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Friday, 31 July 2009

Existential universals

Yesterday I finished my article "Existential universals: Biosemiosis and existential semiosis", for Eero Tarasti's anthology Transcending Signs.

Contents:
"Semiotics of being"
"Universals of biosemiosis"
"On Earth - the natural setting of the human condition"
"On the alienation of the semiotic animal"
Let there be no doubt: Existential universals can be articulated and conceptualized in a variety of ways. Any numbered list would be likely to be incomplete - and any chronological exposition may well be at least in part arbitrary. That being said, this is my bid.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Brian Goodwin (1931-2009)

I just got the news that Brian Goodwin is dead, since July 15th.

B.G. held a PhD in theoretical biology. Among his books are How The Leopard Changed Its Spots (1994). He liked climbing trees. B.G. will be remembered for his pioneering contributions to theoretical biology and complexity science, not least through his development of biological structuralism (incomplete Wikipedia-article here). For many years at the end of his life (ten, or a bit more) Brian taught at Schumacher College, UK. His latest title there was "Scholar in residence". In addition to contributing to short courses he taught at their groundbreaking MSc in Holistic science - for which he was of foundational importance, along with staff ecologist (deep ecologist, James Lovelock-colleague) Stephan Harding.

Personally I encountered Goodwin at two occasions. First, when - the autumn of 1999 - I resided at Schumacher college for three months as a volunteer. B.G. was at that point the main responsible for the newly created MSc in Holistic science, which I believe was in its second year. Now and then I got to listen to his talks in the MSc or in courses, or talk with him at dinner etc. My second encounter with Goodwin occured in the summer/autumn of 2006. At the age of 75, he accepted an invitation to figure in the advisory board of a Nordic-Baltic Research Network for Philosophy of Biology. The network never got funding, and therefore never materialised. I was onboard as the assigned secretary of this network.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Global Species

I have just finished my journal article 'The Global Species', for New formations.
In this article I will attempt to demonstrate that the historical process of globalization - in the long term - can be outlined in terms of the expanding and eventually practically global range (occurrence) not only of our own species, but of several of our affiliated species as well.
Contents:
The Ecosemiotics of Globalisation
The Beginnings of Globalisation
The Ecology of Capitalism
The Politics of Biosemiotics

Friday, 10 July 2009

Lecturer at University of Agder

I have agreed to give lectures this autumn at the Department of Religion, Philosophy and History, Faculty of Humanities and Education, University of Agder (Norway). The lectures, in the history of philosophy, are part of Examen Philosophicum (Ex.Phil.), the Norwegian compulsory introduction to philosophy.

Philosophers covered will include the following:
Plato
Aristotle
Augustin
Macchiavelli
Hobbes
Descartes
Hume
Kant
Kierkegaard

Classes start August 24th.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Brief report from Gathering in Biosemiotics 9, Prague

The 9th Gathering in biosemiotics took place in Prague, The Czech republic, June 30th-July 4th. 48 presentations were scheduled in the programme (abstract book here), a few of which were cancelled.

Some talks I enjoyed (I did not attend all talks):
Edward BAENZIGER: "Photosemiosis in orchids"
Eliseo FERNÁNDEZ: "Biosemiotics and the relational turn in biology"
Jonathan HOPE: "Umwelträume and multi-sensory integration"
Timo MARAN and Karel KLEISNER: "Semiotic selection, cooption, and good old Darwin: Is there a common basis for the explanation of mimicry, sexual selection, and domestication?"

My talk, "On contrapuntuality: Semiotic niche vs. ontological niche: the case of the Scandinavian wolf population" was given Friday 3rd of July - and went well, with positive response and useful feedback.


I further enjoyed the spirited company of (among others) Myrdene ANDERSON, Luis Emileo BRUNI, Sara CANNIZZARO, Paul COBLEY, Stephen PAIN, Riin MAGNUS, Rex ALEXANDER and Prisca AUGUSTYN.

Augustyn held an interesting workshop on Uexküll translation (she is currently translating Theoretische Biologie (1928), among other texts). The gathering also featured a lively roundtable on the concept of meaning within biology, to which there were 20 suggestions for definitions.

The next gatherings will be arranged the following places (main responsible in parenthesis):
2010: Portugal ... (João Carlos MAJOR)
2011: New York (Victoria ALEXANDER)
2012: Tartu (Kalevi KULL)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Climate change and the growth paradigm

Stephen Purdey (University of Toronto) has composed a short text addressing "the link between science and society regarding climate change" (email distributed via the adaptation-list for participants at the March 2009 Copenhagen climate conference). More specifically, he writes about "The Growth Paradigm" (cf. his book Economic Growth, the Environment and International Relations, to be published in November by Routledge).

Excerpts:
Mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change are important objectives, but the biggest obstacle to achieving those objectives, and to successfully maintaining a stable planetary climate, is the deep-seated commitment among policy-makers to continuous economic growth.

... Continuous growth depends irrevocably on the continuous transformation and consumption of energy. The socio-political commitment to unending economic growth will inevitably overwhelm any effort to conserve energy, or to shift energy supplies from carbon-based to renewable sources, and it is fundamentally incompatible with any absolute reduction in the amount of energy consumed. Greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced per unit of economic production in the global economy, but if production itself continues to increase, then those relative reductions will ultimately be futile.

... at its root, climate change is a socio-political, indeed a cultural issue and as such requires from scientists a kind of social and moral awareness which often falls outside their normal range of professional interests. ... Now scientists have the ... obligation of pointing out that the core policy priority of governments around the world is at odds with immutable physical laws which preclude unending economic growth.
And here's my response (sent to Purdey only):
Dear Stephen,

I do believe this is a very important point (see my article "The Statistician's Guide to Utopia: The Future of Growth").

In this context I think it is further crucial to emphasize the shift in attention and political priority that is going on today as part of the rising global awareness about climate change, wherein climate issues tends to dominate and almost monopolize environmental policies. Just think about energy: Even if we did manage to use only renewable energy etc., that energy consumption (and the economic activity that goes along with it) would, within a paradigm if never-ending growth, be likely to have severe environmental consequences; even it the climate problem was hypothetically solved (which is in itself a totally unrealistic assumption, of course).

A further consequence of the prospect of continued growth is that policies increasingly depend on high-tech solutions, which further commits us to a technologically dominated society and in effect limits our range of policy options.

By the way, have you read "Surviving 1,000 centuries: Can we do it?" - A very informing book about the physical limits of our long-term global activities.

Best,

(morten tønnessen)
Academic homepage: http://utopianrealism.blogspot.com