A Random field in the midwest

as i was wandering around in a random area of the vast expanse of the mid-west over seven years ago, i encountered a cache of large plants. what were these odd things? well... i know what they are and have been waiting for the right time to post them. i met a "hitch-hiker" wandering the area with a backpack and a duffel-bag. he did not want to talk to me.

AntiPorn: A Poem


I tender harsh megabites
Relinquishing my sovereign rights
To shame my face in all disgrace
I shall objectify no more.

Mental anguish torment fraught
The late night battle often fought
The naked gleaming sultry steaming
I shall objectify no more

Late night when all are tight in bed
In darkest places i am led
To scary women in dark dens
I shall objectify no more

And yet my shame is made so plain
When demons haunt my heart so vain
My lust: It's rust from all mistrust
I shall objectify no more

Confess to wife, cry while I lay
I make mistakes but then I say
Lead me my lover into your covers
I shall objectify no more

And so the mind drug washes clean
With wife and my new self-esteem
The psychopathic pornographic
I shall objectify no more

Ten years later I still fight
With dreams that often come at night
But I am friend with truths own end
I shall objectify no more

Copyright 2012 by pauly hart

Arizona Passes Internet Censorship Bill

Here it comes: 1 down, 49 to go.

Get ready for your state to tell you what to say online.

Legislation to make it illegal to use “offensive” language online

The state legislature of Arizona has passed a bill that vastly broadens telephone harassment laws and applies them to the Internet and other means of electronic communication.

The law, which is being pushed under the guise of an anti-bullying campaign, would mean that anything communicated or published online that was deemed to be “offensive” by the state, including editorials, illustrations, and even satire could be criminally punished.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund breaks down Arizona House Bill 2549:
“The bill is sweepingly broad, and would make it a crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to ‘annoy,’ ‘offend,’ ‘harass’ or ‘terrify,’ as well as certain sexual speech. Because the bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, H.B. 2549 would apply to the Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.”
First Amendment activist group Media Coalition has written to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, urging her not to sign the legislation into law.
The letter notes that the terms used in the bill are not defined in the statute or by reference, and thereby the law could be broadly applied to almost any statement.
“H.B. 2549 would make it a crime to use any electronic or digital device to communicate using obscene, lewd or profane language or to suggest a lewd or lascivious act if done with intent to ‘annoy,’ ‘offend,’ ‘harass’ or ‘terrify,’” the letter notes. … ‘Lewd’ and ‘profane’ are not defined in the statute or by reference. ‘Lewd’ is generally understood to mean lusty or sexual in nature and ‘profane’ is generally defined as disrespectful or irreverent about religion or religious practices.”
“H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.” the letter continues.
In this respect the law could even technically be applied to someone posting a status update on Facebook.
“Speech protected by the First Amendment is often intended to offend, annoy or scare but could be prosecuted under this law.”The Media Coalition letter continues.
“A Danish newspaper posted pictures of Muhammad that were intended to be offensive to make a point about religious tolerance. If a Muslim in Arizona considers the images profane and is offended, the paper could be prosecuted. Some Arizona residents may consider Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments about a Georgetown law student lewd. He could be prosecuted if he intended his comments to be offensive. Similarly, much general content available in the media uses racy or profane language and is intended to offend, annoy or even terrify.”
“Bill Maher’s stand up routines and Jon Stewart’s nightly comedy program, Ann Coulter’s books criticizing liberals and Christopher Hitchens’ expressions of his disdain for religion, Stephen King’s novels or the Halloween films all could be subject to this legislation. Even common taunting about sports between rival fans done online is frequently meant to offend or annoy, and is often done using salty and profane language.”
This type of legislation is far from unprecedented. Last year, former president Bill Clinton proposed a law to censor internet speech. “It would be a legitimate thing to do,” Clinton said in an interview that aired on CNBC. Clinton suggested the government should set-up an agency that monitors all media speech for supposed factual errors.
“That is, it would be like, I don’t know, National Public Radio or BBC or something like that, except it would have to be really independent and they would not express opinions, and their mandate would be narrowly confined to identifying relevant factual errors” he said. “And also, they would also have to have citations so that they could be checked in case they made a mistake. Somebody needs to be doing it, and maybe it’s a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”
Cass Sunstein, head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has also proposed banning speech on the internet that  the government disagrees with. Sunstein proposed the creation of an internet “Fairness Doctrine” similar to the one that was used for years to limit and eliminate free speech on the radio.
This legislation represents yet another move to police and control freedom of expression via the internet. Once again it grants the state and the government the direct right to determine what is and is not “offensive” on a whim. It then allows for the prosecution of individuals and organisations based on such summations – an extremely dangerous precedent to set.


