Wednesday, 27 April 2011


I am currently at my family's coastal cabin, writing on my dissertation. Will be back in civilization Monday May 2nd. If it cannot wait, contact me at (+47) **** ****.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Pics from zoosemiotics conference

A number of pictures from the April 4-8 Tartu conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations has been posted on Picasa. Here's a few examples, three of which involving myself. All pictures are taken by Iuliia Popova.

Coffee break.

From the morning session April 5th.

The reception.

The reception.

The reception.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Phenomenology research group confirmed

One of the looser affiliations I have in my academic work is one as a member of sorts of the research group for phenomenology and existentialism at the University of Bergen (forskningsgruppe for fenomenologi og eksistensfilosofi). The University of Bergen's Department of Philosophy has just evaluated all existing research groups, and confirmed the continued existence of the abovementioned research group - as well as the other four existing research groups. In addition, five new research groups have been established, including one in environmental philosophy. All research groups will be evaluated in a year's time, and will have to meet a number of criteria, including having an (inter)national network, having ongoing activities, and publishing academic work.

It is not clear whether I count as a regular member of the group, or rather as an associated contact.

Arne, 100

As mentioned previously I have joined the committee arranging "Arne i 100" (Arne, 100) at the occasion of the 100 year birthday of Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss (1912-2009). This Saturday I met with Kit-Fai Næss, Arne's widow, in Oslo. We went through a number of suggestions I have, which will also be presented and discussed at a meeting in the committee May 3rd.

Summary of Sydney ethology workshop

The Sydney workshop The Sydney workshop The History, Philosophy and Future of Ethology (Feb. 19-21) is summed up in an entrance in the March News Bulletin of the Australian Animal Studies Group.

The February workshop was an intensive, intimate three day discussion that brought together a range of guests from various disciplinary backgrounds. Growing out of a panel on ― Ethology and Continental Philosophy ― at the Minding Animals conference in Newcastle, 2009, it further developed the conversation at this border, as well as engaging with other related disciplines – including neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, film-making, Egyptology, zoömusicology and literary studies.
Norwegian biosemiotician Morten Tønnessen illustrated his use and development of Jakob von Uexküll‘s Umwelt theory to understand contemporary wolf management.
The obvious profit so many took from the three days of discussion bodes well for future interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange at this crucial meeting point of philosophy, ethnology and ethology.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Brief report from the conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations

The international conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations took place here in Tartu last week (April 4-8). There were around 60 presentations, and up to 120 people attending each day. Counted by institutional affiliation, the presenters alone represented 5 continents and 19 countries.

As a member of the organizing team, I, as my colleagues, was impressed both by the good attendance and the overall quality of presentations and discussions. The whole event is proof of growing interest in a semiotic approach to animals, especially in the humanities. If there was one group we were missing, it was a larger presence of the biosemiotic community (and natural scientists). Just a handful of biosemioticians were present. Nevertheless the conference attracted more presenters and attendants than any Gathering in Biosemiotics has ever done to this date.

My roles at the conference included
* being a member of the organizing team (lead by Timo Maran)
* presenting "The Umwelt Trajectories of Wolves, Sheep and People" (April 6th, 14.30-15.00)
* chairing the roundtable "Futures of Zoosemiotics" (April 6th, 16.30-18.00)
* giving closing remarks (April 8th)

In the roundtable, Stephen Pain was not present (cf. earlier list of roundtable participants), whereas Aleksei Turovski was added. During the session Colin Allen raised a very pertinent question: Whether zoosemiotics can show to scientific results which could not have been achieved without a zoosemiotic approach. "Semiotics", he said, "has to stop talking about what it is and start talking about what it does."

Here's the topical presentation of the roundtable, as included in the abstract book:

Thomas Sebeok’s role as a founding father of zoosemiotics is unquestioned. On what points should his views be challenged? What is the proper relation of zoosemiotics to biosemiotics, and to ecosemiotics – and how does it compare with cognitive ethology and anthrozoology? Should zoosemiotics be understood as a meta-scientific discipline, as a program for ethology or the animal life sciences, or as a scientific enterprise in its own right? A general aim of semiotics of nature (biosemiotics, zoosemiotics, ecosemiotics etc.) is to help bridging the nature/culture divide and counteract the related compartmentalisation of science and scholarly studies. To what extent should human behavior be included as a study object of zoosemiotics? In particular, how are human-animal relations to be treated? What is the role of the individual subject in biology today – and tomorrow? How well is today’s zoosemiotics fitted to account for the changing global ecological reality?

