proper to the doctrine of signs (semiotics), which transcends the terms of the debate altogether. Second, apprehension is of value not only to Kantians, but also to those who follow the tradition of Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Scotus et al. Without apprehension, there is no Umwelt, and thus no Exowelt. Third, apprehension that one has an Umwelt is an important ontological distinction, as it explains how “culture” (including the arts and sciences, philosophy, etc.) is capable of arising from “nature.” And finally, it seems to me a misconstrual to call this account “Idealist.”

    4. For Deely as well, semiosis “goes ALL the way down.” Indeed, Deely is the one who coined the term “physiosemiosis” to refer to the virtually semiosic processes that occur throughout the physical universe. And for him, intellection depends on perception, just as perception depends on sensation. As for your statement that since the human use of signs is biological, “there is no ostensive boundary of ‘world’,” I’m not sure how you justify this. Are you referring to human Umwelten or making a statement about Umwelten in general?

    5. I’ll pass on this one.

    6. How are you rejecting the existence of species-specific Umwelten? It seems absurd to deny that each animal species has its own Umwelt proper to it, albeit one that partially overlaps with the Umwelten of other animal species, including (pace Heidegger) the human species. What partly determines an animal’s Umwelt (and also partly determines its Exowelt) is the Innenwelt on the basis of which the Umwelt (as partially inclusive of Exowelt) is objectified, apprehended, experienced. Is not each Innenwelt species-specific? Also, what do you mean by “Semiotically Conjoined”? And finally, what are the necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for communication, and how does it occur?

    I would be grateful for an answer to these questions and a clarification of your point of view.

  2. kvond June 5, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Stephen,

    Thanks for your responses to my responses to Paul Bains’s and Deely’s position. I’ll try my best to comment on each of your points as soon as I have a bit more time…pretty soon.

    In the meantime you might want to look at the thread of comments that this post was taken from for Paul and I continued discussing the issue, and he raised some of your points as well.

  3. kvond June 5, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    SS: “1. What would it mean for a difference to count as “critical” or “substantive”? Is not the moment of Dasein, languaging, etc. an important one? Heidegger, incidentally, claims in FCM that despite his seemingly evaluative terminology of “poverty of world,” his account is nonhierarchical. Every species, he says, is perfect and complete in itself. I believe Deely would admit as much as well.”

    Kvond: One should keep in mind that the comments I made were both to a broad position, but also to Paul Bain’s running description. They are intended as a framework for my object not only to Piercian-lead semiotics, but also as a criticism of Paul’s (interesting) synthetic move between Wittgenstein, Deleuze and Deely.

    So when I raised the question of the “criticality” of Paul Bain’s categorization, I am certainly agreeing that there are distinctions to be made, but calling a distinction critical means to me that it is critical to a project (without it certain conclusions cannot be reached), and the conclusions I find here are human-centric and human-privileging (despite statements to the contrary). I reject the “moment of Dasein” as it is defined and used by Heidegger, as I find mental action to be tras-species, and in fact panpsychic. Languaging indeed is “special” but not so special so as to create a hermetic, categorical realm.

    As for Heidegger, I find it more than problematic to think that valuations such as “poverty” are non-heirarchial. I might say that Heidegger’s philosophy is impoverished, and in saying so I also asserting a heirarchy of a kind between it and my position, and many others.

    SS: “2. Unless you are taking abyss to refer to any species-specific difference, any quality that makes a group of animals essentially different (from within animality, not above or outside it), then I do not see how Deely can be said to admit an “abyss” between animals and nonanimals. This is clear, in ch. 7 of his What Distinguishes Human Understanding?, which is aptly titled “The Dependency of Understanding on Perceptual Semiosis.” What, by your lights, makes his account anthropocentric?

    Kvond: Of course I reject any species-specific, categorical “mote” built. If you want to call this an “abyss” it doesn’t matter much to me. I count it anthropocentric because the “anthropo” is centric to an Umwelt that is specific to our species (an Unwelt conception that privileges certain human capacities over non-human ones). This is found in the criticality between zoo- and anthropo- semiosis.