Semiotics and Jakob von Uexküll’s
concept of umwelt

John Deely

Center for Thomistic Studies, University of St Thomas
3800 Montrose Boulevard, Houston, TX 77006, U.S.A.

e-mail: deelyj@stthom.edu
pdf here

Abstract. Semiotics, the body of knowledge developed by study of the action
of signs, like every living discipline, depends upon a community of inquirers
united through the recognition and adoption of basic principles which
establish the ground-concepts and guide-concepts for their ongoing research.
These principles, in turn, come to be recognized in the first place through the
work of pioneers in the field, workers commonly unrecognized or not fully
recognized in their own day, but whose work later becomes foundational as
the community of inquirers matures and ‘lays claim to its own’. As semiotics
has matured, the work of Jakob von Uexküll in establishing the concept of
Umwelt has proven to be just such a pioneering accomplishment for the
doctrine of signs, and in this paper I trace out some of the lines of
development according to which Uexküll’s concept came to occupy its central
place in semiotics today.

Nature may be compared to a composer who listens to his own works
played on an instrument of his own construction. This results in a
strangely reciprocal relationship between nature, which has created
man, and man, who not only in his art and science, but also in his
experiential universe, has created nature. [...] The formula of the
reciprocal relationship between man, who must, in his self-world, create
nature, and nature, which has brought forth the human species, requires
us to consider the relationship between sign processes in nature and in

In speaking about one of the central concepts from the work of Jakob
von Uexküll, namely, the concept of Umwelt, I will be addressing the
matter not from the point of view of a scholar who has been steeped in
the original writings themselves of Uexküll, but from, as it were, an
ecumenical point of view, from the point of view of the unmistakable
influence that Uexküll has exercised over approximately the last
quarter-century on the development of theoretical semiotics in the
United States. So I present to you a snapshot from what Sebeok hoped
would develop into “a program for the amalgamation of main trends”
(Sebeok 2001: xvii) in the development of semiotics as we crossed the
threshold of the 21st century.

1. Jakob von Uexküll as cryptosemiotician

The American who should be standing before you to speak on this
matter today is Thomas A. Sebeok. Professor Sebeok would have
rejoiced in this occasion, and would even have attached to it, I dare
say in the tones of German philosophy, a world-historical importance.
My own acquaintance with and interest in the work of Jakob von
Uexküll stems directly from my long association with Sebeok,
beginning indeed about seven years prior to his influential identification
of Uexküll as a “cryptosemiotician” and “neglected figure in the history
of semiotic inquiry” (Sebeok 1979).

Now the concept of a cryptosemiotician is very interesting. It names
that considerable group of intellectuals whose work is intrinsically semiotic,
but who themselves have or had no awareness of
semiotics as a distinct perspective with a paradigm of its own. As a
consequence of the very nature of their work, these thinkers would
benefit enormously were they to become aware of semiotics and the
vantage it affords. Of course, the achievement of an explicitly semiotic
 consciousness is possible only for present and future workers of the
mind. The only alternative available to past workers — those who are
dead by the time semiotics became established — is that their work be
taken up anew among the living to be reclaimed and re-established
from within the perspective of the doctrine of signs. This is the task of
semiotic historiography, as Sebeok put it, to “assess the contributions                                                 
of a host of ‘neglected’ giants”, among whom Jakob von Uexküll
ranks foremost among the moderns.

By the time I made my own attempt to lay out the “basics of
semiotics”, it was clear to me that Uexküll was “the single most
important background thinker for understanding the biological
conditions of our experience of the world in the terms required by
semiotic” (Deely 1990: 120). His concept of Umwelt is at the center
of this importance. So what I would like to speak to you about this
morning is how I came to this assessment of the importance of
Uexküll for semiotics today, and how my understanding of semiotics
has influenced my understanding of the concept of Umwelt.

2. Sebeok’s introduction of Uexküll
to the Semiotic Society of America

I was together with Sebeok in Tampa, Florida in 1975, as the secretary
of the committee charged with drafting a Constitution for the Semiotic
Society of America (SSA), and with him in 1976 when the SSA held
its first Annual Meeting as officially incorporated under United States
law. At the 7th Annual Meeting held in Buffalo, New York, Sebeok
brought to the occasion as a plenary speaker Jakob’s son, Thure von
Uexküll. Thure addressed the meeting on “Semiotics and the Problem
of the Observer”. It is some measure of the significance of the
occasion, certainly a sign of the import that Sebeok attached to it, that
this presentation by Thure was published not only in the  Semiotics
1982 Annual Proceedings volume (T. v. Uexküll 1987a), but was
published also in  Semiotica under Tom’s editorship. In addition,
Sebeok organized for the meeting a Plenary Session on the theme of
“the role of the observer”. As one of Sebeok’s younger associates, I
had the privilege at that occasion of meeting Thure von Uexküll in
person. I am quite sure that the occasion did not have for him at the
time the same importance it had for me, and I doubt even that he
would remember the meeting.

