Saturday, 24 March 2012

Assignments for the University of Agder later this spring

This week I was asked to do a variety of things for the University of Agder's Department of Religion, Philosophy and History (where I have previously taught one and a half course, in 2009 and 2010 respectively). I have agreed to be an examiner at this spring's Examen Philosophicum, with responsibility for grading around 90 exam papers (home exam - which thus amounts to 180 work hours formally). This will take place in the weeks after May 21st. I might also be formally asked to be a second examiner at an oral exam in early May (7th, if I am to do the job), but this remains to be agreed. Same subject. On the other side I had to decline the request to teach Examen Philosophicum (more specifically ethics) at Lesbos, the Greek island, since the dates (in late June, early july) collide with other obligations. A pity, since I have been waiting for that call for some 3 years, and have really wanted to teach on Lesbos (the island where I in September 2005 realised that I have two tasks in life, one of which is being a scholar).

At any rate these assignments will bring my aggregate official work percentage up from 63% to 70% or so this year (though I work twice as much, all things considered and with voluntary side projects included).

Running for position as member of the board of UiS

I have nominated myself as a candidate for the position of member of the board of the University of Stavanger, representing scholars (academic staff) temporarily employed. This group is represented by 1 permanent member with two supplementary members in prioritised order. As the deadline for nominations passed on March 20th I was the only candidate, and the deadline was extended. As the extended deadline was reached on March 23rd a second candidate, dr. Zafer Øzgen, had been nominated, and our names were made public in an announcement stating that the electoral board had approved us as candidates. An election program from each of us is due by March 28, the election will take place electronically April 12-18.

If elected I will take part in board meetings around 5 times per semester in the academic year 2012-2013 (August 2012 - July 2013). Given that there are only two candidates it appears that I will at any rate become a supplementary member of the board of UiS, if nothing else.

Abstract: "The conceptual Umwelt and its role in the tripartite model of the human Umwelt"

This is my abstract for the forthcoming Language and Life workshop (Tartu, Estonia, July 15, 2012), where I will be one of the speakers.


The conceptual Umwelt and its role in the tripartite model of the human Umwelt

Morten Tønnessen
Associate professor at Institute of Health Studies, University of Stavanger
Researcher in the grant Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations (Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu)

At the outset of this paper biosemiotics, the study of living systems as sign systems, or the semiotic study of topics of biology, will be briefly introduced in order to facilitate understanding for those that are not already familiar with the concept. In broader terms the various brands of semiotics of nature include zoosemiotics (semiotic zoology) and ecosemiotics (semiotic ecology and/or semiotic human ecology) in addition to biosemiotics (semiotic biology). A basic idea of semiotics of nature is that the sign in its various manifestations constitutes a real-world entity (or process) in the realm of the living. Signs are thus not as such merely human phantom entities, nor merely animal phantom entities for that matter (though the wide-reaching realm of signs – the semiosphere (Lotman, Hoffmeyer) at large, as many have taken to call it – admittedly counts a multitude of ghostlike phenomena among its members as well). The reality of signs, and of Umwelten (von Uexküll), implies that living beings are enmeshed in worlds of meaningful, significant phenomena and occurrences at several levels of biological organisation. From a philosophical point of view the biosemiotic perspective has intriguing though debated implications for ontology, for epistemology and philosophy of science, and for ethics. What is at stake is the nature of key notions including ‘subjectivity’, ‘agency’, ‘mind’ and indeed ‘reality’. The biosemiotic idea provokes new insights into many a phenomenon’s character (by way of involvement in sign relations) of being relational.

Language (as in human language) has been approached in conflicting manners by biosemiotic scholars. Two distinct approaches that both address the relation of language to the Umwelt are, respectively,

a) Thomas A. Sebeok’s, which sees the Umwelt as a primary modelling system and language as a secondary modelling system.
b) Jesper Hoffmeyer’s, which sees language as transcending the human Umwelt.

Like Sebeok thought and Hoffmeyer thinks, I too think of language as being a species-specific human capability that has tremendous impact on the character of human affairs and of human being. The main part of this paper will be devoted to a presentation of the conceptual Umwelt (or, the conceptual aspect of the Umwelt, where applicable) and its role in the tripartite model of the human Umwelt.

