Thursday, 28 February 2019

Abstract for IHSRC2019: "Uexküllian phenomenology and existential phenomena"

Today I have composed and submitted the abstract below for the International Human Sciences Research Conference 2019, to be held in Molde, Norway, in June, and which has the theme "Joy, suffering and death - understanding contrasting existential phenomena in the lifespan".

Title: Uexküllian phenomenology and existential phenomena
·       Individual presentation
·       Author/presenter: Morten Tønnessen (Professor of philosophy)
·       Affiliation: Department of social studies, University of Stavanger

“Uexküllian phenomenology” is the phenomenology that is implicit in the Umwelt theory of theoretical biologist Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944). This is a theory that posits that all living beings relate to meaning by using and relating to signs in their environment, and that all humans and animals are endowed with an Umwelt, i.e. a subjective, experiential lifeworld. A key advantage with making use of an Uexküllian perspective is that Umwelt theory, and the Uexküllian phenomenology derived from it, is applicable in the study of humans as well as animals.
Existential phenomena are usually regarded exclusively human phenomena, and yet few would doubt that many animals too experience e.g. joy and suffering. In normative ethics, joy and suffering are typically presented as central experiential features of sentience. While both humans and individuals of many animal species experience some of “the same” existential phenomena, it is clear that there are at times significant differences with regard to how these phenomena appear to different species and also to different individuals within the same species.
One reason why it is important to understand how existential phenomena are perceived, felt and lived through, is that such phenomena evidently affect human and animal welfare. The contributions Uexküllian phenomenology can make in this context is first, that it makes it possible to study human and animal experiences in all its diversity and complexity within one and the same framework, and second – in extension of this – that it is suitable for studying human–animal interaction and relations. 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Full professor

Today the appointments committee at the University of Stavanger´s Faculty of Social Sciences unanimously decided to promote me to Full Professor of Philosophy, with effect from September 7th 2018, the date I applied.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Second work day in Havana

Today, during our visit to Havana, we have discussed the format of e-compendiums, met with the first secretary at Norway´s embassy in Cuba, and visited a communitarian project in Old Havana. We also met the Dean at University of Havana.

Editorial "Phenomenology and biosemiotics" hot on

Our Biosemiotics editorial "Phenomenology and biosemiotics" is catching on on, with more than 200 views last week.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Among top 1% on has notified me that I am right now among the 1% top researchers by 30-day views (39 profile views, 389 document views, 279 unique visitors).

In Havana to work on NORPART project

Yesterday I took off from Sola airport, in the Stavanger area, and some 13-14 hours later I landed, after a second flight, in Havana, Cuba. We are 6 people from University of Stavanger in Havana this week in relation to our NORPART project "Cuban and Nordic welfare" where Universidad de la Habana is our partner institution.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Abstract for IHSRC 2019: "Joy in the open air - Outdoor life at residential care"

Along with Joakim Jiri Haaland, I have submitted the abstract "Joy in the open air - Outdoor life at residential care" for International Human Sciences Research Conference (IHSRC) 2019, to be held in Molde, Norway in June with the theme "Joy, suffering and death - understanding contrasting existential phenomena in the lifespan".

Chapter abstract: "The true value of “doing well” economically"

Below is my abstract, finished today, for a prospective book chapter to be written this Spring.


Chapter title: The true value of “doing well” economically

Author: Morten Tønnessen
Recent efforts to go beyond GDP as a measure of economic performance raise important questions about the nature of the economy, including: What is the best measure of a sound, flourishing economy? And what is the purpose of “doing well” in economic terms? One possible measure of the soundness of the economy could be the extent to which it results in better lives for humans – a thought that has inspired measures such as the HDI, among others. In the bigger picture, a sound, flourishing economy should also be consistent with good, and perhaps optimal, lives for non-humans, and well-functioning ecosystems. On this measure, economics should not be an altogether anthropocentric enterprise. To go beyond anthropocentric notions of economic performance, a degree of integration between economics, philosophy (normative ethics and philosophical anthropology included) and biology is required. A merely economic outlook can easily lead to commodification of each and every organism and natural resource, thus neglecting the agency, interests and intrinsic value of animals and other non-humans. To truly “serve all”, economists should acknowledge that there are economic stakeholders beyond humans, in the sense that the living conditions of practically all non-humans on this planet are today affected by human economic activities. This would make economics more compatible with current outlooks in normative ethics with regard to the value of animals, biodiversity etc., and could be part of a radical reconceptualization of the nature of the economy where economic value is situated within value theory in a wider sense.