    SS: “3. First, why would you describe phenomenology as idealist? Husserlian phenomenology is a fence-sitting position with respect to the modern realism-idealism debate, and its Heideggerian version comes fairly close to the standpoint proper to the doctrine of signs (semiotics), which transcends the terms of the debate altogether. Second, apprehension is of value not only to Kantians, but also to those who follow the tradition of Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Scotus et al. Without apprehension, there is no Umwelt, and thus no Exowelt. Third, apprehension that one has an Umwelt is an important ontological distinction, as it explains how “culture” (including the arts and sciences, philosophy, etc.) is capable of arising from “nature.” And finally, it seems to me a misconstrual to call this account “Idealist.”

    Kvond: The first part is perhaps too lengthy to recount, as my criticism of Phenomenology (and Heidegger) along Idealist lines, stemming from Descartes’ Intentionalist “Central Clarity Consciousness” conception, has been spread throughout this blog. I can only refer you to a few posts:

    https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/01/11/the-picture-behind-intention-what-lies-at-the-center-of-perception/

    https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/downunder-central-clarity-consciousness-ccc/

    https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/heideggers-confusion-over-truth/

    There are several others which engage Graham Harman’s object-oriented interpretation of Heidegger, but mainly the idea is that those that follow the opticality of Descartes’ notion of clarity of intention reside in a mistaken, deadend branch of philosophy, better left behind. As such I find Heidegger as mistaken (and optically driven) as the rest.

    As to apprehension, the context that Paul Bains used it, I found the term distinctly Kantian in flavor, but not matter its pedigree I do not find the kind of self-reflection in apprehension to be a vital category for thought or semiosis. For me this “inner world” conception is heavily idealist and phenomenological. (And of coure the entire tradition that you invoke is quite a bit anthropocentric, either in the Christian or Hellenic vein.) The importance of apprehension as a deciding value is the importance of centralizing the human.

    You of course find apprehension in important because you find the Nature vs. Culture divide very important (it seems), while I do not. I follow a Spinozist position that the human realm does not constitute a “kingdom within a kingdom”.

    SS: “4. For Deely as well, semiosis “goes ALL the way down.” Indeed, Deely is the one who coined the term “physiosemiosis” to refer to the virtually semiosic processes that occur throughout the physical universe. And for him, intellection depends on perception, just as perception depends on sensation. As for your statement that since the human use of signs is biological, “there is no ostensive boundary of ‘world’,” I’m not sure how you justify this. Are you referring to human Umwelten or making a statement about Umwelten in general?”

    Kvond: It may very well be that for Deely semiosis goes all the way down, but as such abiotic semiosis necessarily permeates, informs, and ultimately determines any other “Umwelt” distinction, breaking down any said species specificity. Elements will be under-determined all the way UP, so to speak.

    As for my claim that there is no ostensive boundary of world for humans (or anything). Regularly the human “world” is transpeirced with semiotic elements that would not be regularly “counted” within it (due to the Idealist/Phenomenological, intentionalist character of the concept “Umwelt”). One might ask for instance, when women’s ovulation may have come to be influenced by the lunar cycle, (theorized for instance of women before “nightlighting” was available) was the lunar cycle (or the moon itself) in this fashion part of their Umwelt or not? We are influenced an determined by any number of states far beyond any of the supposed objects that make up our world.

    But ultimately really it is not for me to justify the Idea of an ostensive boundary of a human world, but for those who claim there is such a boundary. I see no compelling reason for it, other than to catalever a philosophical position. I reject the notion of Umwelt, an supplant it with Exowelt.

    SS: “5. I’ll pass on this one.”

    Kvond: I brought up Wittgenstein because Paul Bains was turning to Wittgenstein’s position as if it had explanatory force, something I find problematic.

    SS: “6. How are you rejecting the existence of species-specific Umwelten? It seems absurd to deny that each animal species has its own Umwelt proper to it, albeit one that partially overlaps with the Umwelten of other animal species, including (pace Heidegger) the human species. What partly determines an animal’s Umwelt (and also partly determines its Exowelt) is the Innenwelt on the basis of which the Umwelt (as partially inclusive of Exowelt) is objectified, apprehended, experienced. Is not each Innenwelt species-specific? Also, what do you mean by “Semiotically Conjoined”? And finally, what are the necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for communication, and how does it occur?”