See also:
Creed (from the introduction to the roundtable)
Semiotics of Animal Representations - update
Zoosemiotics email list - how to register
Zoosemiotic grant meeting

Zoosemiotic grant meeting

Yesterday the researchers involved in the grant Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations had an informal meeting, where we evaluated last weeks conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations, which we were generally really pleased with. One thing we will soon communicate through the newly established zoosemiotics email list is a bibliography in zoosemiotics. We will further write a few conference reviews, to submit to selected journals.

We also briefly discussed the prospects of a new grant, after the current one finishes next year. I signalled interest in taking part in such a grant, regardless of my job situation when that time comes.

See also:
Brief report from the conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations
The Semiotics of Animal Representations - update
Zoosemiotics email list - how to register

The Semiotics of Animal Representations - update

The book The Semiotics of Animal Representations, to appear in Rodopi's series Nature, Culture and Literature, is progressing. My co-editor Kadri Tüür and I met most of the contributors during the zoosemiotics conference in Tartu last week, and between us heard all involved presenters. We discussed next steps at an informal meeting yesterday, and divided the contributors between us, with regard to follow-up of drafts.

Reference for "I, Wolf: The Ecology of Existence"

The anthology Environment, Embodiment and Gender (note: not ... and History) has now been published by Bergen-based Hermes Text. Reference for my contribution:

Tønnessen, Morten 2011. I, Wolf: The Ecology of Existence. Pp. 315-333 in Johannes Servan and Ane Faugstad Aarø (eds.): Environment, Embodiment and Gender, Bergen: Hermes Text
The publisher's presentation of the book reads like this:

Environment, Embodiment & Gender

An anthology on Man, Nature and the concepts of Nature

What can phenomenology do to clarify eco-philosophical matters? This essential question was the center of our attention during the conference ”Environment, Embodiment and Gender” hosted by the University of Bergen in 2008 in honor of the centennial of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961). Inspired by the papers by Monika Langer, Ted Toadvine, Joanna Handerek and Kirsti Kuosa, among others, the idea of this anthology emerged and has developed from eco-phenomenology at its core, to encompass a broad range of environmental philosophy brought to life by the careful, phenomenological attention to the concrete living experience and the lifeworld. Together these essays constitute a handful of thought-provoking perspectives and ideas to ways of reforming our modern concept of nature – one of the greatest and most acute challenges of our time. Among the authors we find Charles Brown, David Abram, Gunnar Skirbekk, Claus Halberg, Fern Wickson and Svein Anders Noer Lie, and more.

Price 30 $ / 198,- NOK

Dissertationes Semioticae 15

Kati Lindström, with whom I guest-edited the special issue of Biosemiotics "Semiotics of Perception" (Biosemiotics 3.3, December 2010), has recently (March 29th) defended her doctoral degree. Her dissertation, the 15th in the series Dissertationes Semioticae, is entitled Delineating Landscape Semiotics: Towards the Semiotic Study of Landscape Processes and includes the article "Autocommunication and Perceptual Markers in Landscape: Japanese Examples", which was published in our special issue.

The levels of biosemiosis - revised

This is my revised sketch of what I call the levels of biosemiosis, which I will present at conferences in Lund, Sweden and in New York the next couple of months. The revision consists in replacing 'Biosemiotics' as the primary field of the somatic (sub-perceptual, microscopic) realm with 'Endosemiotics' so that Biosemiotics can be used unequivocally as an umbrella term for the study of the three layers of endosemiosis, zoosemiosis and ecosemiosis (where cultural semiosis in a super-perceptual sense is to be categorized under ecosemiosis, since society can be viewed as a superorganism). Earlier I had to distinguish between biosemiotics in a narrow and a wide sense. Now biosemiotics concerns the full movement (cycle) including all three levels. The revision was suggested by my supervisor Kalevi Kull, and is in accordance with an alternative proposed by Wendy Wheeler.

Perspective articles?

I have been encouraged to present my take on the future of growth to a high-impact journal, and have decided to attempt to get a short perspective article published in Science. I will further attempt to get a perspective article on my notion of 'global species' published in Nature. Here, I would include a crucial precisation, or moderation, of my original claim, partly due to the intervention of my supervisor Kalevi Kull.