By core Umwelt, I mean the aspect of Umwelt in which one interacts directly and immediately with other creatures or Umwelt objects, in (to use a figure of speech) ‘face-to-face’ encounters. By mediated Umwelt, I mean the aspect of Umwelt in which Umwelt objects are encountered indirectly by way of some mediation (memory, fantasy, anticipation, modern media, etc.). I suggest that this particular aspect of Umwelt can generally be associated with von Uexküll’s notion of the search image (Suchbild). By conceptual Umwelt, I mean the aspect of Umwelt in which one navigates among Umwelt objects in terms of predicative reasoning in general or human language in particular. Conceptual Umwelt objects are in the latter case Umwelt objects whose functional meaning is imprinted linguistically. Though the conceptual Umwelt is particularly central in the human case (to the point where we confuse linguistic reality with reality as such), a number of “higher animals” qualify for being attributed conceptual Umwelten as well, in so far as they are capable of conducting predicative reasoning. I theorise that these three layers interact dynamically so that one or two of the layers are occasionally temporarily suspended (in other words, human perception is subsequently focused – more or less exclusively – on different Umwelt layers).

The conceptual Umwelt is the most novel aspect of Umwelt in evolutionary terms and corresponds somewhat to what Sebeok characterised as humans’ secondary modelling system. But there is a difference between my perspective and that of both Sebeok and Hoffmeyer, namely that these two eminent biosemiotic scholars think of human language as being external to the human Umwelt. For both of them the Umwelt represents the ‘animal’ side of the human creature, whereas human culture can only be understood in terms of something that escapes the Umwelt (particularly language). In my perspective, human language is a special case of more widespread systems of predicative reasoning, and enmeshed in the Umwelt that is our lifeworld, our phenomenal world. Language is internal to the Umwelt, not external to it, and there is a dynamic relationship between the conceptual Umwelt and the other aspects of Umwelt. This situates the Umwelt as a rich notion capable of serving as theoretical and methodological foundation for studies of the world of the living and the world of human affairs alike.

Article on formal/informal predator management turned down

My invited article "Formell og uformell rovviltforvaltning i Skandinavia, med særlig hensyn til norsk ulveforvaltning" [Formal and informal carnivore management in Scandinavia, with emphasis on Norwegian wolf management] has been turned down in its current version by the Norwegian academic journal Materialisten. They think the text is not available enough, and welcome a revised version. I will now have to figure out whether I want to revise it according to their wishes, or rather submit it elsewhere.

Update on book chapter "Existential universals"

A month or two ago I was in contact with the associate editors of Eero Tarasti's forthcoming anthology on transcendental signs and existential semiotics, Richard Littlefield and Paul Forsell. I then sent a slightly updated version of my contribution, "Existential universals: Biosemiosis and existential semiosis", with few changes made apart from updated affiliation. The volume will likely appear in 2013 (Paris-based Mouton de Gruyter is the publisher).

CFP (in Norwegian): Minding Animals Norges forskningsseminar 2012

Minding Animals Norges forskningsseminar 2012:
Dyr, menneske og mat: Dyreetikk i landbruket
Oslo, lørdag 22. september 2012 ca. kl. 10-16

Tema for årets forskningsseminar er det etiske forholdet mellom mennesker (enten det er bønder eller forbrukere) og husdyr i matproduksjon. Vi åpner bl.a. for case studies om forskjellige slags husdyrhold. Forskningsseminaret vil særlig ta for seg:

* Utviklinga i norsk dyrehold gjennom historien fram til i dag
* Utsiktene for fremtidig dyrehold i Norge
* Ansvarsforholdet mellom primærprodusenter, forbrukere og myndigheter

Er du interessert i å presentere under forskningsseminaret, send et abstract på maksimalt 200 ord til innen 31. august. Svar sendes fortløpende. Påmelding foretas via epost til samme adresse. Nøyaktig tidsramme, sted og program kunngjøres senere.

Profile on updated

I have now updated my profile on Some days ago I changed my affiliation from University of Tartu's Department of Semiotics (where I took my PhD last year, and to which I am still affiliated through a research project) to University of Stavanger's Department of Health Studies (where I have been employed as an Associate Professor since January 1st). Today I updated the Talks section, which now counts 25 talks past and future (confirmed talks only in the time ahead).

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Nordic Semiotic Paradigms – NASS 25 years: Where do Cognitive, Bio- and Existential Semiotics Meet?