In the Spring of the following year, 1983, Sebeok proposed that
he and I, working together with Thure von Uexküll and Martin
Krampen, should write what he called a “Semiotic Manifesto”. This
document aimed to declare and to show to the intellectual world at
large that semiotics provides a new paradigm on the basis of which
(an interdisciplinary framework within which) the long overdue
reintegration of the natural and human sciences could be wrought. To
this end, two additional collaborators were eventually brought on
board; and the final text of our “manifesto” was published in a 1984
issue of  Semiotica under the title “A Semiotic Perspective on the
Sciences”. One of the beliefs animating this “manifesto” was that
semiotics achieved a level of intellectual synthesis capable of showing
that the “multifarious, stale oppositions of realism and idealism” in
philosophy were the offspring of a dichotomy misbegotten in the first

Perhaps I should not have been surprised, as I was as the time,
that precisely from this presemiotic philosophical opposition definitive
 of modernity in philosophy sprang the one near-acrimonious exchange
 among the co-authors of the then in nuce semiotic manifesto.

2a. A technical point concerning sensation

Jakob von Uexküll had received his main philosophical formation, I
take it, from the German writings of the Master of the Moderns,
Immanuel Kant. I, quite the contrary, had received my main formation
in philosophical thought from the Latin writings of Thomas Aquinas
on Aristotle. Between these two masters there is one principal divide.
It concerns a very technical point in the matter of how one is to
interpret the activity of so-called external sense. For Kant, the intuitions
of sense are already perceptual cues to which the organism in
responding gives formation according to its own basic constitution —
in the human case, the joining to sensory intuition of a-priori forms of
understanding. The concepts of the understanding yield to “the
unknowable”, however (according to Kant), in two instances: if I try
to extend my intellectual knowledge beyond the intuition of sense to
the stimulative source of the content of that intuition, I hit the wall of
the Ding-an-sich as unknowable; or, again, if I try to extend my
intellectual knowledge beyond the giving of structure to sense perceptions,
 I hit the wall of the Noumenon as likewise unknowable.

The position of Aquinas is more subtle than this, in a way that
leaves abundant space for what is  unknown, but no space at all for
what is unknowable (according to the common medieval maxim: ens
et verum convertuntur, omne ens est verum).

The position of Aquinas as ruling out the concept of “unknowable”
as a legitimate category of understanding, equally on the side of
things and on the side of concepts, requires a prescissive distinction
between sensation (as the action of the environment upon the animal
body objectifying certain aspects only of the surroundings) and the
higher-level perceptual response to that stimulus (wherein the “data”
of sensation, never atomic but already a complex and multiple network
of naturally determined sign-relations, wherein differentiations
of light reveal also shapes, positions, and movements, etc., are further
structured into  objects  of experience). It is here in the active
perception of objects that the animal classifies them, as Sebeok so
often put it, as to be sought (+), to be avoided (–), or to be safely
ignored (0). The human understanding adds to these objects of
perceptual experience so classified perceptually — to the Umwelt as a
whole, let us say — a “relation of identity”, or “relation of the object
to itself ”, which does no more than sever the exclusive link of the
perceived objects to the perceiver, but which by this very fact allows
the objects to be considered instead (in the terms of Aquinas) as
beings (this is a very different matter than “neutral or 0 objects”) —
entities which may or may not have an internal structure or constitution
independent of their relevance to me as an animal among other
animals. In instituting rational investigation of objects experienced,
the human animal soon enough discovers that not all objects reduce to
our experience of them, although some objects do indeed so reduce.
The question of “which is which” within experience becomes the story
of science, literature, and philosophy.