Busy day

Monday February 4th I:
  • composed exam questions for continuation exam in SVEXPHIL10
  • had two supervision sessions (master thesis, Master in Energy, Environment and Society)
  • attended two meetings, one related to the doctoral committee´s work and the other related to planning of the first workshop of the network for welfare research.

Summary meeting Feb. 7th

On February 7th I attended a meeting summing up lessons from the faculty board´s seminar recently.

PhD Supervisor Qualification Program

February 5th and 6th I attended the first of three gatherings in the University of Stavanger PhD Supervisor Qualification Program, at Sola strandhotell.

Third article writing day

Yesterday I had this Spring´s third article writing day - some 4 hours, focused on an all-year or at least all-Spring writing plan, and abstract development for an article and a chapter.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Abstract for hybrid natures special issue: "Current human ecology in light of Umwelt theory: Human–animal interaction in Amazonas and beyond"

I have just composed or rather edited the abstract below, for an invited article to a forthcoming special issue of Biosemiotics.


Current human ecology in light of Umwelt theory: Human–animal interaction in Amazonas and beyond

Author: Morten Tønnessen

Umwelt theory is an expression of Uexküll´s subjective biology and as such it is usually applied in analysis of individual animals, but the theory is fundamentally relational and therefore also suitable for analysis of more complex wholes. In this article I explore to what extent ecosemiotics can be applied in analysis of global human ecology. 
I portray the human species as a global speciesthat gives rise to multiple ecologies built around our presence. Towards many species, we behave like an unsustainable super-predator, and we reserve land for our affiliated species. We also affect the experience and behaviour of animals by causing environmental changes in land, water and air, by influencing prey densities and the occurrence of natural enemies, etc. To understand our changing relations to living beings and nature, we must be aware of the different forms relations can take on e.g. for wild, liminal and domesticated animals. Aiming to outline some of the most important characteristics of contemporary human ecology, I apply notions such as Umwelt transitionUmwelt trajectoryUmwelt aggregate, andUmwelt alignment
The article includes a case study of human–animal relations in Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Central Amazonas. This is a seasonal floodplain forest area surrounded by rivers in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. I investigate human–human and human–animal interaction in the reserve, with a main focus on indigenous communities and their relations to two primate species, namely the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) and the black-headed squirrel monkey (Saimiri vanzolinii).

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Two meetings

Two meetings today:

First a meeting on research administration discussing NFR applications.

Then I chaired my second doctoral committee meeting at the faculty. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

"Ex.phil. for sosialfag" to appear as e-book

I have been informed by Universitetsforlaget that the book Ex.Phil. for sosialfag will appear as e-book this autumn.

Leadership group meeting

Today I participated in the leadership group meeting of University of Stavanger´s Faculty of social sciences. Next week I will be on Cuba.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Ethics of laying hen genetics article ready for submission

Yesterday evening I finish editing "The ethics of laying hen genetics", co-authored with Mia Fernyhough, Christine Nicol, Teun van de Break and Mike Toscano. Seems to be ready for submission.

NORPART meeting in preparation of trip next week

Today I have attended an administrative meeting in relation to our NORPART project "Cuban and Nordic welfare" and our trip to Cuba next week.

Sunday, 17 February 2019


I have just submitted the abstract below to the organizers of the 19th gathering in Biosemiotics, to be held in Moscow in July.


