New trends in bio/zoo/ecosemiotics
Timo Maran (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kalevi Kull (email@example.com)
Frederik Stjernfelt (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Biosemiotics has been a rapidly developing field in semiotics, exemplified by the growing community of researchers, success of the Gatherings in Biosemiotics conference series and the journal and the book series Biosemiotics. At the 12th World Congress of Semiotics we organize a general forum for sharing information about up-to-date research and future perspectives in bio/zoo/ecosemiotics. We especially welcome contributions on the following topics: synthesizing different approaches in biosemiotics; novel views on sign progression and semiotic evolution; applying biosemiotics to new objects and areas; theoretical reflections on the future of biosemiotics; advances in semiotics of ecosystems and biological communities; semiotic studies of human-altered natural environments and institutions representing nature (zoos, nature parks, museums); specifics of sign exchange between humans and animals.
1) Jesper Hoffmeyer, dr. phil. Professor Emeritus (email@example.com)
Semiosis and systems
In his 1940 chapter on "The ideal of knowledge and its transformation in biology" (Cassirer 1950) Ernst Cassirer drew a line from Wolfgang Goethe's conception of permanence and change as peculiar intermingled and coexistent aspects of "form" to Jakob von Uexküll's understanding of structure as pure relation. He saw that both of these approaches transcended the simplistic mechanicism-vitalism distinction and his analysis ended up advocating the creation of a new "organismic biology" along the lines developed in Bertalanffy's system's approach to biology: "The new "organismic biology" ... puts in place of the idea of purpose the concept of organization and characterizes life by ascribing to it the property of a system" (p. 216). Now, more than seventy years later, this promise of systems biology to bridge the mechanicist-vitalist gap still hasn't been fulfilled and it is time we make clear why this is so. The inherent failure of the systems approach to biology, I shall argue, is its failure to transcend the nominalist prejudices of modern science. As a consequence of this failure the systems approach cannot meet the challenges posed by the teleodynamic properties of living systems such as sentience and agency.
Ernst Cassirer (1950 ): The Problem of knowledge. Philosophy, Science, and History since Hegel Ndew haven and London, Yale University Press.
2) Kadri Tüür, University of Tartu
How to translate an eagle? An ecosemiotic case study
Eagle is a bird that is heavily laden with symbolic meanings in a number of cultures. As a representative of ’charismatic megafauna’, it has attracted the attention of nature protection activists, nature writers, photographers, and cinematographers. The paper presents a case study of three different representations of an endangered species, white-tailed eagle, Haliaetus albicilla.
The source material for the presentation consists of Swedish and Estonian nature writing. A renown Scandinavian nature writer, filmmaker and populariser Bengt Berg (1885-1967) focused on birds, their migration and protection issues in his work. A nature documentary „Sagan om de sista örnarna“ (1923) and the books „De Sista Örnarna“ (1927) and „Örnar“ (1960) all revolve around the issue of raptors, especially eagles, and their protection.
In the presentation I will examine the translation of Berg’s books into Estonian, as well as a book „Viimane Valgesulg“ (1967), an adventurous story for youngsters by an Estonian writer Jaan Rannap, who used Berg’s book as a source of inspiration.
In the analysis, I make an attempt to employ the notion of bio-translation as outlined by Kull and Torop in order to analyse the different translation mechanisms that are in action in these texts.
We can differentiate between three types of translation: first, linguistic translation, or a translation of a Swedish text into Estonian. Second, the books feature intersemiotic translation in combining verbal text and photographs that are mutually complementary. The case of Berg’s nature docmentary can also be regarded in terms of intersemiotic translation. Third, we can speak of biotranslation, as the Umwelt of eagles is mediated to human readers in the form of literature, a communication type accessible only to human species.
By demonstrating the presence of the three different translations in the texts of nature writing, my aim is to point out the complex nature of the semiotic mechanisms that we as humans use in order to create a comprehensive representation of our environment and our fellow species.
