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Monday, 15 December 2008

Umwelt Transitions: Uexküll and Environmental Change

My article "Umwelt Transitions: Uexküll and Environmental Change" is in the process of being published online (available for Biosemiotics subscribers). The paper version will appear in April 2009.

Cf. also Biosemiotics´ role at the David Abram workshops to be arranged in Tartu February 2009.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Workshop webpage: SemioPhenomenon

The David Abram events scheduled to take place in Tartu, February 2009 has given rise to a new webpage, SemioPhenomenon, where updates about the events will appear.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

One more confirmed presenter for the David Abram workshops

For the Ecology of Perception workshop, Kalevi Kull will be offering the talk "On consortia, Umwelten, and biophony".

Monday, 8 December 2008

The David Abram workshops - Tartu, Feb 2009

I have now scheduled the two workshops involving David Abram (and several others) to be arranged in Tartu:
- Feb 6-7th: The Ecology of Peception: Landscapes in Culture and Nature
- Feb 9-10th: Animal Minds

A workshop webpage will appear shortly. As for now other confirmed presenters include Dario Martinelli, Kati Lindström and myself.

Poster presentation at The IARU International Scientific Congress on Climate Change

The organizers of The IARU International Scientific Congress on Climate Change, to take place in Copenhagen, March 2009, has announced that my work “The nature view held by environmentalists. Attitudes in the Norwegian environmental establishment” will appear at the congress as a poster presentation.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Estonian-Norwegian-Japanese cooperation

The David Abram workshop "The Ecology of Perception: Landscapes in Culture and Nature" will be organized in cooperation with the research project "Neolithisation and Modernisation: Landscape History on the East Asian Inland Seas" at Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto. Kati Lindström will be representing the project.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Zoosemiotics review

I have just been informed that my review article "A stroll around the worlds of zoosemioticians and other animals", a review of Dario Martinelli´s "Zoosemiotics. Proposals for a handbook" has been accepted by the journal Semiotica.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

David Abram in Swedish (and Norwegian)

David Abram´s 'The Spell of the Sensuous. Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World' is in the process of being translated to Swedish. The publishing house Litteraturhuset now reports that the publication can be expected in the autumn of 2009.

The book appeared in Norwegian in 2005, published by Flux, with the less-than-optimal title "Sansenes magi. Aa se mer enn du ser" (The magic of the senses. To see more than you see).

Sunday, 9 November 2008

David Abram to Estonia/Europe

My project to get eco-phenomenologist David Abram to Tartu/Estonia (and possibly neighbouring Nordic countries) for workshops and lectures is progressing. The events might take place already February 2009. Work titles include 'Animal minds' and 'The Ecology of Perception. Landscapes in Culture and Nature'.

Abram is currently in the last phase of the completion of his second book (following 'The Spell of the Sensuous'), 'Becoming Animal', which is expected to be published in the autumn of 2009.

Friday, 7 November 2008

WCEH: Of wolves, seals and whales: human impact on aquatic and terrestrial animals

The Program Committee for the 1st World Congress for Environmental History 2009 (to take place in Copenhagen August 4-8, 2009) has evaluated all submissions in an anonymous process. More than 650 papers were submitted.

The Scientific committee has accepted my proposed paper, "Estranged, Endangered, Extinct. Lessons from the Extinction of the Scandinavian Wolf", which will be part of a panel, put together by the scientific committee, titled:
  • Of wolves, seals and whales: human impact on aquatic and terrestrial animals

The other presentations currently attached to this panel include:

  • Monk seal populations in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean since the 15th century: A journey through time to unravel human impacts and historical trends
  • Global Whaling Politics in the North Atlantic and South Pacific

Monday, 20 October 2008

Transcending Signs

Professor Eero Tarasti reports that his planned anthology 'Transcending Signs' is finally moving ahead, to be published by Mouton de Gruyter. I have, upon invitation, submitted a contribution, and it now appears that this might (in a thoroughly revised form) be published after all.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Umwelt Transitions

´Umwelt Transitions. Uexküll and Environmental Change´, as it now is named, will be published in No. 1, Volume 2 of Biosemiotics (April 2009).

Monday, 13 October 2008

Teleology in the Life Sciences

Me and some other Tartu biosemioticians are about to join an application for the research project ´Teleology in the Life sciences´ (2010-2014). We are thus joining an initiative from The History of Science Department of the University of Bari (Italy), aimed at an ESF (European Science Foundation) Research Networking Programme.

The project aims at ´investigating the wide literature concerning ... teleology in the life sciences produced in the last centuries in Europe´, by way of establishing ´a real interdisciplinary “observatory”, between history/philosophy of biology and the life sciences´.