See also:
Growth, global species articles offered by Encyclopædia Britannica
Encyclopædia Britannica on The global species

Encyclopædia Britannica on The global species

I have previously mentioned that Encyclopædia Britannica offers my two articles The Statistician's Guide to Utopia: The Future of Growth (published in TRAMES) and The Global Species (published in New Formations) as additional online content for subscribers. Here's how Encyclopædia Britannica presents the latter of these in summary:
The article explores the historical process of globalisation by assessing the planet's colonisation by the proliferation of species. A established global "colonial organism" means the installation of an ecological empire, organized with Homo Sapiens as the ruling class with crop species, pets, and livestock enjoying positions of privilege. The landscape has been altered to accommodate the proliferation of different species, making the geographical spread of life forms much easier and on a global scale.

Supervision session

Today I met with my supervisor Kalevi Kull for supervision. We discussed my notions of "Umwelt assemblage", "Umwelt alignment" and what I until today called "cloud Umwelten", now renamed "swarm Umwelten". These are the three last Umwelt coinages to emerge in my thesis work, and we discussed possible definitions of each of them. We further discussed my notion of "global species".

Pre-review candidate in place

Last week Paul Cobley of London Metropolitan University agreed - if appointed by the committee in charge of this - to be my pre-reviewer in the process leading up to me submitting my doctoral dissertation and applying for doctoral degree. There might be one more pre-reviewer. Being my previewer makes him a candidate for being my opponent as well, this autumn.

Presentation held in doctoral seminar

Two days ago I presented my thesis work in the doctoral seminar of the Department of Semiotics. Beforehand I had distributed a 4-page semi-detailed table of contents of my forthcoming dissertation. In the seminar, however, I went through a variety of visual representations of Uexküllian categories.

I did get some useful feedback - though my chronic habit of constructing new words is not to everyone's taste (but hey, that's exactly what Peirce did, to mention but one inspiring neologizing figure).

First round of Semiotics and phenomenology completed

This week (Monday to Wednesday) I have been teaching three classes of my intensive course Semiotics and phenomenology, here in Tartu. 9-12 people attended these first three classes - and the discussions have been substantial and interesting. There will be three more classes in May.

For those registered to the course, a 1000 word compulsory course paper is due April 20th.

Schedule change for talk at Nordic semiotics conference

The program for the seventh conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies, to be arranged in Lund, Sweden, May 6-8 (cf. previous posts), has been revised. My oral presentation "Perception and the levels of biosemiosis" has been rescheduled to 16.30-17.00 on Friday 6th of May.

Posthumanism vs. prehumanism


I rather believe we are NOT YET fully human.

I therefore adhere to prehumanism.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Event at The Explorers Club? 2111...

During the zoosemiotics conference in Tartu this week David Rothenberg suggested that we make a happening/event at The Explorers Club in New York in June, when I'll be in town because of the Gatherings in Biosemiotics. We're talking about Monday June 20th - and my sketch for a theme sounds like this:


As we have embarked upon our half-millennial path to a truly sustainable society, debate still lingers as to whether or not a new civilization has begun, or is but in preparation. Arne Næss, for one, looked forward to the 22nd century, by which time the three great challenges of the 21st century (the ecological crisis, poverty, and overcoming war) would have been solved. How did it all play out? How did we reveal, resist and defeat the self-fulfilling prognoses of growth-trapped society?

Reference for third semioethics interview

The delayed semiotics anthology of Nova Science Publishers is still, according to the publisher, in production. On request I was given a reference, however - page numbers, to be precise, resulting in the following reference for my contribution:
Morten Tønnessen 2011. The Semioethics Interviews III: John Deely: Human Understanding in the Age of Global Awareness. Pp171-189 in Steven C. Hamel (ed.): Semiotics: Theory and Applications, New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Joining committee to celebrate 100-year anniversary of Arne Næss

I have joined the organizing committee for the event "Arne i 100", which is preparing to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Arne Næss, January 27th 2012. The event will take place in Oslo, Norway. There are a number of other plans as well, with regard to making 2012 a Næssian year.

The organizing committee is headed by Arne Næss' widow, Kit-Fai Næss, and consists of around 10 people.


This is the full text of the last section of my introduction to the roundtable Futures of Zoosemiotics, which took place in Tartu, Estonia, on April 6th as part of the conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations.