2b. The coextensiveness of communication and being

In this way of considering the matter, there is no “unknowable” in
principle, only many “unknowns” in fact. That there are, in principle,
“unknowns but no unknowables” was also the view of Sebeok and
semiotics (in contrast to semiology, as to all the aspects of intellectual
life influenced by Kant’s distinctive epistemological thesis), as Petrilli
and Ponzio so nicely summarized the matter in their recent biography
of Sebeok (which had the good fortune of appearing before Tom’s
final illness settled on in earnest): “Communication and reality,
communication and being, coincide”, ens et verum convertuntur.
In other words, astonishingly, the postmodern interpretive horizon
at the heart of semiotics — a horizon abandoned by modern philosophy,
 but never wholly by modern science (which only added to it
the notion of reality as socially constructed, in addition to the
medieval  ens reale notion of reality as given in advance of human
action) — depends upon the truth of a medieval conviction that ens et
verum convertuntur, “communication and being are coextensive”, as
Petrilli and Ponzio put it in Sebeok’s behalf. But from this formula, it
seemed to me (as to Peirce), that semiosis itself, the action of signs,
could be traced also in the inorganic realm prior to and apart from
(indeed as preparatory for) the advent of organisms as well as within
and among living things. That “Umwelt-theory draws the line between
animate and inanimate nature” rather than “between nature and man”
à la the modern philosophers seemed to me no less a mistake, for
inanimate nature is still nature, and nature in a sense presupposed to
and essential as a context for the dimension of organisms, living
things as such. The fact that plants as such do not even have Umwelts
 does not help to understand why a distinction that seems quite
unessential to the theory should be regarded as necessary to or entailed
by it. It was my unresolved disagreement with Sebeok, unfortunately,
for by the time I realized its dimensions he was no longer with us, or
at least not sufficiently so to leave his own final response. The
“central preoccupation” of semiotics may be, à la modernity, exactly
as Sebeok said, “an illimitable array of concordant illusions”; but
“its main mission”, as he went on to say, is “to mediate between
reality and illusion.” Let us put the matter this way. For Aquinas, the
species-specifically distinctive awareness of the human animal is the
awareness of being, which includes illusions (under his rubric of entia
rationis, where fall logical relations as well), yes, but also the whole
realm of nature. For Kant, by contrast, as for the moderns he
synthesized, precisely this ens reale is what passes ‘under erasure’.
Once I had come to look on the situation of semiotics today in this
light, I realized also that not only was semiotics in its essence
“postmodern”, because it brought this world of nature back out from
under the erasure in which modern philosophy had placed it, but so
was Sebeok himself, malgré lui, postmodern in his understanding of
things (Deely 2001c). Petrilli and Ponzio, in their recent study of
Sebeok’s work (which, as I said, had something of his endorsement),
capture the postmodern essence of the way of signs as Sebeok
envisioned it exactly: “there is no doubt that the inner human world,
with great effort and serious study, may reach an understanding of
non-human worlds and of its connection with them” (Petrilli, Ponzio
2001: 20). Unknowns, yes, in abundance. Unknowables, no, at least
not in principle.

2c. The status of objects as perceptible

But to get back to the one misunderstanding in the generation of the
manifesto. That all animals in perception organize and classify objects
as +, –, or 0 was well agreed among all the participants. But the 0
objects, the  Gegenstände, what status do they have in the Umwelt?
Thure von Uexküll suggests that they have no status at all, that they
“do not exist” for the nonhuman animals, and I would not doubt that
in this he expresses exactly his father’s view as well. I am not so sure.
I think that the animals often — I think of the so-called “higher”
animals, those able to ‘learn from experience’, that is — have an
awareness of the “zero-object”, in that “zero” here does not mean
‘non-existent for awareness’ but rather ‘something that may be in
awareness neither as to be sought nor to be avoided but simply as to
be safely ignored’. And in this +.  –, 0, perceptual classification, of
course, the animal can be mistaken! I do not think that the awareness
of neutral objects is what characterizes the semiosis of the human
animal, anthroposemiosis, but rather the awareness of any object and
every object under the guise of being, ‘that which is’, to be sorted out
as mind-dependent or mind-independent (for “being is said in  many
ways”, as Aristotle early noticed).

Thus, where Uexküll in his original work speaks of the subject-object
dichotomy, a split very comfortable in modern thought, I, coming from
my Latin background, did not and do not find the dichotomy comfortable
at all. This discomfort went back to my student days reading the Latin
commentaries on Aristotle. It was, if not the first, certainly one of the first,
times that I went to the room of  my then-professor, eventual doctoral
dissertation advisor, and after that life-long friend, the Dominican friar
Ralph Austin Powell, that I posed to him the idea that Kant, in his Kritik
der reinen Vernunft, had precisely confused  what was true of sense
perception prescissively distinguished from sensation as such (namely,
that it introduced into the organization of objects the needs and desires of
the animal’s subjective constitution as an organism) with what ought to be
said rather of understanding or “reason” (namely, that it was capable of
investigating the objects  of perception according to what they are and
require to be as they are both within and apart from the perception of
human animals).