Constituting an Estonian national research group in the project, we will (if successful) be obliged to organize and manage at least one meeting for the duration of the project, and attend at least three science meetings organized by groups of other countries.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Two new journal articles

My original article ´Umwelt Transition´ has been split in two, revised parts: ´Umwelt Transition: Uexküll and Environmental Change´ (submitted to Biosemiotics) and ´Notes toward a natural history of the phenomenal world´ (submitted to Journal of Environmental Philosophy).

The abstract (and motto) for the latter reads:

Notes toward a natural history of the phenomenal world

From the contemporary perspective of global warming and rapid environmental change, it seems obvious that there is something wrong with nature, for which human activity is to blame. Tracing the origin of the ecological crisis, it appears that this very idea is at the root of the problem – since, all through the ages, we have been ‘improving’ and taming nature as if there was something wrong with it from the very beginning.

Programme text; the seminar What’s wrong with nature?[1]


In this article, the Umwelt theory of Jakob von Uexküll (1864-1944) is reviewed in light of modern findings related to environmental change – especially from macroevolution and anthropology – and related to eco-phenomenology. Uexküll’s thought is understood as a distinctive theory of phenomenology – an ‘Uexküllian phenomenology’, characterized by an assumption of the (in the realm of life) universal existence of a genuine first person perspective, i.e., of experienced worlds. The ecological crisis is interpreted as an ontological crisis with historical roots in humankind’s domestication of animals and plants, which can be taken as archetypical for our attempted planet-scale taming of the wild.

Keywords Anthropology, domestication, economy, eco-phenomenology, ecosemiotics, natural history, tame/wild, Umwelt

[1] ‚What’s wrong with nature? An interdisciplinary seminar investigating human perceptions of nature and environmental change‘. Arranged in Tartu, January 25-26th, 2008, by The Jakob von Uexküll Center (Estonian Naturalists Society) in cooperation with Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics, University of Tartu. Programme text by Riste Keskpaik and Morten Tønnessen.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

'Umwelt ethics' - further teaching, and another reference

My 2003 article Umwelt ethics was part of the compulsary literature for the 2005/2006 seminar Seminar zur Geschichte der Biologie: Ethik, Erkenntnis, Naturwissenschaft. Geschichte und post-moderne Rezeption der Umweltkonzeption Jakob von Uexkülls (Torstein Rüting, starting November 1st, 2005) at Universität Hamburg. It now appears that the seminar was repeated in the summer semester of 2006 (seminar starting April 4th, 2006), with an identical reading list.

Furthermore, as I just discovered, Timo Maran, my fellow Tartu semiotician, refers to my article in 'Where do your borders lie? Reflections on the semiotical ethics of nature', which was published (pgs. 455-476) in Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism (eds. Catrin Gersdorf, Sylvia Mayer - Amsterdam/New York 2006: Rodopi). On pg. 467 (footnote 11), he writes:

"Seeing ourselves as intertwined with our environments, surroundings and contexts by meaning relations should also lead us to consider our fellow humans on the same premisses. As shown by Morten Tønnessen, this in its turn may bring along the need to consider ethically also higher semiotic structures, such as habitats, populations, cultures, with which other subjects are related (Tønnessen 2003: 291-2)."

This is to my knowledge the sixth academic reference to my work (2002x2, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) - whereof the third to 'Umwelt ethics' (2005, 2006, 2007).

Biosemiotics on Scribd - top 10

A search on 'biosemiotics' at results in 61 entries. Excluding marginal ones, such as Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology vol 2, and in stead displaying mostly only individual authors, these are the most viewed texts (most of which uploaded less than half a year ago):

1. [Kull] jakob von uexkull biography 431 views
2. [Sharov] The origin of a sign 175 views
3. Introduction To Semiotics - From Signals To Syntax 149 views
4. [Maran] Mimicry, a semiotic understanding of nature 148 views
5. [Kull] physics and semiotics 131 views
6. [Kotov] semiosphere - a chemistry of being 126 views
7. [Kravchenko] Cognitive linguistics, biology of cognition 108 views
8. [Morten Toennessen] Umwelt ethics 81 views
9. [Noth] Ecosemiotics 81 views
10. [Emmeche] A-life, organism and body - the semiotic of emergent properties 77 views

Tartu semioticians (Kull, Maran, Kotov, and me) are doing well, with 5 of the top 10 entries...

A musical note (The Schopenhauer Experience)

At Amplify Music TSE-tunes are ranked at no. 107 (Hey, thou), 108 (Let your spirit talk), 109 (Alene (på en stein i mørket)), 114 and 115 among about 2.000 uploaded songs. Whatever that means (the site appears to be mostly inactive).