A symposium at the 27th International Summer School for Semiotic and Structural Studies (Imatra, Finland – June 8-12, 2012)
Within the days June 8-12, 2012, the symposium “Nordic Semiotic Paradigms – NASS 25 years: Where do Cognitive, Bio- and Existential Semiotics Meet?” will be arranged in Imatra, Finland, as part of the 27th International Summer School for Semiotic and Structural Studies. NASS’ president Luis Emilio Bruni will chair the anniversary symposium, which will take place at Hotel Valtionhotelli.

The Imatra ISI symposium marks the 25 year anniversary of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS). The venue of the anniversary symposium, Imatra, is appropriate given that it was at a meeting in this Finnish town that NASS was founded in the summer of 1987. The first Executive Committee of NASS counted representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The current board, elected at the Seventh Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies in Lund in May 2011, involves Ordinary Representatives and Supplementary Representatives from these five countries and further Estonia.

The theme of the NASS anniversary symposium draws on the work of several notable Nordic scholars in the fields of cognitive semiotics, biosemiotics and existential semiotics. These are all promising, novel, dynamic subfields in contemporary semiotics. Neither of them are but regionalparadigms – rather, Nordic researchers have been instrumental in establishing and consolidating them at an international level, with a sphere of influence which by far exceeds the Nordic region. How has Nordic semiotics come to be so influential? And, as the title of the symposium asks: Where do these fields meet? A number of scholars are involved in both cognitive semiotics and biosemiotics, and there is clearly a thematic overlap in-between the two. And what of existential semiotics – on what points does it overlap with biosemiotics, and with cognitive semiotics? Furthermore, how can these various Nordic paradigms acquire informative inspiration from each other, and find common ground to cultivate further? Despite differing inclinations and academic taste, such a project should not be unattainable, given that cognitive semiotics, biosemiotics and existential semiotics are all concerned with the semiotics of life.

The symposium/research seminar will consist of papers presented by both invited lecturers and participants. The aim of the summer school is to offer the participants both up-to-date research and an opportunity to discuss their projects with leading specialists in various fields. The duration of presentations will be 30 minutes, and the working languages of the seminars are English, French and German. Active participants – i.e., participants presenting papers, must register by April 15th. Passive participants can register until April 30th. Active participants must send a short Curriculum Vitae and a one-page abstract of his/her paper to and submit the registration form online. Passive participants must submit the registration form online by April 30, 2011. Participation fee for the whole summer school is 200 EUR (this covers lunch and two coffees a day June 9–12 and an elegant evening reception and buffet on June 9th). For payment instructions and information about accommodation, see the pages of The International Semiotics Institute (ISI).

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Academic travels planned for March 18-22

I have arranged tickets for a trip which will March 18th to 22nd take me from Kristiansand via Oslo to Stavanger and back to Kristiansand. I will spend two days in Oslo, where I will take part in a one-day work seminar in relation with the HAS anthology Hvem er villest i landet her? [Who's the wildest in the country here?] on Monday the 19th and attend a meeting on Dyreetikkonferansen (The animal ethics conference) on Tuesday 20th. After an 8-hour train trip I will then spend two days in Stavanger, where I will teach Wednesday 21nd and Thursday 22nd plus meet up with a couple of Minding Animals colleagues the 21st and meet with an event company in Stavanger on the 22nd.

Attending seminar at UiS on web-based bachelor in nursing

This Thursday I attended a full-day seminar at Department of Health Studies, University of Stavanger, on the web-based bachelor in nursing. The program included evaluation internal and external (involving Heather Wharrad of the University of Nottingham), and discussion of future revisions etc. There was no general agreement among the seminar participants as to he value of web-based teaching, but influential voices call for implementing at least some web-based methods even in the stationary bachelor (which has almost ten times as many students). One of the issues which deserve further discussion in my opinion is whether the e-compendiums (interactive PDFs) in effect replace compulsory readings, and how they can be improved so as to stimulate critical reflection.

Continuation with complications

I am responsible for a continuation exam for nursing students at master level (on moral theory) where the exam questions were supposed to be made public by Thursday March 1st at 2 o'clock. However, I had mixed up the times (deadline for submissions was officially March 8th at 2 o'clock, giving the students 7 days), and only became aware of the true times Friday afternoon on the 2nd. I designed exam questions that same evening, and instantly made them public, some 29-30 hours late.