What distinguished human understanding from animal perception
in that case would be precisely that sense perception is  completely
biologically determined. Perception arises from sensation as a need to
structure objectivity, and perception returns to sensation with the
objects structured. Understanding, by contrast, begins from the world
of perceived objects, exactly so, but by presenting those very objects
in a biologically underdetermined way, namely, as not only +, –, 0,
but also as having an intrinsic determination involved with but not
wholly reducible to their appearance as +, –, 0.

2d. Objects as intelligible

As involving sensations at their core, the perceived objects necessarily
involve something of the physical environment in its physical being,
proximally depending upon the type of animal body involved, it is
true, but in a selective rather than interpretive fashion. As involving
perception, this core is further structured and presented as objective in
a species-specific way — interpreted, that is, according to the
constitution or ‘nature’ of the particular animal which is perceiving.
But as further involving understanding, the actually perceived objects
are presented rather as actually intelligible, that is to say, as objects
able to be investigated according to the being they have as involving
subjects in their own right, as involving a world of things manifested
within objectivity but extending in some ways (ens reale) and not in
other ways (ens rationis) beyond the objectivity constitutive of
experience as a whole. The Latins put this well: “aliae enim sunt
divisiones entis in esse rei, aliae in genere scibilis”.For this picture, the
 “subject-object” split of modern philosophy,
where the subject is one kind of being in its own right, and the object
quite another, will not do. As has so often proved to be the case in
semiotics, a trichotomy is here necessary. For there is in the world of
experienced objects not only what exists as known — namely, the
object as such. There are also elements within the objects which
human experience tells us exist whether or not any organism is aware
of them — things, let us call them, these aspects of objects which may
happen to be known but which can exist also apart from the
awareness. And both of these are distinct from (even when factually
coincident with) the so-called “signs” whereby one thing, one object,
one element within awareness, points or leads to another awareness.
For signs in this sense can belong to either order. Clouds, for example,
as signs of rain exist as signs in the experience of many animals. But
clouds have a connection with rain, not only one that is revealed in
that experience but also one that is knowable in that same experience
as going beyond that experience; whereas flags have a connection to
country nowhere but within the experience of human animals.
You can see, in these terms, that Jakob von Uexküll’s “subject”
belongs to the world of things, but that his “objects” involve a confusion
or mixture, an amalgam, even, of objects and things. You can
see further that the Umwelt is an exclusively objective world, not
because it does not involve things, but because it involves things only
in known aspects.

2e. Language as modeling system and exaptation

The Innenwelt is subjective; it is the modeling system not only
species-specific to each variety of animal, but also intrinsic to each individual of
whatever variety. But the Umwelt  is objective, a public realm within
each species yet between all individuals of that species and, to some
measure (if never completely), public even across some species. The
human Umwelt is first of all an  animal Umwelt, a species-specific
objective world, but it is based on a biologically under-determined
Innenwelt or modeling system. This modeling system, the species-
specifically human Innenwelt, Sebeok came to call “language” in the
root sense, in contrast to the common (mis)use of the term “language”
to mean what is in reality the  exaptation of language to communicate
and to constitute  linguistic communication as the species-specifically
human communicative modality. I may  mention that this distinction
between language as a modeling system and language as a commu-
nicative exaptation also explains why Baer (1987: 203) said that, “from
Sebeok’s biological vantage point”, the thesis “of the linguistic mediation
of the world does not entail acceptance of the position that the
linguistic model should dominate semiotic analysis”.
This biological underdetermination of the human modeling
system introduces into the Umwelt the “relation to itself” (or of
“objects to themselves”), and by so doing presents the perceived
objects as actually intelligible. That is, the objects of awareness
become, perceived as beings, susceptible of being investigated
according to whatever intrinsic constitution they may have
subjectively speaking (and this whether ultimately a being of the
order of ens reale,  ens rationis, or some mixture of the two as a socially
constructed reality, such as the witches of Salem; for, remember,
“being is said in many ways”). By this measure what was a closed
Umwelt becomes “open”, not in the sense that the organs of sensation
or perception are any different, but in the sense that the Umwelt
becomes permeable to the physical environment explorable as an
order of things that involves also physical structures that (unlike
perceived objects) remain in some ways indifferent to the kind of
animal perceiving it (if not for the animals perceiving it).
I suggested to Sebeok, on a number of occasions, and in some
extended correspondence we had on the point, that we semioticians
ought to take a cue here from Edmund Husserl and the late-modern
phenomenologists by calling the human Umwelt in its species-specific
sense rather a Lebenswelt. While he sympathized with the suggestion
and recognized the utility for a name for what distinguished the
Umwelt in the case of the human animal from the Umwelt as common
to all the other kinds of animals, his experience with the Nazis in the
Word War II period (an experience which was extensive) made him
always associate the term “Lebenswelt” with the distasteful Nazi
speech about “Lebensraum”, and by reason of this distasteful
association in his own Innenwelt, as far as I could guess, Sebeok could
never bring himself to accept “Lebenswelt” as a synonym expressive
of the human Umwelt in its species-specific sense.