At CrapTV, TSE's music video 'The face of love' has been played 322 times (ranks at approximately no. 300 out of 1.000 videoes).

At My Space, TSE-tunes have, all in all, been played 2,479 times (available now: Atomic, Herfra til ingensteder, En knott i havet, Hey thou Tartu remix). Profile displayed 3,659 times.

At NRK Urørt, TSE-tunes have been played 88 times, downloaded 556 times (Wille 279, Noizette 277).

All in all: Some 3-4.000 listenings...

Monday, 1 September 2008

The nature view held by environmentalists

I have submitted an abstract to the 2009 Copenhagen conference (March 10-12) 'Climate change: Global Risks, Challanges and Decisions', entitled 'The nature view held by environmentalists: Attitudes in the Norwegian environmental establishment'.


Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions

Copenhagen, March 10-12, 2009


"Culture, Values and World Perspectives as Factors in Responding to Climate Change"

Morten Tønnessen

The nature view held by environmentalists

Attitudes in the Norwegian environmental establishment

The work to be presented is the outcome of a survey of partly qualitative and partly quantitative character, which was carried out in preparation of the debate book Utslippsfrie nye verden? [Pollution-free new world?].

The survey was carried out August-September 2006, with 37 respondents, made up of environmentalists, politicians, scholars and researchers and industry representatives. A total of 200 selected persons were invited to participate, all of them decision makers involved in Norwegian environmental discourse.

The questionnaire included the following open question:

- What do you have in common with all living beings?

- What is an environmental problem?

- For whom are the so-called environmental problems a problem?

- Do potential ‘environmental bombs’, left behind after humankind’s eventual extinction, concern us?

- Can the so-called environmental problems be overcome without changes in fundamental economic, technological and ideological structures?

- For how long can, will, and should the growth economy go on?

- Should the European population in 100 years be higher, lower or equal to that of today?

- To what extent does the Norwegian corporative model (where business interests as well as environmental NGOs have become an integrated part of an extended bureaucracy) make sense?

Two further tasks were of a more statistical nature.

- ranking of various energy sources (including electric power from natural gas and coal, with and without carbon capture and storage (CCS)), according to their environmental friendliness

- attribution of value to ten human/natural entities ranging from ‘individual human beings’ to ‘nature’

The respondents’ ranking of energy sources (according to ‘environmental friendliness’) seems to have reflected historically contingent ideological stands, dating back to major conflict in modern Norwegian environmental debate. One example is hydropower, which is still to some extent controversial. On coal plants and nuclear power, which has not been established in Norway, there is a near-consensus, negatively speaking. Controversies especially surround CCS-supported electric power from natural gas (a more recent, and ongoing strife), which was ranked any place from top to bottom, and appears, comparatively, to be over-rated by some while under-rated by others (in average, such energy ranked at no. 8 out of 15, that is, exactly at the middle of the ranking). While coal-fired electric plants without CCS shared the highest number of bottom-rankings with nuclear power (15 each), solar energy was superior at the top of the scale (with 20 top rankings), ahead of ocean wave energy (8 top rankings).

As for attribution of value, in all categories, more than 9 out of 10 attributed value to all or some entities belonging to all ten categories. Around 9 out of 10 attributed value to ‘all of’ ‘individual human beings’, ‘nature’ and ‘species’. At the other end of the scale, only 6 out of 10 attributed value to all ‘cultural landscapes’. Perhaps most surprisingly, only 7 out of 10 attributed value to all ‘cultures’, while 3 out of 10 attributed value only to ‘some’ cultures. Equivalently high scores for ‘some’ were only found for ‘landscapes’, ‘cultural landscapes’ and ‘individuals of other species’. On this point it was (perhaps surprisingly) more difficult to find patterns related to political/ideological stands, as most respondents were generally eager to attribute value to a whole range of human and natural entities.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Book review - zoosemiotics

Just finished my book review of

* Dario Martinelli, Zoosemiotics: Proposals for a Handbook (= Acta Semiotica Fennica XXVI). Imatra/Helsinki: The International Semiotics Institute, 2007.

