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Monday, 16 February 2015

Abstract for Jena: "Umwelt codes exemplified by Umwelt alignment in corvids"

Today I have submitted the abstract below to the 2nd International Conference in Code Biology (Jena, Germany, June 17-19).


Umwelt codes exemplified by Umwelt alignment in corvids

Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger

I have previously suggested that there are different Umwelt codes, which can be categorised as either CODEfix (fixed Umwelt codes) or CODEflex (flexible Umwelt codes). While neural codes are examples of CODEfix, ecological codes are instances of CODEflex.

Some corvids, including crows, evidently prosper in part due to their relationships with human settlements and anthropogenic food sources. However, actual human-corvid relationships are typically somewhat distanced – likely because, for one thing, corvids are often treated by humans as pest species.  In this paper I will look into the Umwelt alignment (cf. Tønnessen 2014) between corvids including crows on one hand and human beings on the other. My hypothesis is that Umwelt alignment must typically involve ecological codes (Umwelt codes).

What is Umwelt alignment? In dictionaries, “alignment” signifies an adjustment to a line, or arrangement into a straight line; a state of agreement or cooperation; the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts in relation to each other; etc. Crucially, alignment can denote processes or states of fitting-in with others. If we define Umwelt alignment as the process of adjustment by one creature to the presence and manifestation of other Umwelt creatures (and further, to abiotic Umwelt objects and meaning factors), we realize that every Umwelt dweller on this planet conducts Umwelt alignment on a regular basis, as manifested over time in concrete functional cycles (see Uexküll 2010 [1934/1940]: 49).

Not all Umwelt alignment is mutual and cooperative. If Umwelt alignment is a universal phenomenon, then there must also be Umwelt alignment among natural enemies, and among competitors. Keeping a certain distance can be seen as emblematic of Umwelt alignment. The spatial distribution of specimens is central in human and animal social life as well as in terms of human ecology and general ecology, and is relevant in the current context to the extent that spatial distribution is arranged by way of Umwelt creatures with deliberate adjustment to the presence of others. Here we observe not only various forms of natural (autonomous) Umwelt alignment, but further instances of coerced Umwelt alignment, a phenomenon which is enforced and motivated more or less exclusively by human utility. The regulatory mechanism of Umwelt alignment thus ranges from symbiotic strategies to more competitive forms of coexistence. In all cases, however, various forms of synchronicity are key.

A study of Umwelt alignment between corvids and humans can expectedly shed light on human-corvid co-evolution, corvid Umwelten, and current human ecology.

Tønnessen, Morten 2014. Umwelt Trajectories. Semiotica 198 (Special Issue on zoosemiotics, guest-edited by Timo Maran): 159–180.
Uexküll, Jakob von 2010 [1934/1940]. A foray into the worlds of animals and humans – with A theory of meaning (Posthumanities 12), Joseph D. O’Neil (trans.). Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Acknowledgement: This work has been supported by the research project “Animals in Changing Environments: Cultural Mediation and Semiotic Analysis” (EEA Norway Grants/Norway Financial Mechanism 20009-2014 under project contract no. EMP151).

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