In any event, for purposes of our “manifesto”, I suggested along
the above lines that Uexküll’s term “Umwelt” ought best to be
translated as “objective world”, in contrast with the notion of the
physical environment common to all life forms. Note that this idea of
the physical environment common across the Umwelts is a species-
specifically human hypothesis that, exactly as Thure von Uexküll
reported, “belongs to a realm which passes all sensoric conception”,
even though, as Aquinas would insist, just such an environment is
partially included, precisely objectively — as cognized or ‘known’ in
the perceived world of objects — as something of which the animal is
in a limited sense aspectually aware. I hope you can see in this
extended context, now, why I proposed (and in my own writings have
stuck to) this rendering of Umwelt as “objective world”: for the
objective world is not opposed to the subjective world tout court, and
in fact partially or aspectually includes something of that very
subjectivity through sensation.

However, this extended context here provided existed at the time
reported only between Sebeok and me, not even between me and the
other collaborators on the manifesto manuscript, Thure von Uexküll in
particular. Hence, when my proposal in written lines reached Thure
via Sebeok, Thure rejected it vehemently and — as I recall the note of
response passed on to me by Sebeok — almost with acrimony. At the
time I was at my then-home in Dubuque, Iowa, and Sebeok was in
New York for some professional  affair. It was evening when I
received his note which sided with Thure in rejecting out of hand my
proposed translation for “Umwelt”. I was furious. I picked up the
phone at once and dialed Tom’s hotel, and he happened to be in.
“How can you take sides on this matter without even discussing it
further?”, I demanded to know. Tom, in his manner (it was a lengthy
phone conversation), patiently pointed out to me that we are dealing
here with Jakob von Uexküll’s son, who has a right to be considered
primus inter pares when it comes to how we should express his
father’s work, even in English; and that it was further important that
we not let our collaboration founder on an unnecessary point, which
even I, as a brash young professor then, had to concede. So we
dropped the matter for the purposes of our manifesto, and, under the
collaborative genius of Tom’s guiding hand, the text came eventually
to a successful conclusion. The manifesto stands to this day as a
clarion call for a new paradigm and a new perspective, the paradigm
and perspective proper and indigenous to the doctrine of signs, which
I did not yet then see as quintessentially postmodern. I have since
come so to see the doctrine of signs as just that, in unmistakable
terms — at least so far as philosophy is concerned within intellectual
culture as a whole.

3. “The Dominican tradition”

Over the years, right up to his last book, Sebeok would occasionally
refer to “the Dominican tradition” within semiotics. The reference
always mildly annoyed me, especially as he would never explain it
when asked (I tried) but afterward continued to insist on the reference
in subsequent publications. This tradition, in his last enumeration of
protagonists, is the semiotic tradition stemming “from Aristotle,
then, via Aquinas, Poinsot, and Maritain,” extends through “engaged
contemporaries like Herculano de  Carvalho, Beuchot, Deely, and

A Dominican tradition stemming from Aristotle seems a little
odd; but it is true that Aquinas, Poinsot, and Beuchot are Dominicans,
and that I was one for four years. But what about Maritain, Carvalho,
and “the others”? In any event, it is true that Aquinas cannot be well
understood apart from Aristotle; that Aquinas and Poinsot are by far
the largest-looming figures in this pantheon; and that Maritain, who
regarded Poinsot as among his foremost teachers, was the greatest
easily of the 20th century’s self-styled followers of Aquinas (the
“neothomists”). So the name Sebeok chose for this subtradition
within his semiotic ecumenism is not without its jusfifiability, even
if it has puzzling aspects. And there is no doubt that, given the lineage
Sebeok assigns, that this is the evolving standpoint from which I came
to semiotics, to the reading of Uexküll, and to the interpretation of the
expression “Umwelt”.

And, thinking from that point of view, it has always struck me as
one of history’s ironies that Jakob von Uexküll, the great inconscient
pioneer of zoösemiosis, took his original inspiration for the animal
Umwelt, precisely a world of percepts without concepts (if we regard
concepts as the species-specifically human products of  Vernunft),
from the Kantian theory of mind.