Review article
A stroll around the worlds of zoosemioticians and other animals
Morten Tønnessen

Zoosemiotics is on various levels encyclopaedic in its form, but not systematically so in its content. More often than not, it is highly informative. The broad, systematic project of the book, however, is undermined by a poor selection of references to zoosemioticians and an apparent bias for anthropoid animals. Nevertheless, Dario Martinelli's spotlight on human-animal relations, including their ethical aspects, deserves attention. Close to 50 years after its explicit conception, zoosemiotics remains a promising, rather than accomplished field of scholarly discourse.

animal signification
human-animal relations
Thomas Sebeok

Morten Tønnessen (born 1976) is a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics, University of Tartu. The work title of his doctoral thesis is 'Umwelt Transition: Uexküllian Phenomenology. An Ecosemiotic Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management.' Within Sebeok's scheme of zoosemiotic classification it can be located at the border between descriptive and applied zoosemiotics.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Semioethics - interview

I have agreed with Susan Petrilli that I will conduct an interview later this autumn with her (and Augusto Ponzio) on semioethics - a theory which makes use of (bio-)semiotics and post-modern theory in critizising capitalism.

Currently looking for a journal which might be interested in publishing such an interview...

Thursday, 31 July 2008

´Umwelt transition - Uexküll and environmental change´

Just finished the second, after all likelihood final draft of ´Umwelt transition. Uexküll and environmental change´. 28 pages manuscript.


What role does environmental change play within Jakob von Uexküll's thought? And what role can it play, within a up-to-date Uexküllian framework? Admittedly, in hindsight it appears that the Umwelt theory suffers from its reliance on Uexküll's false premise that the environment (including its mixture of species) is generally stable. In this article, the Umwelt theory of Uexküll is reviewed in light of modern findings related to environmental change, especially from macroevolution and anthropology. Uexküll's thought is interpreted as a distinctive theory of phenomenology - an 'Uexküllian phenomenology', characterized by an assumption of the (in the realm of life) universal existence of a genuine first person perspective, i.e., of experienced worlds. It is suggested that acknowledging this distinctiveness is critical for eco-phenomenology as well as for biosemiotics; the latter of which can only thus thrive as a true 'semiotics of being', rather than a mere 'semiotics of functioning'. The ecological crisis is interpreted as an ontological crisis with historical roots in humankind's domestication of animals and plants, which can be taken as archetypical for our attempted planet-scale taming of the wild. In addition to domestication, a 'semiotics of economy', or 'semiotic economy', treating the economy as an interface between culture and nature, is suggested as a prioritized subject for bio- and eco-semiotic research. Furthermore, the importance of 'Umwelt mapping', i.e., the drawing of a relational map of nature, for conservation efforts is stressed.


From 'the balance of nature' to 'environmental change'
On the forms of life
On the niche of life
Uexküllian phenomenology - a 'semiotics of being'


The virtuality of contemporary life
The ontological crisis
The wild and the tame
The aftermath

Friday, 11 July 2008

Seminar on Peircean habits

I will attend - though (due to late information) unfortunately not present at - the IV Advanced Seminar on Peirce's Philosophy and Semiotics, arranged in São Paulo September 4-5th this autumn accompanying the 11. Jornada do Centro Internacional de Estudos Peirceanos (CIEP), at PUC-SP, the catholic university of São Paulo.

Among the (more or less) foreign guests are Mats Bergman, Helsinki ('Improving our habits') and Winfried Nöth (Kassel, Germany/São Paulo - 'Habit and the symbol'). Lucia Santaella will not be presenting, but will open one of the sessions, with half an hour at her disposal.

Biosemiosis - the blog

I have joined the blog Biosemiosis, administered by Claus Emmeche and Marcello Barbieri, as one of its authors. The registration of me and many others follows an email debate that has been going on for the last few days about pansemiotics and the semiotic status of phenomena outside of the realm of the living - as it has become clear that there is a need for a forum for regular discussions within the biosemiotic community.

Contributors by now includes

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Academic texts at Scribd

My page at has been updated with several texts, including the following academic ones:
- 'Jakob von Uexküll og øyets verden' (in Norwegian - 'Jakob von Uexküll and the world of the eye')
- 'Environmental problems in light of Gabriel Marcel's distinction problem/mystery' (abstract)
- 'Umwelt transition: Uexküllian Phenomenology - Research plan'
- 'Om fluer og filosofi' (in Norwegian - 'On flies and philosophy', an interview with Arne Næss)

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Update on 'Umwelt transition'

My journal article 'Umwelt transition. Uexküll and environmental change' is still in process. It now seems to be destined for publication - com a graça de Deus - at some point in 2009. I hope to finish a second draft (a thorough revision, and expansion) in a few days. Changes include a more systematic outline, more ecological context (especially from macroevolution) and more references to other Uexküll scholars within biosemiotics.

No trip to Europe

There will be no trip to Europe for me this year, after all, as the required funding did not fall in place.