What does "blindness with regard to meaning", as Jakob von Uexküll wrote about, mean today?
Do animals exist?
What is ethics in an age of extinction?
What is the role of science as we enter the sixth mass extinction in Earth history?
And how much does extinction matter, in a world of increasing global wealth, and longer human life expectancy than ever before?
By year 1700 10 % of our planet's land surface was used for producing food for humans. Today 1/3 is.
What is natural in a time of global anthropogenic environmental change?
What is a wild animal on a tamed planet?
What is a native animal in a time of climate change, seasonal shifts and enduring migration?
What is semiotics in a time of semiotic crisis? I think that globalization can be expressed as correlated trends of diversification and depletion of semiotic diversity. How do we preserve semiotic diversity?
Like Sartre, I believe that the human is a being that defines itself.
Unlike Sartre, I do not believe that others are hell.
I believe the question of the human is an empirical question.
I believe that what kind of creatures we will turn out to be is still an open question.
I believe that Man has not yet been defined.
I believe the past is still a living memory.
I believe in the reality of absence and meaninglessness in animal lives.
I believe in the reality of Umwelt, and semiosphere.
I believe authenticity and dignity is at stake, today, as always perhaps.
I believe the Anthropocene will one day end.
I believe history is not over.
I believe science has just begun.
I believe there are words that have not been spoken, thoughts that have not been thought, theories that have never been theorized (some of which are utter nonsense).
I believe there are worlds that have not been seen by any human eyes - some that one day will, others that never will.
I believe there is a time, and place, when the lines of history converge.

Zoosemiotics email list - how to register

Towards the end of the conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations, we decided to start an email list to facilitate contact among participants. The email list will also be open to others.

Email address: zoosemiotics [at]

To register, send an email to with "SUBscribe zoosemiotics [your name]" written in the subject field and nothing in the body of the message.

The email list will be moderated by Timo Maran.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Nordic semiotics conference - program (where are the Norwegians?)

The pre-liminary program of the 7th Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies has been released online.

My presentation 'Perception and the levels of biosemiosis' (official conference version of the abstract here) has been scheduled for Friday May 6th at 11.45-12.15, in the session Semiotical Views of Perception, chaired by Lars Kopp. There are two more presentations in the session: Luis Emilio Bruni's 'A heterarchical approach to semantic congruence in multimodal perception' and Anna Cabak Rédei's 'Visual Perception—a matter of ’filling in’ the gaps'.

Judging by the names in the program, I am not sure whether there are other Norwegians coming to present than me (Dinda Gorlée is presenting, though, and she has a link to Norway). An embarassing fact.

Reputation survey - world ranking of universities

Today I have responded, for the second time, to the questions of Thomson Reuters' annual academic reputation survey (see also Academic reputation survey - results). Last year there were 13,388 respondents globally. 16% said Western Europe were their region of greatest familiarity, and under 6 % said their area was Arts and Humanities. I am thus one out of approximately 2.000 with familiarity first of all to Western Europe, and one out of 100+ linked to Western Europe and placed within Arts and humanities.

Each respondent is asked to name up to 15 universities in four rounds, all within their own subject area (in my case philosophy): 1) the best universities regionally (in my case in Western Europe) in teaching, 2) the best universities regionally in research, 3) the best universities in teaching globally, and 4) the best universities in research globally. The reputational survey is the second stage of Thomson Reuters' process eventually resulting in Times Higher Education World University Rankings, preceding institutional data collection.

Thomson Reuters have now, I see, compiled a Top 100 World Reputation Ranking, based on last year's survey involving me and 13,387 other respondents. Six universities stand out: Harvard, MIT, University of Cambridge, University of California Berkeley, Stanford University and University of Oxford.

Here's a link to a list of all higher education institutions covered by the survey (and here to all in Western Europe).

See also What's the best university in Norway? and THE world ranking of universities.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Introducing Gmail motion

Says Google:

"We've been working with experts in motion technology and semiotics to develop a language of movements that replaces type entirely."
Their Gmail Motion was launched today.

Note the date.

CFP on Næss and Bateson

The deep ecological/ecosophical journal The Trumpeter has issued a call for papers on Ecosophies of Communication / Ecology of Mind (a special issue to appear late 2012/early 2012):
Imagine that Arne Naess and Gregory Bateson sat down together, each with his favorite tipple, to discuss their unique approaches to understanding human and non-human communication. Imagine that you were able to eavesdrop on their chat. What did you hear?