Integrated biological individualism and the primacy of the individual level of biological organization
Morten Tønnessen, Department of Semiotics – University of Tartu
In ‘Umwelt Transitions: Uexküll and Environmental Change’ (Biosemiotics 2.2) I introduced the notion of integrated biological individualism, according to which the individual, or more precisely organismic, level should occupy the centre—the middle ground—of methodology in the life sciences, at the crossroad where the somatic realm encounters the ecological one. The term was then included in a broader programmatic treatment in ‘Steps to a Semiotics of Being’ (Biosemiotics 3.3). From the standpoint of the individual, or organism, we can describe how an individual organism is constituted as a biological body, as well as how nature as a global ecological system is constituted by individual organisms and their interrelations. Nature, then, is a body of bodies (the ultimate superorganism); and any individual self is by its nature a social self – through its interrelation with others, a self is always bigger than itself.
In this paper I will expand upon the notion of integrated biological individualism by relating it more explicitly to the suggested primacy of the individual level of biological organization. As Anton Markoš remarks (Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolutionary Biology (2002): 29), life “proceeds synchronously on innumerable space, time, and organizational levels. Nothing on any single level can reveal its essence”. Yet, it remains that a biological science with no concern for, or interest in, the living themselves (qua living beings – at the level of the individual) would be deeply problematic. There is no doubt that the ‘genetic turn’ in biology has been successful in terms of scientific understanding, but the new microscopic realm that has opened up to us has simultaneously induced us to neglect the ‘life-size’ realm. What future can we envision for the critical task of Umwelt mapping?
After a general introduction to this topic matter I will introduce an original, tentatively all-inclusive model of various levels of biosemiosis. According to this model there are six levels of biosemiosis, falling under three broader categories.
CATEGORIES // PRIMARY REALM // PRIMARY FIELD OF SEMIOTICS OF NATURE
SUB-PERCEPTUAL SEMIOSIS = MICROSCOPIC SEMIOSIS // Somatic // Biosemiotics
PERCEPTUAL SEMIOSIS = ORGANISMIC SEMIOSIS // Social // Zoosemiotics
SUPER-PERCEPTUAL SEMIOSIS = MACROSCOPIC SEMIOSIS // Ecological // Ecosemiotics
* social proper, in the sense of involving several individuals
The tripartite model is relevant for simple and complex life forms alike (though in the case of very simple – non-social – creatures it collapses into a two-category model). As it demonstrates, perception is at the core of biosemiosis, even though not all biosemiosis is perceptual, and even though perception constitutes but one level (or layer) of biosemiosis. The standing of perception is intimately tied to the standing of the individual. With such an overall model of biosemiosis, the individual organism (and its lifeworld) is methodologically placed at the center of biological research.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Abstract for the NY gathering in biosemiotics
I have completed and submitted an abstract for the 11th international gathering in biosemiotics, which will for the first time take place outside Europe - in New York, June 21-26 2011.