Luckily, the next Monday it turned out we could give the four students two extra days, with a revised deadline set to March 10th at 2 o'clock.

Multiple choice tests assessed

This Tuesday I assessed (corrected) 22 multiple choice responses at Department of Health Studies, university of Stavanger. 20 of the students passed the test.

Presentation accepted for biosemiotics and culture seminar

My paper "In the gaze of the other: Describing cultural affordances by conducting comparative Umwelt mapping in animal studies" (see abstract) has been accepted for presentation at the seminar "Biosemiotics and the study of culture", which is to take place the day before the 12th gathering in biosemiotics in Tartu, Estonia in mid-July, namely July 16th.

A total of 9 papers appear in the preliminary program, all of which from persons I have either met or at least been in contact with.

Hoffmeyer Festschrift received - bibliographical reference

Yesterday I received my copy of the Festschift at the occasion of biosemiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer's 70 year anniversary, A More Developed Sign: Interpreting the Work of Jesper Hoffmeyer (see also previous post).

Bibliographical reference for my contribution:
Tønnessen, Morten 2012. Semiogenesis. Pp. 247-249 in Donald Favareau, Paul Cobley and Kalevi Kull (eds): A More Developed Sign: Interpreting the Work of Jesper Hoffmeyer (= Tartu Semiotics Library 10). Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Furthermore, my text is listed in the Contents on p. 6 and my name in the Name index on p. 333.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Rendalen lecture: Title; date scheduled

My forthcoming lecture in Rendalen on Norwegian wolf management has been scheduled for May 8th. The title of my talk will likely (I am awaiting feedback) be "Hvorfor konflikten rundt ulv og sau har blitt så hissig: Ulv og sau som symbol og realitet" [Why the conflict on wolves and sheep has become so /fierce/heated/: Wolves and sheep as symbol and reality].

Lessons from this spring's teaching

By now I have taught at three of this spring's four gatherings for nursing students in the course Examen Philosophicum (introductory philosophy). At the third gathering, this week, two lessons emerged by way of feedback from the students (partly by way of a colleague):

* Next year it should probably be less group work (since the students prefer to be in plenum anyhow - though variation between monologues and dialogues is necessary)

* Next year each gathering should probably involve but one, long day of teaching in Ex.Phil., rather than two short ones. Teaching on Thursdays, when the commuting students have been gathered for a fourth consecutive day, has seen low attendance compared to Wednesdays.

The second realization implies that I, if I do give this course again next spring, will schedule fewer hours in Ex.Phil. than I did this year (when, NB, I scheduled more than I had to - the minimum requirement was one day per gathering).

Overseeing multiple choice exam for nursing students at UiS

Last Wednesday I was present during the multiple choice exam my students taking a bachelor in nursing had to take. 22 students were present, and I answered a number of questions for clarification purposes. The 15 questions (with alternative answers organized as a, b and c) were the same as from the test I composed some 10 days earlier.

Teaching at UiS: Third gathering

The third gathering in this spring's Examen Philosophicum for nursing students took place at the University of Stavanger February 29th - March 1st. I was teaching for a total of 8 hours, including two hours of group work - plus overseeing a multiple choice exam.

Among the topics:
* Theory of science
* Academic writing

Teaching at UiS: Second gathering

The second gathering in this spring's Examen Philosophicum for nursing students took place at the University of Stavanger February 8th-9th. I was teaching for a total of 8 hours, including three hours of group work.

Among the topics:
* History of philosophy [minimally]
* Epistemology
* Hermeneutics
* Existentialism

Teaching at UiS: First gathering

The first gathering in this spring's Examen Philosophicum for nursing students took place at the University of Stavanger January 18th-19th. I was teaching for a total of 9 hours, including two hours of group work.

Among the topics:
* What is philosophy?
* What is science?
* What does it mean to think like a nurse?
* What does it mean to act/behave like a nurse?
* On understanding and interpretation

Stavanger: Meeting on the bachelor in nursing; looking for ways to "learn to learn"

Last Tuesday in Stavanger I took part in a department meeting on the bachelor in nursing. This is a meeting which is held quite regularly and routinely - but it was the first time I attended, after I started as an Associate professor at Department of Health Studies January 1st. It is useful to get an impression of the discussions that occur at the department.