3) Timo Maran
Cultural exposure to a new mammalian species, golden jackal (Canis aureus): An analysis of temporal dynamics
The aim of this presentation is to find ways for applying semiotics in species conservation and wildlife management. More specifically, I discuss the problematic emergence of new mammalian species, golden jackal (Canis aureus) both in Estonian fauna and in cultural discourse. In the presentation, I introduce the semiotic methodology (Bouissac 2004, Lotman 2005, Sebeok 1991) that combines biosemiotics and cultural semiotics, and discuss the results of the specific case-study.
The first specimen of golden jackal in Estonia was hunted down at the end of February 2013 in Hanila parish, Western Estonia. Messages about encounters with the new species followed from other regions. The new species, its trajectory of arrival and possible influence on the local environment became a topic of vivid discussion among specialists in zoology, environmental officials and local people of Hanila parish. In the end of September 2013, Estonian Environmental Agency classified golden jackal in Estonia as an alien species that is subject to hunting.
In this context nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with local inhabitants in Hanila, professional zoologists, officials of the Ministry of Environment and state environmental agencies. The interviews were arranged around the following topics: participants in and the nature of discourse on the golden jackal, the position of the golden jackal in regard to Estonian nature, the concept of invasive species, and cultural and ethical issues related to the golden jackal.
Results of the study included, first, outlining the position of the golden jackal as a semiotic subject both in the local ecological system and cultural discourse (Low 2008). Second, the study helped elucidate the different bases and analogies that were used for modeling the new species. Third, the study provided some understanding of the temporal dynamics (Callon 1986) of the cultural exposure to a new species. This presentation will specially focus to different stages and temporal dynamics of the process.
The presentation also discusses the prospective methodological devices and further applicability of semiotics in species conservation and wildlife management.
Bouissac, Paul 2004. Interspecific communication. In: Posner, Roland; Robering, Klaus; Sebeok, Thomas Albert (eds.), Semiotics: A Handbook on the Sign-Theoretic Foundations of Nature and Culture. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 3391–3396.
Callon, Michel 1986. Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In: Law, J. (eds.), Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge? London: Routledge: 196–223.
Lotman, Juri 2005. On the semiosphere. Sign Systems Studies 33.1: 205–229.
Low, David 2008. Dissent and environmental communication: A semiotic approach. Semiotica 172, 47-64.
Sebeok, Thomas A. 1991. The semiotic self. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A Sign is Just a Sign. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 36–40.
4) Donald R. Frohlich Ph.D., Professor, University of St. Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Problems in Natural Selection and Adaptation: A Semiotic Lens
The roles and nature of Natural Selection (NS) and Adaptation in evolutionary theory have historically been problematic. Currently, the influence of NS (presence or absence, hard or soft) is documented by measuring changes in genotype or phenotype of purported adaptive characters and their effect on reproductive fitness, sensu strictu. NS can act on heritable variation or phenotypic traits and can act on non-heritable phenomena (e.g. learning) (Endler 1986, Kull 2014). Agreement among biologists about what constitutes ‘co-evolution’ in terms of both NS and adaptation is more than problematic. Because quantitative approaches are limited to estimating heritability and heterogeneities of single alleles or relatively small combinations of alleles, natural variability is extremely difficult to assess. This is especially the case in widely known, but complex and presumably multigenic, phenomena (e.g. intelligence). Indeed, complexity is the rule among living organisms. At the level of single genes other problems ensue. For example, recent evidence indicates that many pseudogenes have some form of biological activity. The status (hic et nunc) of any single pseudogene may be as one in the process of resurrection or, in a process of extinction (Pei et al. 2012). Homoplasy at the level of nucleic acid sequences is analytically difficult to accommodate and nearly impossible to detect.
Vertebrate genomes alone are known to consist of relatively little coding DNA (2-10%); the remainder partly regulatory, or composed of approximately 50% virus-like sequences, whose function (or non-function) is largely speculative. It is important to continue the search for biologically relevant entities but, as tools for explaining higher ordered interactions, reducto-mechanistic approaches have largely exhausted themselves (Nagel 2012). It would behoove evolutionary biologists to consider semiotic approaches when attempting to formulate models of multiple gene/ gene family interaction (Frohlich 2014).