    Kvond: I find it equally absurd to think that a “world” can be confined either to a person, or a species (the same arguments against a private language offered by Wittgenstein I think ultimately upend any species boundary. First of all, species have a great deal of variation within them, so whatever delineation that circumscribes a “boundary” would have to be a varietable one, so much so I’m not sure at all what good the claim does. As I raised to Paul Bains, Amanda Baggs, an autistic:

    https://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/18/amandas-private-language/

    is a human being, though she claims her own language. She describes herself as neuro-atypical. Is she within or without the species-specific “Umwelt” of human beings (and how could we tell)? What difference does it make?

    How about cybernetic combinations with the human, for instance those deaf persons who hear with cochlear implants. Are they inside or outside the human Umwelt? Are they outside when they are learning to use it, and then inside when they have learned. What good at all is the distinction?

    Also, because I do not privilege intentionality as a focus of a truth, the kinds of objects that make up my world are determined by so much more than my conscious attention. One is aware at multiple levels, and we human beings regularly semiotically combine with non-human epistemic resources (biotic and otherwise) that efface any species specificity. It is not just that there is an underlayer of zoo-semiosis, it is that this underlayer is shot through with abiotic regularities, as well as human-animal co-determinations. There is no real species umwelt to speak of. There are rather processes of convergences, perhaps we can say.

    I do not find the Phenomenological Innenwelt distinction to add anything of great importance (just as Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box doesn’t matter much at all). I see no helpfullness in the concept, other than to give us a Cartesian like movie-theater-in-the-head kind of misconception of what is going on. I can see why a theorizer of Umwelten would want an Innenwelt conception, but this is precisely where I am not going.

    I put forth the notion of “Conjoined Semiosis” here:
    https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/conjoined-semiosis-a-nerve-language-of-bodies/

    One of the points is to stress that our semiotic elements cannot be categorically delineated by a strict inside/outside, world/non-world binary.

    As to how communication happens, I’m not sure what the frame of your question is? Do you mean between human beings, or between anything? I take communication to be driven by co-munity, that is the forming of a singluar new body. Within my conception of Exowelt it starts with the sharing of differences that make a difference, as each becomes an organ of perception: https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/differences-in-the-world-as-organs-of-perception/

    Internal coherences help determine states of the world in such a way that other internal coherences become part of this revelatory capacity. I do not have much problem with most of Autopoietic explanations, other than to enrich them with Conjoined Semiosis.

    I have to say that that is the best that I can do for now, as I responded as I went talking things over with Paul, and now with you. I understand that what I present and what I object to does not exist well within the philosophical assumptions you find most appealing, and it may be very well that what I have to say isn’t very important to your thinking process. I am only expressing what seems plain to me, in particular my problems with the mainstream of biosemiotic thinking.

    You have to forgive, no doubt, all the typos and wretched spelling. I simply don’t have time to spell-check, and I am a terrible typist and spelling.

    • Stephen S. June 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm

      Kvond: So when I raised the question of the “criticality” of Paul Bain’s categorization, I am certainly agreeing that there are distinctions to be made, but calling a distinction critical means to me that it is critical to a project (without it certain conclusions cannot be reached), and the conclusions I find here are human-centric and human-privileging (despite statements to the contrary). I reject the “moment of Dasein” as it is defined and used by Heidegger, as I find mental action to be tras-species, and in fact panpsychic. Languaging indeed is “special” but not so special so as to create a hermetic, categorical realm.