In a wholly logical world, I thought, the study of the purely
perceptual intelligence of animals might rather have been an
inspiration for the jettisoning of Kantianism when it came to the
philosophy of the human mind. For the human mind is like the mind
of any animal in consisting of a modeling system; but it is unlike the
mind of any other animal — at least on this planet — in being
 biologically underdetermined in what it models, that is to say, in possessing
“language” in Sebeok’s sense. Hence the human Innenwelt can
represent things not only on the basis of sensation and as sensed
objects are perceptually given, but as intelligible as well, i.e., able to
be investigated and studied on the hypothesis that they have an
internal constitution or “essential structure” of their own which may
look like nothing we have ever seen or could see with the eyes of our
animal body.

A subjectively determined objective world which is that and
nothing besides, nothing more, makes perfectly good sense within the
framework of a Kantian philosophy of mind. Indeed, we may say that
Kant did more to make that phenomenon, the animal Umwelt so far as
sense-perception is concerned, thinkable than did any thinker before
him. But, within that same framework of his philosophy, there is room
neither for a universe of things in contrast to objects, nor for a Way of
Signs leading “everywhere in nature, including those domains where
humans have never set foot.” Yet along a way of signs in just this
sense is where semiotics leads us, and gives us the means integrally to
explore. The choice is not between holding “that signs are nothing but
rather dry and boring linguistic concepts that have to do only with
syntax and grammar” or recognizing “the exciting fact that signs are in
reality magic formulae whose creative power changes our world and
ourselves” (T von Uexküll 1982: 12). To pose the matter in the terms of
this either/or is already to have accepted the modern idealist/realist
opposition as something unsurpassable; whereas semiotics has its
point of departure in a standpoint superior to both. (Among the
 protosemioticians, Poinsot was the first explicitly to point this fact
out;but of course his work in this regard was unknown till quite late in the
20th century, and it is not widely known even as we gather here in
Hamburg today.)

4. The postmodern synthesis in semiotics

We start out from the fact that things can be understood which can
neither be sensed nor perceived without the understanding, such as the
fact that Michael Miller in five days from today will become the
titular Archbishop of Vertara. We start out from the fact that among
the things which can neither be sensed nor perceived without the
understanding are signs, in contrast to sign-vehicles. For I think it is
not too much to say that the single most important upshot of semiotic
developments in the 20th century has been the realization that, strictly
speaking, nothing that can be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears
is in the technical sense a sign, but rather and only a sign-vehicle. This
sign-vehicle owes its being as such first of all not to anything in its
physical, material, or subjective constitution as much as to its place
within a triadic relationship. It is this triadic relation which constitutes
the sign as such and as a signifying whole, and that relation has this in
common with all other relationships, triadic or not, namely: that it can
be neither seen nor touched in its suprasubjective being as relation, but
only understood; so that the animals other than human use signs
without the possibility of knowing that there are signs.

Objectified things can be seen and touched. Objectified things can
be related, and are perceived (granted, sometimes mistakenly) as
related. And, if they are related in a certain way, perceived things —
that is to say, rather, objects — can be seen to function as signs. But
their  being related in a certain way is what makes them appear as
signs, not anything about their being as objects, or even as things. We
call objects related in that certain way “signs”. But, if we are
sufficiently sophisticated semiotically, we well know that what in
ordinary language are  called signs are in fact but sign-vehicles, and
that what are signs in their very being are only the triadic relationships
under which the sign vehicles occupy temporarily the position of
“standing for” something other than themselves “to” some third, be it
an organism or not, an observer or only some prospective observer
under conditions not yet prevailing.

Now it is true, as Thure von Uexküll (1984: 187) says, that a sign
“is a unit with several elements that are functionally related to each
other and to the whole”, similar in this respect to cause and effect. But
to say that these elements have none of them “any significance by
themselves” is to go one step too far, for it erases the profound
difference between conventional and natural sign. For the three elements
involved in a given sign may themselves be subjective structures able
to be objectified independently of the particular signifying. They will
then become mere objects in their own right, signified, it is true, but
not as sign-vehicle and interpretant in the case supposed. Yet, whether
natural or conventional, a sign consists  as such in a triadic relation
whose elements or ‘parts’ are determined by their position and role
within the relation: the one in the foreground of representing another
than itself is determined to be the representamen or sign-vehicle; the
one in the position or role of being the represented other is determined
to be the object signified; and the one in the background of that object
for or to which the other-representation is made is determined to be
the interpretant. And yet further still, each of these three elements can
shift place with the other, becoming then (so far as the signification is
concerned) no longer sign-vehicle but object, or interpretant, etc., in
the famous “semiotic spiral”.

Yet, in the animal case, it is the natural sign (or ‘sign-vehicle’)
that carries the burden of the signifyings, not because  entia rationis,
mind-dependent relations of signification, are not involved (they are),
but because the animal’s survival depends on getting right the manner
in which the physical environment is incorporated into its world of
objects, its Umwelt, when it comes to food, sex, and danger.