Herein, I intend to illustrate that 1.) Application of the logic of Peircean habit taking and symmetry breaking may eliminate the necessity of such NS concepts as co-evolution and, 2.) A more Hoffmeyer-like scaffold approach (Hoffmeyer 2010) to future theoretical explanations of intra-genome regulation and communication may shed light on complex expression of phenotypic plasticity.
Endler, JA. 1986. Natural Selection in the Wild. Princeton NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
Frohlich, DR. 2014. American Journal of Semiotics 30: 173-188.
Hoffmeyer, J. 2014. Semiotica 198: 11-31.
Kull, K. 2014. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 112: 287-294.
Nagel, T. 2012. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. UK: Oxford Univ. Press.
Pei, B., et al. 2012. Genome Biology 13:R51 doi:10.1186/gb-2012-13-9-r51.
5) Kalevi Kull, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia
Epigenetic turn is semiotic turn
Last decades demonstrate a growing interest in epigenetic mechanisms and plasticity in biological research (West-Eberhard 2003), sometimes called the epigenetic turn. As related to the demonstration of various ways of epigenetic inheritance, this led to the description of non-Darwinian mechanisms of adaptive evolution (Kull 2014).
We define multiviality as a system’s capacity to use many different routes to fulfill a particular task. This is a requirement for semiosis. Since semiosis is not only a mechanism of signification and interpretation, but also of problem-solving and habituation (remembering of solution), it can be a creator of ontogenetic adaptations. Thus the non-Darwinian and epigenetic turn mean the semiotic turn in biology.
Kull, Kalevi 2014. Adaptive evolution without natural selection. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 114. DOI: 10.1111/bij.12124.
West-Eberhard, Mary Jane 2003. Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
6) Frederik Stjernfelt, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
The linguist James Hurford ventured to carve a "loophole" between logic and cognition with his proposal that the ventral-dorsal split in (visual) perception undertakes an analysis of the visual scene corresponding to the predicate-subject distinction constitutive for propositions. This paper critically reviews his bold proposal as to central issues such as representation of individuals, polyadic predicates, and the unity of propositions.
Hurford, James: "The Origins of Meaning. Studies in the Evolution of Language", Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007
Stjernfelt, Frederik: "Natural Propositions. The Actuality of Peirce's Doctrine of Dicisigns", Boston: Docent Press 2014
7) Nelly Mäekivi, Tartu University, Department of Semiotics, email@example.com
THE STATUS OF ANIMALS IN ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS – A ZOOSEMIOTIC PERSPECTIVE
There exists a vast array of different (and often contradictory) views on the purposes and functions of zoological gardens (e.g. purely recreational institutions that hold animals in captivity for entertainment (e.g. Braveman 2012; Jamieson 1995), educational institutions that are meant to raise awareness of animals’ biology and their habitat (e.g. Packer, Ballantyne 2010; Parker 2006), conservational institutions that have their highest priority in saving wildlife and ecosystems (e.g. Price, Fa, 2007; Zimmerman et al. (eds.) 2007.)). As a consequence, animals in zoos are respectively perceived and represented in different contexts. Animals and their rights, animals as basis for environmental education, animals and their welfare, species conservation, and use of animals for recreation are just a few discussion points that arise when considering zoo animals as the focal point in zoological gardens’ activities. Stemming from evaluation of pros and cons of existence and purposes of the institutions of zoological gardens, narratives pertaining to status of zoo animals are often additionally burdened with ethical issues (e.g. Lee 2005; Bostock 1993.), that are in essence concerned with the attitudes and behaviors that people should have towards animals. As a result, the status of animals in zoological gardens is in constant flux.