      SCS: It seems to me that for both Bains and Deely, and the authors on whom Deely relies (notably Aquinas, Scotus, Poinsot and Peirce), all mental action is, as you say, trans-specific (though not panpsychic). All beings capable of even the lowest level of sensation are characterizable as cognitive, noetic, mental, or what have you. Rational, intellectual, semiotic mentality is a special kind of mentality, but it is not a division autonomous from the sphere of the mental generally. Rather, it is a division that occurs within the mental sphere. Why is this division crucial? Because it explains what is most distinctive of human beings. All animals employ signs, but only humans are aware of the nature of signs as triadic relations (cf. Poinsot, Maritain and Peirce). All animals are semiosic, but only human animals are semiotic. Semioticity is a property that one either has or does not have, much like being pregnant. Does this privilege human beings? Yes and no. If you consider the world of culture, art, the sciences, etc. to be privileges, then we are privileged through our semiotic capacities to be able to participate and enjoy in these aspects of “world” that these capacities have enabled. However, this is not to say that animals are not privileged in other ways. As even Heidegger is willing to say, “this does not mean that [nonhuman] life represents something inferior or some kind of lower level in comparison with human Dasein. On the contrary, life is a domain which possesses a wealth of openness with which the human world may have nothing to compare” (FCM, p. 255). Heidegger’s use of “poverty” is very, very unfelicitous and to use some irony against Heidegger I would say his word choice is “poor in semiotic suitability.” But in his defense, I would argue that although many of his distinctions are exaggerated (see MacIntyre’s objections to Heidegger’s FCM account in Dependent Rational Animals, chap. 5), one could nevertheless legitimately adopt his distinction between Dasein and non-Dasein as long as one recognizes that Dasein is fundamentally rooted in the natural order and does not rise above it so as to become, as you say, “hermetic.”

      Kvond: Of course I reject any species-specific, categorical “mote” built.…I count it anthropocentric because the “anthropo” is centric to an Umwelt that is specific to our species (an Unwelt conception that privileges certain human capacities over non-human ones). This is found in the criticality between zoo- and anthropo- semiosis.

      SCS: Where are you getting this notion of privileging or centricity? Such evaluations are only possible for human animals in the first place. If only one species has an Umwelt of a certain kind, is not that Umwelt at least de facto species-specific? And if this be so, does that mean the human animal is eo ipso the “center of creation” or privileged in such a way that all other animals must be considered “impoverished” by comparison? If this is the case, then as Heidegger notes, “we immediately find ourselves in the greatest perplexity over the question concerning greater or lesser completeness in each case with respect to the accessibility of beings, as soon as we compare the discriminatory capacity of a falcon’s eye with that of the human eye or the canine sense of smell with our own, for example. However ready we are to rank man as a higher being with respect to the animal, such an assessment is deeply questionable, especially when we consider that man can sink lower than any animal” (FCM, p. 194).

      Kvond: I can only refer you to a few posts…

      SCS: Thanks, I’ll definitely take a look at these later.

      Kvond: There are several others which engage Graham Harman’s object-oriented interpretation of Heidegger, but mainly the idea is that those that follow the opticality of Descartes’ notion of clarity of intention reside in a mistaken, deadend branch of philosophy, better left behind. As such I find Heidegger as mistaken (and optically driven) as the rest.

      SCS: I wonder if Descartes’ “opticism,” if you will, is really all that essential to a Heideggerian account. If we were to combine Heidegger’s perspective with von Uexküll’s, for instance, would we be forced to say that Dasein requires a clear perception of all objects constituting its Umwelt?

      Kvond: As to apprehension, the context that Paul Bains used it, I found the term distinctly Kantian in flavor, but not matter its pedigree I do not find the kind of self-reflection in apprehension to be a vital category for thought or semiosis. For me this “inner world” conception is heavily idealist and phenomenological. (And of coure the entire tradition that you invoke is quite a bit anthropocentric, either in the Christian or Hellenic vein.) The importance of apprehension as a deciding value is the importance of centralizing the human.