Author: Morten Tønnessen
Affiliation: Department of social studies, Faculty of social sciences, University of Stavanger, Norway
Email: *** 
Relationality – the ways in which organisms are involved in relations to other organisms – is a crucial aspect of ecology, and biology at large. From the vantage point of Biosemiotics, the logical starting point is to define biosemioticrelations as relations that involve methodical (regular or recurring) sign exchange. Organisms that are connected by such relations are biosemiosically linked. 
A proper understanding of the occurrence and nature of biosemiotic relations can help us in explaining the interconnectedness of various life forms in the intricate web of life, of semiosis, and of worlds that we call “nature” (Tønnessen 2003). By mapping and describing the biosemiotic relations a specific organism engages in, and thus what it relates to as carrying meaning for it, we by and largely describe what being that organism amounts to. 
Biosemiotic relationality helps us understand ecological complexity because, in combination with organisms´ biosemiotic agency, it allows for complex, dynamic living systems. Biosemiotic relationality can furthermore help us understand how the individual and ecological level of biological study are interconnected. From the individual organism´s point of view, its particular form of relationality is an expression of its “operating space”, to borrow an expression from Rockström et al. (2009). Not only is it important for the complexity and integrity of ecosystems. It is also significant for the integrity, and the living conditions, of the individual organism. 
In our time of massive anthropogenic environmental change, as succinctly expressed by the term “Anthropocene” (Steffen et al. 2011), a major challenge is to work out how von Uexküll´s “subjective biology” can be applied in the context of global human ecology. From a relational point of view, we can observe that human beings take part in several co-dependent relations with animals, ranging from livestock to pets. We rely on their animal products or social company, and they rely on our good treatment and husbandry, and in some cases our social company. 
In the current scientific discourse, topics related to individual human and animal welfare are largely disconnected from topics related to environmental sustainability. Biosemiotic relationality can contribute to showing how these different topics are connected. Borrowing again from Rockström et al. (2009), we could set out to determine the “safe operating space” of organisms in terms of their biosemiotic relationality. This would amount to addressing questions such as: To what extent is organism X´s relationality flexible? When considering the significant relations organism X engages in, which ones of these are irreplaceable, and which ones are replaceable or amendable? Under current ecological circumstances, many biosemiotic relations are bended or broken by extreme breeding, automated machine-handling, homogenous social environments, industrial-style indoor environments (in animal husbandry) – and depleted wildlife. What are the limits for such bending of significant biosemiotic relations, in terms of environmental sustainability and individual welfare? 
By applying the notion of biosemiotic relationality in such contemporary contexts, I aim to demonstrate that the topic is worthy of theoretical discussion as well as having practical applications and implications. 
Rockström, Johan et al. (2009). Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society14(2): 32. URL:
Steffen, Will, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen, and John McNeill 2011. The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A369(1938):842–867. doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0327.
Tønnessen, Morten 2003. Umwelt Ethics. Sign Systems Studies31 (1): 281–299. With Russian ("Этика умвельта") and Estonian ("Omailmma eetika") abstract.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Google Scholar: i10-index of 11; 369 citations

According to Google Scholar, my academic work has attracted 369 citations to date. This is up 18 since November 22nd, and up 36 since October 1st 2018. My i10-index is now 11, up from 10 in November, meaning that 11 of my articles have been cited at least 10 times each.

Current year totals:
2011: 24
2012: 6
2013: 5
2014: 27 
2015: 62
2016: 87
2017: 64
2018: 61

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Meeting on bachelor program revisions

Today I took part in a meeting with two colleagues in relation to ongoing revisions of the bachelor in child welfare, and the role of critical thinking etc. in that bachelor.

Academic day at faculty of social sciences co-chaired and closed

Today I co-chaired the third annual "fagdag" (academic day) at University of Stavanger´s Faculty of social sciences, along with fellow Vice-Dean Turid Borgen. The event attracted some 80 participants and featured a talk by Minister of Research and Higher Education Iselin Nybø (Venstre - the social liberals), the next UiS rector, Klaus Mohn, and Stein Erik Lid (NOKUT), in addition to several presentations by scholars and two students. I was also responsible for the closing session, involving a brief talk.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

MEE140 exam questions

I have just composed exam questions for the continuation exam in "Philosophy of science and research methods" (MEE140).