In order to classify some common features that characterize perceptions and interpretations of zoo animals, it is fruitful to employ the point of view of zoosemiotics (e.g. Martinelli 2007, 2010; Sebeok 1972, 1990; Hediger 1964, 1966). When analyzing the possible statuses of zoo animals, one should take into account the interconnectedness of different stances that enable to shift perceptions and interpretations within anthropological zoosemiotics (e.g. between Martinelli’s (2007) classification of stereotypical human attitudes towards animals; also between the sub-divisions of significational/representational and communicational anthropological zoosemiotics). In addition, ethological branch of zoosemiotics often influences perceptions and representations of different animals in zoological gardens.
This paper has its aim in dwelling deeper into the issue of modeling various perceptions and interpretations of zoo animals which can be held by different interest groups (e.g. visitors, zoo staff, animal rights activists, etc.). Using zoosemiotics as a research frame, it is shown that it is relatively easy to shift one’s point of view, or have several at once, thus creating discrepancies that always surround the discussion of status of zoo animals.
Bostock, Stephen 1993. Zoos and Animal Rights: The Ethics of Keeping Animals. London and New York: Routledge.
Braverman, Irus 2012.Zooland:The Institution of Captivity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Hediger, Heini. 1964. Wild Animals in Captivity: An Outline of the Biology of Zoological Gardens. New York: Dover Publisher.
— 1969. Man and Animal in the Zoo: Zoo Biology. New York: Delacorte Press.
Jamieson, Dale 1995. Zoos revisited. In: Norton, Bryan; Maple, Terry; Stevens, Elizabeth (eds.). Ethics on the Ark: Zoos, Animal Welfare, and Wildlife Conservation. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 52–66.
Lee, Keekok 2005. Zoos: A Philosophical Tour. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Martinelli, Dario 2007. Zoosemiotics: Proposal for a Handbook. Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute at Imatra.
— 2010. A Critical Companion of Zoosemiotics – People, Paths, Ideas. Berlin-New York: Springer.
Packer, Jan; Ballantyne, Roy 2010.The role of zoos and aquariums in education for a sustainable future.New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 127, 25–34.
Parker, Louise 2006. Education of Zoo Visitors and Advocacy of Captive Kea (Nestor notabilis): A Controversial Species. Unpublished thesis, Bachelor of Applied Animal Technology, Unitec University of New Zealand. Available athttp://www.keaconservation.co.nz/pdfs/education_and_advocacy.pdf.
Price, Stanley; Fa, John E. 2007. Reintroductions from zoos: A conservation guiding light or a shooting star? In: Zimmerman, Alexandra et al. (eds.) 2007. Zoos in the 21st Century: Catalysts for Conservation? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 155–177.
Sebeok, Thomas A. 1972. Perspectives in Zoosemiotics. The Hague: Mouton.
— 1990. Essays in Zoosemiotics. Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle.
Zimmerman, Alexandra et al. (eds.) 2007. Zoos in the 21st Century: Catalysts for Conservation? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
8) Silver Rattasepp
Biosemiotics and Speculative Realism: Friends or Foes?
A new strand of continental philosophy was birthed in 2007, dubbed „speculative realism“. This is an umbrella term that covers disparate critical approaches to what has been identified as the core problem of continental thought: the Kantian legacy of postulating a transcendental guarantor to any thought of the “outside”. The post-Kantian argument is that whatever structure there may be in the world, it must be imposed or generated by some sort of a subjective or cognitive act. Quentin Meillassoux has summarised this invariant of post-Kantian thought, calling it correlationism: “No X without givenness of X, and no theory about X without a positing of X. […] Consequently, the sentence: ‘X is’, means: ‘X is the correlate of thinking’ […]. That is: X is the correlate of an affection, or a perception, or a conception, or of any subjective act.” (Meillassoux 2007: 409) Much of post-Kantian philosophy has been engaged in finding, defining, generalizing and specifying the conditions of this guarantee or legitimation, be it in linguistic practices, discourse, communication, consciousness, etc. Speculative realism, then, circumscribes a set of critical philosophical engagements targeted against this relatively unquestioned legacy of “correlationism”, sometimes also called “philosophy of access”.