      SCS: I do not take “apprehension” to require self-reflection. Animals “apprehend” the objects of their Umwelt (which includes but it not reducible to their Exowelt, insofar as not all objects coincide with actual features of their environment). The “inner world” may be taken simply to refer to psychological states or Aristotle’s “passions of the soul,” and not something that is itself directly experienced. We directly perceive the objects constituting our Umwelt (many of which are further constitutive of our Exowelt). We then infer that there are these mental states on the basis of which we are capable of sense-perception at all. For Descartes, ideas were the direct objects of our awareness, but for Aquinas, Poinsot, Maritain, Deely, etc., ideas are only the basis for a relation to objects, known only indirectly or inferentially and not through Cartesian meditation or introspection. Ideas are the “formal signs” that every object of our awareness presupposes. Now, human animals are capable of a self-reflective apprehension, but this is consequent upon an awareness of Being and a grasp—however semiotically dim—of the existence of sign-relations.

      Kvond: You of course find apprehension in important because you find the Nature vs. Culture divide very important (it seems), while I do not. I follow a Spinozist position that the human realm does not constitute a “kingdom within a kingdom”.

      SCS: I find the nature/culture divide important to the extent that it accurately models human reality. Culture is biologically underdetermined. Although it is necessarily situated within a physico-biologico-social context, the enculturation of an animal society is a veritably unique moment in natural history. Indeed, it is the moment when natural history becomes capable of self-awareness. For before there exists culture, there is no history, either. History qua history is fundamentally anthroposemiotic. As for the kingdom analogy, it seems to rhetorically exaggerate the position at hand. But if a multiplicity of kingdoms may coexist in the same context and engage in various forms of communication, perhaps we may save the analogy. There will be limits on communication insofar as different animals have different modes and channels of communication (not to say “languages”), but as you have remarked, Wittgenstein’s argument against private language may be applied at the biological level vis-à-vis Umwelten. I would only argue that this is no argument against the species-specificity of an Umwelt.

      Kvond: It may very well be that for Deely semiosis goes all the way down, but as such abiotic semiosis necessarily permeates, informs, and ultimately determines any other “Umwelt” distinction, breaking down any said species specificity. Elements will be under-determined all the way UP, so to speak.

      SCS: Here I see you saying that abiotic semiosis, or “physiosemiosis” (to avoid “privileging” biosemiosis), determines other Umwelt distinctions. But then you say there is an under-determination as well? This is confusing. Unless you are a reductionist, it seems that there are many termini of cognition that are not determined by physiosemiosis. In biosemiosis, zoösemiosis, and most obviously in anthroposemiosis, there are pure objects—i.e., objects that do not coincide with features of the physical environment. For this reason semiotics provides the crucial condition for the possibility of error: the indifference of sign-relations to mind-independent and mind-dependent reality. If a meteor crashes through my ceiling and I perish, then the person with whom you have been engaging in conversation reduces from impure object to pure object, from an object that is also a thing in its own right to merely an object of your intention, thought, etc. But the relation connecting subject to object remains the same. This is why your Exowelt concept cannot replace the Umwelt concept. The Exowelt is that part of the Umwelt that consists in “impure objects,” or things that have penetrated the Umwelt, or taken up residence as objects constituting the Umwelt, or however you would like to put it. There are, however, “pure objects” that may be patterned after features of the physical environment, but are not those features. To take an anthroposemiotic example, Hamlet does not reduce to the mind-independent things after which he is patterned, but is in his essence a pure object. Or take a biosemiotic example: a nonhuman animal may objectify or apprehend something that is not there, so that the thing or the aspect of the thing mistakenly taken to be present is “purely objective” (as Poinsot would put it). Do not let the language mislead you. To be “objective” in this sense only means to be the terminus of a relation, in this case a relation of awareness or apprehension.

      Kvond: Regularly the human “world” is transpeirced with semiotic elements that would not be regularly “counted” within it (due to the Idealist/Phenomenological, intentionalist character of the concept “Umwelt”). One might ask for instance, when women’s ovulation may have come to be influenced by the lunar cycle, (theorized for instance of women before “nightlighting” was available) was the lunar cycle (or the moon itself) in this fashion part of their Umwelt or not? We are influenced an determined by any number of states far beyond any of the supposed objects that make up our world.