A pity, considering the plans that had gradually taken form in my mind, with possible stops not only in Tartu but also Oslo, and possibly Helsinki...

All my academic work, therefore, will this year be carried out from Brazil. Gosh, I would like to go to the Amazon...

Monday, 30 June 2008

Formalia - main researcher

After a brief interlude of linguistic confusion, it has now been made clear that my title, or role, in the research project "The Cultural Heritage of Environmental Spaces. A Comparative Analysis Between Estonia and Norway", headed by Sabine Brauckmann, is 'main researcher'.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Reference to 'Umwelt ethics'

Sebastian Burch refers to my 2003 article 'Umwelt ethics' in an essay of his master thesis in Holistic science, taken at Schumacher College, UK, 2007. His essay is entitled 'About the nature of signs and signifying nature. An introduction to Semiotics in the fields of Holistic science'.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Future of Growth - out now

TRAMES no. 2, 2008, has now been published - with my article "The Statistician's Guide to Utopia: The Future of Growth". Feel free to check out abstract with references or the whole article.

The article is also uploaded to Scribd.

Monday, 26 May 2008

"Umwelt ethics"

My journal article from 2003, "Umwelt ethics" - an Uexküllian interpretation of the deep ecology platform of Arne Næss - has been uploaded to the site, where it is freely available and searchable.

21 views by now.

Go to "Umwelt ethics" at

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The future of philosophy

Reading Walter Kaufmann´s "EXISTENTIALISM. From Dostoevsky to Sartre", with selected readings. It is an inspiring as well as sobering account, and seems to serve well as an introduction.

"The existentialist has tried to bring philosophy down to earth again like Socrates", Kaufmann wrote (in 1956), "but the existentialist and the analytical philosopher are each only half a Socrates. ... (I)f the feat of Socrates is really to be repeated and philosophy is to have a future outside the academics, there will have to be philosophers who think in the tension between analysis and existentialism."

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Future of Growth - excerpts

"During the last century, population increased by a factor of four, and GDP per capita at least by a factor of five (cf. tables 1 and 2). World GDP, in result, increased by a factor of at least twenty. Clearly, any descriptive explanation of the rise of the ecological crisis has to take these material facts into account.


After all, how can we possibly deal with the so-called environmental problems, if we know nothing at all about the future state of the economy?"

Abstract. In this article I paint a concise portrait of world economic and population history. Key factors include the world population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The role of technology in relation to the environmental impact of economic activity is represented by an Environmental Efficiency Factor (EEF). It is asserted that any modern political theory aspiring to comprehensiveness should deal with four subject matters: The legitimate level of human interference with the rest of nature; the level of the human population; the nature and extent of the economy and technology. Past GDP growth rates combined with UN population projections result in a number of scenarios of future real GDP to the year 2300. In the course of inquiry, three measures of all time economic activity are introduced: All time world GDP per capita, accumulated world GDP and the annual growth rate of accumulated world GDP. In conclusion, I describe under what circumstances it is conceivable that the growth economy can persist for at least 300 more years. Directions of inquiry are offered to three groups: Those who want to maintain the growth economy for as long as possible; those who want world population to stay, in the long run, at a level comparable to that of today; and those who want to minimize environmental pressure.

The Future of Growth

My academic article "THE STATISTICIAN´S GUIDE TO UTOPIA: THE FUTURE OF GROWTH" has been accepted by the Estonian journal TRAMES, and will be published in the time to come.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Global Greens

On my way to the Global Greens Congress - the second of its kind, this time around taking place in São Paulo...

Monday, 28 April 2008

Trip to Europe, after all


It seems likely, all of a sudden, that I will go to Europe after all this year. Probably september, three weeks, with most of the time in Tartu (co-writing a journal article with Ilmar Rootsi of Naturalists´ Society) and shorter stops in Oslo and Helsinki.

Details to be announced (and agreed upon)...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Positively Transforming: Estonia

In February my wife was interviewed by the Estonian daily Postimees, among with six other international students, about how it is like to be a foreigner in Estonia. Today we came across a blogger that have translated her replies (back) into English.

Foreign perspective

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Estrangement, extinction, zoosemiotics

News updates:

1. I´ve just submitted my abstract for the First World Congress on Environmental History (see link in the sidebar) - title: "Estranged, Endangered, Extinxt. Lessons from the Extinction of the Scandinavian Wolf". The panel I´m participating in will be headed by Sabine Braukmann.

2. Yesterday, I contributed with info, ideas etc. to the research grant-in-process "Dynamic approach in zoosemiotics", which will be headed by my fellow Tartu semiotician Timo Maran and take place 2009-2012.

Thursday, 10 April 2008



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