While much of contemporary continental philosophy takes correlationism as given, the position of semiotics, and especially biosemiotics, is much more uncertain. In biosemiotics, the pervasive Peircean influence has prevented the reduction of processes of meaning-making to some sort of a human or human-like subject or that subject’s cognitive practices. As such, it seems to be an excellent ally to speculative realism. Nevertheless, some aspects of biosemiotics, most notably the Uexküll-inspired zoosemiotics, can be taken to amount to the extension of “correlationism” to cover all living organisms – it merely broadens the scope of the “philosophy of access” to the realm of the non-human.
It will be argued that speculative realism can help biosemiotics to overcome some of its unacknowledged philosophical baggage, and that biosemiotics can help rein in some of speculative realism’s arid metaphysical excesses. The presentation will provide an overview of speculative realism and compare it to biosemiotics, with the goal of interrogating these two hitherto entirely unconnected strands of thought with an eye towards their future fruitful intertwining.
Deleuze, Gilles; Mackay, Robin 2007. Presentation by Quentin Meillassoux. Collapse Vol. III: Unknown Deleuze [+ Speculative Realism]. Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic.
9. Sergey Chebanov, Prof. Dr.Sci., St. Petersburg State University, Russia, Member of IASS Executive Committee
The gardens - one of reference objects of semiotics. Nevertheless, usually they are considered only in a context of semiotics of culture as one of anthroposemiotics branches. That circumstance that live plants (trees, flowers) and animals alternate in a garden with artificial plants and models of animals is very indicative - the semiotics of live plants as subject of biosemiotics isn't taken into account.
However, full consideration of semiotics of gardens demands its analysis from the point of view of all three areas of modern semiotics - anthroposemiotics, biosemiotics and semiotics of technique. Consideration of semiotics of gardens in aspect of anthroposemiotics is an analysis of gardens from the point of view of styles (Renaissance, romanticism, regular, landscape and forest parks), appointments (training, entertainment, recreation), town planning (role of gardens in formation of green zones, town-garden creation), etc.
The biosemiotics of gardens is connected with semiotics processes of organisms forming a garden, in particular, biosemiotics interactions (exosemiosis - Sebeok, 1976), important for ecosemiotics (Kull,1998, Nöth, 1996).
The garden includes a difficult complex of technical means - architectural constructions, means of protection, systems of water supply of fountains, lighting, which existence is a subject of semiotics of technique.
Historical gardens are the gardens existing many decades. Three processes take place during this time: domination of one style is replaced by domination of gardens of other style, the shape of plants (bushes and trees) changes owing to their growth, the garden equipments (lighting, illumination, watering) changes after development of technology (up to using of computers - semiotics machines - for management of gardens' equipment). Thus garden existence in time - a complex combination of diverse processes: changes of semiotics systems of culture and of semiotics phenomena of technique, functioning of biosemiotic systems. Only comprehension of unity of these three semiotics processes will be real semiotics of historical gardens.
Characteristic of plan de l'expression of these three types of semiotics processes is that each of them is a palimpsest. So, the garden containing large perennials (trees, bushes) undergoes considerable changes (cutting of branches, replanting of young trees, cutting down and grubbing old one) according to fashion trends, constantly updating of flowers), there are new garden constructions, entertainments, monuments, fountains, etc. Living organisms are such palimpsests also, and their genomes as palimpsests rewriting throughout at least 3,7 billion years.
Technical equipment of historical gardens was repeatedly replaced essentially new or reconstructed too, but traces of the old equipment are present at modern garden equipment in an explicit (parts of modern designs) or in hidden (predetermining the sizes of the modern equipment, its configuration in space, the name of parts of technical designs) forms.
Depending on quality of professional training and quality of a deleting of the previous text, feature of gardens as palimpsests can be distinguished to some ease - cultural, biological and technical features of such palimpsests are easier distinguished by experts in culture semiotics, biosemiotics and semiotics of technique.