      SCS: To this I would respond with a broadening of the sphere of objectivity or Umwelt-contents to include these elements (or at least not reject them a priori). If something enters my Umwelt, do I need to be consciously aware of it? or is there also such a thing(s) as unconscious, subconscious, semiconscious or (to use Robert Corrington’s phrase) “underconscious” awareness? In some cases we may simply have unapprehended physiosemiosis—which is only a virtual action of signs, unless we follow your panpsychism I suppose. But in others, I fully admit that we may be subtly aware of some moment of physiosemiosis. Hence, while the philosopher urges us to consider that we may know less than we think we know, the semiotician may point us toward new epistemic domains, asking us to consider whether we might know more than we think we know. Here Michael Polanyi’s work might be of use.

      Kvond: I find it equally absurd to think that a “world” can be confined either to a person, or a species (the same arguments against a private language offered by Wittgenstein I think ultimately upend any species boundary. First of all, species have a great deal of variation within them, so whatever delineation that circumscribes a “boundary” would have to be a varietable one, so much so I’m not sure at all what good the claim does.

      SCS: The claim serves to point up the fact that our de facto experience does at times and does not at times overlap with the experience of others, and that the reasons for this may have to do with what is and is not, as a result of our biology, psychology, etc., capable of entering our Umwelt. The reason the notion of Exowelt is narrower than the Umwelt concept is that it does not take into account, by my lights, what Deely (in a Poinsotian vein) calls “purely objective reality.” Often times what “makes a difference” is absent the physical environment altogether.

      Kvond: As I raised to Paul Bains, Amanda Baggs, an autistic…is a human being, though she claims her own language. She describes herself as neuro-atypical. Is she within or without the species-specific “Umwelt” of human beings (and how could we tell)? What difference does it make?

      SCS: She is certainly within the species-specific Umwelt of human beings, for her sense-perceptual, intellectual, and linguistic capabilities are fundamentally human. That these take on a unique form does not render them non-human.

      Kvond: How about cybernetic combinations with the human, for instance those deaf persons who hear with cochlear implants. Are they inside or outside the human Umwelt? Are they outside when they are learning to use it, and then inside when they have learned. What good at all is the distinction?

      SCS: It seems to me that such an implant would make up for physical defects, and in turn restore functionality to the human’s Innenwelt (which, again, is not the direct object of hearing, but that psychological state on the basis of which hearing takes place). Since the Innenwelt is the correlative basis for the Umwelt, this would effect changes in the Umwelt so that the deaf person could hear. Do the distinctive elements of anthroposemiosis make a difference here? Perhaps not. But that is not to say that they couldn’t. Only a human animal could recognize that there exists a defect in the implant, and on the basis of that judgment go do something about it.

      Kvond: Also, because I do not privilege intentionality as a focus of a truth, the kinds of objects that make up my world are determined by so much more than my conscious attention. One is aware at multiple levels, and we human beings regularly semiotically combine with non-human epistemic resources (biotic and otherwise) that efface any species specificity. It is not just that there is an underlayer of zoo-semiosis, it is that this underlayer is shot through with abiotic regularities, as well as human-animal co-determinations. There is no real species umwelt to speak of. There are rather processes of convergences, perhaps we can say.

      SCS: On this subject I would recommend Deely’s recent Intentionality and Semiotics, as his account doesn’t focus strictly on the alethic dimension of intentionality, either. Also, and this is perhaps clear from what I’ve said above, I am in agreement with you that the objects that make up your world are determined by more than that of which you are consciously aware. There may be objects of which you are only dimly aware, as well as things that have gone completely unobjectified (at least as of yet) that are nevertheless determinative of what has happened, is happening, or will happen to you. Further, I do not wish to deny “processes of convergences,” but I’m still unpersuaded that there are no Umwelten that are species-specific. I have a slight suspicion there is something merely verbal going on here in our disagreement, but I’ll have to read your discussion of conjoined semiosis to see if this is the case or not.

      Kvond: I do not find the Phenomenological Innenwelt distinction to add anything of great importance (just as Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box doesn’t matter much at all). I see no helpfullness in the concept, other than to give us a Cartesian like movie-theater-in-the-head kind of misconception of what is going on. I can see why a theorizer of Umwelten would want an Innenwelt conception, but this is precisely where I am not going.

