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Winfried Nöth “Ecosemiotics and the Semiotics of Nature”

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Nöth, Winfried 2001. Ecosemiotics and the Semiotics of Nature. – Sign Systems Studies 29.1: 71-81

At the interface between semiotics and ecology, ecosemiotics is the study of environmental semioses, i.e., the study of sign processes which relate organisms to their natural environment. (71)

Communication, defined as a sign process which involves a sender and a receiver, occurs not only among humans, but also between all other organisms throughout the whole biosphere. Not only cultural semiotics, but also bio- and zoosemiotics are hence concerned with processes of communication. Signification, by contrast, which concerns sign processes without a sender, predominates in ecosemiotics, where organisms interact with a natural environment that does not function as the intentional emitter of messages to the interpreting organism. (72)

Ecosemiotics will have to be an approach to semiosis based on the assumption of a very low „semiotic threshold“ between signs and non-signs if it does not reject such a threshold altogether. (72)

Ecosemiotics in this vein [for example the structuralist tradition] is hence the study of the culturalization of nature. Let us call this approach cultural ecosemiotics. (73)

Mind, thought, and semiosis are basically synonyms to Peirce. His radical thesis is: wherever there is semiosis, there is mind. Mind is not only in humans, but also in their natural environment. Peirce did not even believe in a dualism between matter and mind. Instead, he defended the general principle of continuity from nature to mind, which he called synechism. Instead of an opposition, there is continuity between the mind and the natural environment. (75)

But how can teleology be at work in the interpretation of natural signs without a sender? In communication, as we have seen, teleology is rather evident since there is a purpose of a sign producer and an interpreter’s effort to understand as the guiding principles of semiosis. In the interpretation of natural signs, the teleological effect comes from the dynamical object, from the semiotic control which the natural object exerts on the outcome of sign interpretation, the interpretant. (77-78)

[…] Jakob von Uexküll […]abandoned the dualism between the inner and the outer world with his constructivist thesis that the organism’s inner world contains a cognitive model of its outer world so that the natural environment can so to speak be found within, and not, outside of the organism. (78)

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