François Jacob, in a passage Sebeok was fond of citing, liked to
point out that there is what I would call an “animal realism” which
philosophers can ill-afford to ignore:

No matter how an organism investigates its environment, the perception it gets
must necessarily reflect so-called “reality” and, more specifically, those
aspects of reality which are directly related to its own behavior. If the image
that a bird gets of the insects it needs to feed its progeny does not reflect at
least some aspects of reality, there are no more progeny. If the representation
that a monkey builds of the branch it wants to leap to has nothing to do with
reality, then there is no more monkey. And if this did not apply to ourselves,
we would not be here to discuss this point. (Jacob 1982: 56)

Never mind for the moment Kant. Aquinas would say that the perception
 necessarily reflects so-called “reality”, i.e., something true about the world
of things as constituting a physical environment upon
which all living things depend (even though different ones upon
different parts and in different ways), because in sensation the action
of the sensible upon the sense guarantees that the material the
perception has to work with is rooted in the reciprocal reality (the
transcendental relation) of organism and physical surroundings. The
ontological and triadic relations which turn all this physical interaction
and subjective actions and reactions into a semiotic web sustaining
objectivity (which is the Umwelt of any given animal) come from
both sides, from the animal mind and from nature, to the sole end of
the animal surviving at the least, flourishing if possible. The animal
cares not a whit if it be the sun that moves round the earth or the earth
round the sun. We humans know now that the former relation is an ens
rationis, the latter an  ens reale. Neither can be directly perceived as
relations (only the sun and stars and their apparent movement relative
to the animal perceiving), yet both are functionally equivalent within
the objective world of animals for purposes of environmental orientation.
 That is why animals can perceive related objects and signvehicles as
objects, but they cannot come to know that there are signs;
for signs consist strictly and essentially in relations of a certain kind,
while relations of no kind can be perceived as such by sense. Yet what
the Umwelt is above all is a lattice and network of ontological relations
between organism and environment, elevating the latter to the
level of the animal’s awareness, and organizing it according to the
animals need and desires, even hopes.

The environmental niche beloved of North American biologists is
a physically reductionist conception by comparison to the Umwelt.
Uexküll’s work in biology provides the clearest proof yet of the error
of nominalism in philosophy in denying reality to relations except as
fashioned by human thought. For if that were true, neither Umwelts
nor animals could be in the first place.

5. Labyrinthine entwined issues yet to be resolved

My good friend Sebeok died with the issue unresolved between us as
to whether semiosis is coextensive with or exceeds the biosphere.
Nonetheless, we were well in agreement, by that point, that, as far as

the understanding of earthly life goes, and presumably life as well
anywhere in the physical universe, “prospects for a viable comprehensive
synthesis of the doctrine of signs, a new paradigm if you will,
loom on the horizon in 2001 under the banner of biosemiotics (a.k.a.
the Jakob von Uexküll ‘tradition’)” (Sebeok 2001: xviii). The advent
of this paradigm, he continued, “under the more restricted German
label of Umweltlehre, that is, the study of modeling, was far from an
epiphany. Quite the contrary, it took well nigh a century to season.”
That century was the 20th century, modernity’s last. As we enter
postmodernity’s first full century in the clear, this “fleshing out of a
number of labyrinthine entwined issues” may be expected to occupy
more and more of our intellectual culture as semiotics comes into its
own, forming the center of gravity for the postmodern epoch of

Amanda Carter

here are the photos that i found of my good friend amanda carter. http://amandathatiknew.blogspot.com/.

she passed away several days ago and i am sad to see her go. she leaves too early in this life. she was a good friend and a great comfort in times of need. when we were together, she always had my back and when we were apart she was still a good friend.

we had a conversation about God a while ago and it was good to hear her talk like this. here it is: http://i43.tinypic.com/1676rkx.jpg.

I hope that you appreciate all the people in your life and tell them about the hope that Jesus brings. it's funny that when we are "rich" we don't "need" Christ and His comfort, but when there are life situations where you are in your mid twenties and the doctor tells you that you have breast cancer...

and that was her exact situation. and she died right there in that situation.

we had a conversation after that one about her life story and i was encouraging her to write it down and share it with the world. she invited me to be her author. maybe i will pick that up as a book. i don't know if i have all of her story to put it all together but i do know quite a bit.

she loved her sister and loved her mom and loved her little girl.

and in the end that's what really matters. loving your family and sharing with them the faith that you have.

i cried my tears yesterday for my friend.

one day i will cry for you.