Existential universals: A link between biosemiotics and existential semiotics
Abstract submitted for the symposium Nordic Semiotic Paradigms – NASS 25 Years: "Where do Cognitive, Bio- and Existential Semiotics Meet?"
Associate professor at Department of Health Studies, University of Stavanger
Researcher in the grant Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations (Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu)
The ten steps to a semiotics of being detailed in Tønnessen 2010 (and said to be “pertinent to various sub-fields at the conjunction of semiotics of nature (biosemiotics, ecosemiotics, zoosemiotics) and semiotics of culture – semioethics and existential semiotics included”) start out with the following three points:
1) Semiotics of being entails inquiry at all levels of biological organization, albeit, wherever there are individuals, with emphasis on the living qua individuals (integrated biological individualism).
2) An Umwelt is the public aspect (cf. the Innenwelt, the private aspect) of a phenomenal/experienced world that is organism-specific (rather than species-specific) and ultimately refers to an existential realm.
3) Existential universals at work on Earth include seeking out the edible, dwelling in a medium, holding a phenomenal world (possibly an Umwelt) and being endowed with life, and followingly being mortal.
This paper will present the notion of existential universals, and sketch how these can be seen as a link between biosemiotics and existential semiotics. Though existential universals can be articulated and conceptualized in a variety of ways, and any chronological exposition may well be at least in part arbitrary, a list of such universal features of life will be presented. Not all semiosis is conceptualized as existential, i.e., by nature experientially related to the existence of a being. Consequently, not all ‘biosemiotic universals’ qualify as existential universals. All existential universals, however, are necessarily universals of biosemiosis.
What is it like to be a human being? (In other words: What is the human condition?). Before we can answer that question, we have to answer a more general question, the answer to which has foundational validity for the human question, namely: What is it like to be a living being? In this paper I will allude to sixteen answers to that question.
Tønnessen, Morten 2010. Steps to a semiotics of being. Biosemiotics 3.3: 375-392.