My contribution in this round was limited to pointing out the students' need for "learning how to learn" (which might or might not be related to learn how to write academically), possibly in connection with Examen Philosophicum (which I am responsible for for the time being). In the minutes of the meeting it is stated that I will look into how this is done at other faculties. If I find that there are (or have been) good practices that we can learn from, I will be welcome to make proposals for adopting such at our department.

To be scribe for Animals and philosophy roundtable in Utrecht

I will be the scribe for the "Animals and philosophy" roundtable in Utrecht - one of 14 lunchtime roundtables arranged during the second international Minding Animals conference.

The roundtable is tied to an ongoing/permanent study circle, "Minding Animals and Philosophy", which currently has 44 registered members.

Australian philosopher John Hadley will be the convenor of this roundtable.

Programme for HAS rhetorics workshop; presentation scheduled

Four days ago the programme for the May 29-30 Oslo workshop "The Rhetoric of Human-Animal Relations", organized by Kristian Bjørkdahl, was distributed to presenters. The programme looks really exciting.

My presentation "Animals craving for meaning in the Anthropocene - a perspective on the global semiocide" has been scheduled for Tuesday May 29th at 13.45-14.15, as the fourth and ultimate paper in the session "Mute Brutes that Hoot in the Dark are the Moot Root of Quotation Marks".

HAS rhetorics workshop: Abstract accepted

My abstract "Animals craving for meaning in the Anthropocene - a perspective on the global semiocide" has been accepted for presentation by the organizer of the May 29-30 Oslo workshop "The Rhetoric of Human-Animal Relations". The notice was given February 15th, and I was simultaneously told that a few modifications which would be explained later were desired.

Abstract: "Animals craving for meaning in the Anthropocene – a perspective on the global semiocide"

This abstract was submitted to the organizer of the May 29-30 Oslo workshop "The Rhetoric of Human-Animal Relations" on February 1st.


Animals craving for meaning in the Anthropocene – a perspective on the global semiocide
Biosemiotics is nominally linked to rhetoric through biorhetorics as developed by zoosemiotician Stephen Pain. More importantly, all biosemioticians concede that all animals are sign users, meaning utilizers. ‘Semiosis’ is the action of signs, and ‘biosemiosis’ the action of signs in living systems, two examples of such semiosis being animal communication and perception. Many, if not all, signs are subject to interpretation by some animal (or person). In the context of biosemiotics, there is no doubt that animals are proper subjects actively engaged in semiosis.

As interpreters, animals wild and tame are destined to interpret, and respond to, the constant stream of semiosis produced by human civilization. In the Anthropocene, the era in which humankind has acted en masse as a force of geological magnitude, the currents of human semiosis are increasingly shaping the landscapes. The human species is the first global species (a species with a global range) to emerge for millions of years, and its worldwide civilization is creating breeding grounds for a number of yet other global species. Enter the modern schism in nature between the favored and the unfavored. Various forms of ‘induced semiosis’ (Sharov) can in terms of human ecology be considered as constituting a further effectory layer in humankind’s control system qua global species.

When animal lives are subjugated to human purposes, their biosemiosis is tentatively adapted to our human semiosis. The Estonian palaeontologist Ivar Puura has introduced the word semiotsiid (semiocide) to signify “a situation where someone´s malevolence or negligence brings along destruction of signs and stories, which are meaningful to someone else, whose identity is thus violated”. If the Anthropocene is the Age of Man, then in a biosemiotic perspective it is also the era of an emerging global semiocide.

No trip to world congress of semiotics in China

Due to fortunate circumstances - my wife's pregnancy - I will not be able to attend this autumn's world congress in semiotics (the 11th such world congress), which is to be arranged in Nanjing, China, October 5-9. I had been looking forward to visit China for the first time, but now it will have to wait until another chance materializes.

Phenomenology anthology in Google Books

Here is a link to the Google Books preview of the anthology Phenomenology/Ontopoiesis Retrieving Geo-cosmic Horizons of Antiquity (edited by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka; = Analecta Husserliana no. 110), where I contribute with the chapter "Semiotics of being and Uexküllian phenomenology" (pp. 327-340). Only fragments of the book is displayed, however, and these do not include my chapter.