Two more meetings

Two meetings attended today - first one in relation to staff change in the faculty´s position for research coordination/administration. Then another meeting on the preparation of a network for welfare research.

Complaint grading for UiO

Today I have taken part in complaint grading of a Master level exam paper in ethics for University of Oslo.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Writing plans

I am tentatively agreeing to write a chapter on "Semiotics in ethology and zoology", for a companion to semiotics.

Two meetings today

First the leadership group at UiS Faculty of social sciences, then a planning meeting in the NORPART project "Cuban and Nordic welfare" ahead of our trip to Havana in a couple of weeks.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Start up meeting with Phd scholars and supervisors chaired

Today I participated in and headed my first "start up meeting" (oppstartsmøte) with new PhD scholars and their supervisors, along the the Faculty of Social Sciences´ PhD coordinator.

UiS Research Committee meeting attended

Today I participated in an extraordinary meeting of the University of Stavanger´s Research committee (Forskningsutvalget). As a Vice-Dean of Research, my attendance is compulsory, though I am only a deputy member of the committee. The committee is headed by the UiS rector (Marit Boyesen).

Exam work - Ex.phil.

Last week I composed exam questions for the continuation exams in Ex.Phil. at Department of social studies - home exam, plus Multiple Choice. 

Today I took part in complaint grading (another exam paper) in Ex.phil.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

ERC application finished

I have just submitted the final version of the ERC Consolidator Grant application "Assessing human and animal welfare in the Anthropocene". This is the most ambitious, and longest, research application I have ever written - 13 page Scientific proposal (plus references) with 5 page Extended synopsis. Some 26 pages of text written including CV, early achievement track record etc., and 50+ pages including attachments and online forms.

Proposal summary:
Two of the main challenges of the 21st century is to secure high levels of human welfare for a growing number of humans, as well as to secure the welfare of animals. Until recently, human and animal welfare have for the most part been regarded as separate issues, and there has not been much interdisciplinary research making connections between welfare in humans and welfare in non-humans. The main aim of AHAWELL is to develop practical tools for cross-species assessment of welfare in both humans and animals in the ecological context of the Anthropocene. Given the intrinsic or inherent value of both human and animal individuals, such tools will be required if we are to successfully overcome the environmental crisis while simultaneously pursuing human development.
   Most current methods for assessing welfare are limited by not looking at human and animal welfare in context, and by not accounting for their interrelation. In results, there is a lack of tools for cross-species assessments of subjective welfare. Since self-reporting is not an option in assessment of animal welfare, nor in assessment of all human cases, there is a need for development of new tools. This project makes use of Umwelt theory, originally developed by Jakob von Uexküll, as a basis for such tool development for use in cross-species welfare assessment.
   The specific research objectives of AHAWELL is 1) to develop methodology for Umwelt mapping of human–animal relations, 2) to develop an Umwelt ethogram, 3) to describe key features of current human ecology by mapping global animal species, 4) to use biosemiotic ethics to set welfare standards, 5) to critically analyze the role of income growth for the Human Development Index (HDI), 6) to develop an Animal Development Index (ADI), and 7) to develop novel, cross-species measures of human and animal welfare.
   Successful completion of the project will require interdisciplinary collaboration integrating work done in philosophy, biology and economics.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Baltic-Norwegian research application submitted

By yesterday we submitted our Norwegian-Baltic research project application "Semiotic strategies for addressing environmental change as a path to better inclusion in multicultural societies". While University of Tartu is project promoter, University of Stavanger is a partner along with Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. My main collaborators in the application is Timo Maran (Estonian Project Leader) and Dario Martinelli (Lithuanian Project Leader), while I am Norwegian Project Leader for a group also involving Ingvil Førland Hellstrand and Kathrine Skoland.

To present search image paper on Code Biology 6

I have been notified by the organizers that my paper "The search image as link between sensation, perception and action" has been accepted for oral presentation at the 6th conference of the International Society for Code Biology (ISCB), to be held in Friedrichsdorf, Germany, June 4th to 6th of June.