      SCS: My argument is this. I experience objects. Ergo, I have an Umwelt (for an Umwelt is just the total sphere of objectivity). In order to experience objects, there must be “internal” states that these objects presuppose. (If I had no such states, there would be no basis for a relation to what is going on “outside” of me, i.e., independently of these states.) Ergo, I have an Innenwelt. (The terminology of the “inner” is not to be conceived as a Cartesian theatre, for reasons I have given above.) Finally, since there is an external, mind-independent reality, my Umwelt is constituted in part by an Exowelt. Hence, an idealist, whether Cartesian or Kantian, would be unable to accept the notion of an Exowelt. The phenomenologist, however, as I would argue, would simply have to remain agnostic with respect to the Exowelt—insofar as phenomenology is in its preponderant form indifferent to realism and idealism (though I’m aware there are other interpretations).

      Kvond: One of the points is to stress that our semiotic elements cannot be categorically delineated by a strict inside/outside, world/non-world binary.

      SCS: If you can find me something that is both object and nonobject at the same time and in the same respect, perhaps you can convince me. Until then, it seems to me that X is either “inside” or “outside” of my Umwelt, either part of my world, or not part of my world. Now, X may be part of my world in one way and not in another, or it may be at one time and not in another, but this is clearly not an objection to Umwelttheorie.

      Kvond: As to how communication happens, I’m not sure what the frame of your question is? Do you mean between human beings, or between anything? I take communication to be driven by co-munity, that is the forming of a singluar new body. Within my conception of Exowelt it starts with the sharing of differences that make a difference, as each becomes an organ of perception: https://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/differences-in-the-world-as-organs-of-perception/

      SCS: I mean communication in the sense of shared objectivity, though you might object to that way of characterizing it. As I see it, you and I possess Innenwelten that enable us to form relations to some of the same objects. Hence, our Umwelten partially overlap. An overlap of Exowelten, however, would require that the object be sense-perceptible. For instance, when we look at the same object, our Exowelten overlap. However, if we are discussing Hamlet (or God or angels, say), our Exowelten need not overlap, but our Umwelten will have to if we are truly communicating.

      Kvond: I have to say that that is the best that I can do for now, as I responded as I went talking things over with Paul, and now with you. I understand that what I present and what I object to does not exist well within the philosophical assumptions you find most appealing, and it may be very well that what I have to say isn’t very important to your thinking process. I am only expressing what seems plain to me, in particular my problems with the mainstream of biosemiotic thinking.

      SCS: I thank you for your time. If you wish to continue this exchange, as may prove fruitful, I would enjoy it. I can tell you’ve put a lot of thought into these issues.

      Kvond: You have to forgive, no doubt, all the typos and wretched spelling. I simply don’t have time to spell-check, and I am a terrible typist and spelling.

      SCS: Absolutely. And I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  4. kvond June 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Stephen,

    It strikes me that there is another way to respond to your questions on my species-specific Umwelten…I would want to know how species-specific Umwelten are to related to Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-animal, or becoming-molecular.

  5. kvond June 5, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Stephen,

    Thanks for the sincere interaction, but I have to say that exhaustive defense of my position before someone who has investments counter to those I find most interesting (and I say this with no offense), either comes down to having to…

    1. Explain myself more thoroughly because you do not yet understand what I mean.

    or,

    2. Persuade you to abandon some seriously entrenched philosophical assumptions which you don’t find worth questioning.

    The problem is, aside from the foray I put forth, it is not worthwhile for me at the time to do much more of either (again, really no offense, but we have no discussion history and there are no signs to where our discussion could fruitfully lead). There is much more that I could say to each of your points, but it is best not to focus my energy in this direction; and still there is the very distinct possibility that my thinking is not much use to you. The best I would suggest is that perhaps continue to peek into the blog and perhaps my coming thoughts on Hoffmeyer’s code duality, or who knows, further development of my notion of Exowelt as a necessary improvement upon Umwelt, if my energies take me in that direction.

    Again though, I appreciate the thoroughness of your effort to come to some kind of mutual understanding.

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