Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Session on Biosemiotic ethics at 12th World Congress of Semiotics

Dear all,

I have taken the initiative to a session (either a study session or more likely a roundtable, depending on the interest) at the 12th World Congress of Semiotics (Sofia, Bulgaria, 16-20 September 2014) entitled "Biosemiotic ethics". Abstracts for individual presentations can be sent directly to me. The description of the topic of this session is as follows (see here for other proposed sessions):


Biosemiotic ethics
Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger, Norway (mortentoennessen AT gmail.com)

A dozen to 20 years ago, two of the most central biosemioticians, first Jesper Hoffmeyer and then Kalevi Kull, addressed connections between biosemiotics and ethics. The last ten years a new generation of scholars have started working out a biosemiotic ethics. The foundational idea is that if all living systems are semiotic, then biosemiosis can serve as basis for justifying attribution of moral status to human and non-human individuals and to various ecological entities. Most of the scholars involved in this endeavor have taken Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory as their starting point. Recent relevant publications include a translation of Uexküll’s 1917 article “Darwin and the English Morality”, with a framing essay entitled ““Darwin und die englische Moral”: The Moral Consequences of Uexküll’s Umwelt Theory”.

Relevant questions for discussion include but are not limited to the following: In what ways does a biosemiotic ethics potentially take us beyond sentience-centered approaches? Does biosemiotic ethics represent a new form of consequentialism, or should it be placed within some other tradition? What ramifications do different views on the semiotic threshold have within the context of normative ethics? Is there (something akin to) normativity in the very constitution of the Umwelt? Does the semiosphere at large (qua biosphere) have intrinsic value? And what, in terms of biosemiosis, is the origin of value?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Questionnaire from Biosemiotics - and info about the biosemiotic glossary project

Dear all,

on behalf of the journal Biosemiotics, I refer you to a questionnaire which we now distribute in the biosemiotic community in preparation of the biosemiotic glossary project. The editorial team of Biosemiotics, which counts Alexei Sharov, Timo Maran and myself (note that in parallel Marcello is finishing the final issues he is responsible for the next few months), has decided to go through with this project, and that I will be its handling editor.

The genre for the resulting publications will be invited review articles. The first, standard-setting review article, on the notions ‘agent’ and ‘agency’, will be written by me personally. One review will be published in each regular issue of Biosemiotics – in other words, usually there will be two review articles per year. The first article will appear in no. 3/2014. Each article will review one or more terms.

While I am the handling editor for these review articles, all three of us will be involved in decision making. We will routinely discuss and decide on what term(s) to review next, what author(s) to invite to write each review, etc. As part of the editorial process, each review article will, when submitted, be distributed to the members of the editorial board of Biosemiotics and further to those cited in the article, for feedback. This will be part of the basis for our editorial decision concerning whether the review is ready to be published or needs revisions.

A survey in the biosemiotic community will be conducted in preparation of each review article. The associated questionnaire, which is to be returned to me as handling editor, will be distributed to a wide range of biosemioticians, including but not necessarily restricted to/via the members of the editorial board and advisory board of Biosemiotics, the biosemiotics email list (biosemiotics@lists.ut.ee), the board members of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies (ISBS), the board members of the International Society of Code Biology (ISCB), and the Biosemiosis blog (http://biosemiosis.blogspot.com/).

The invited author(s) will in each case be tasked with describing the outcomes of the survey associated with their review article, and to do so systematically and in an unbiased manner. However, when it comes to synthesis and suggestions, they will have the freedom to propose their own view even if it contradicts the general/popular understanding. In the writing process, all assigned authors are expected to conduct an extensive literature review on their own as well.

All respondents to the first survey in the biosemiotic community are, as part of the survey, invited to propose specific terms to review. Suitable terms should be quite concisely used by several biosemioticians, and if the terms are in more general usage as well, the biosemiotic usage of the terms should somehow stand out from general usage.

The deadline for returning the attached questionnaire is December 15th. It should be sent to my email address (mortentoennessen AT gmail.com or alternatively morten.tonnessen AT uis.no).

My best,

Morten Tønnessen
Co-Editor-in-Chief of Biosemiotics

PS: The questionnaire is available via my Academia.edu page, here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why I joined the ISCB (a call for unity among biosemioticians)

The ISCB, the International Society for Code Biology, was constituted/incorporated in Ferrara, Italy, on November 28th 2012, with the following Governing Board/founding members: 
  • Marcello Barbieri (president)
  • Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr (vice-president)
  • Almo Farina (secretary)
  • Peter Wills (treasurer)
  • Stefan Artmann
  • Joachim De Beule
  • Peter Dittrich
  • Dennis Görlich
  • Stefan Kühn
  • Chris Ottolenghi
  • Liz Stillwaggon Swan
  • Morten Tønnessen [me]
In an email November 30th announcing the establishment of the society, Marcello Barbieri wrote:
Code Biology is the study of all codes of life with the standard methods of science, and this makes of it the sole discipline that can prove the existence of semiosis in all living systems. Its purpose is nothing less than the rewriting of biology in order to include in it the countless codes that appeared after the genetic code and before the codes of culture, together with their theoretical implications. This is the challenge that lies ahead and this letter is announcing the beginning of that momentous enterprise. 
Applications for membership of the Code Biology Society are welcome from scholars of all relevant disciplines, including biology, philosophy, semiotics, cognitive science, information theory, linguistics, anthropology and ecology.
Marcello asked me whether I would be willing to be a founding member of the ISCB in an email October 16th. I replied that my long-time collaborators in Tartu "remain important colleagues and contacts for me, and that is how I would like it to go on as well." Furthermore:
In principle I am indeed interested in being a founding member of the ISCB. But there are conditions. First, before putting my name on any list I would like to see the statutes, or a draft of them, to get a sense of what the society is about and how it will work. Second, you should be aware that I am a person who speaks his mind even when in minority, and in situations such as the one in the ISBS this last year I might feel responsible to speak out (particularly if noone else does), no matter who is in charge and no matter who does things I find worthy of criticism. What I treasure is particularly organisational democrazy, scholarly pluralism, and constructive theoretical synthesis. 
Now, one reason to decline your invitation would be that it is likely that some biosemiotic scholars will misunderstand what me being part of the ISCB implies. Noteworthy, it could be perceived as sidetaking – siding with you personally (against Jesper) or preferring code biology to other kinds of biosemiotics. Therefore, let me make it absolutely clear: I treasure being undogmatic and open-minded, and I do not side with specific persons (only with ideas and principles). I want to contribute to holding all biosemioticians to certain standards, in terms both scientific and organisational. I think that several code biologists, including you, do a lot of valuable biosemiotic work (and I would like to take advantage of that in my own work, and when natural by way of direct cooperation). That is why I am interested in being a founding member of the ISCB. To avoid misunderstandings, however, I would without doubt feel the need to write in public (perhaps in a forum or on a discussion list, or at the very least in my academic blog Utopian Realism) what it implies, and what it does not imply, that I have become a member of the ISCB. My aim would be to not close any doors, and to maintain and further develop contact with interesting biosemioticians of all kinds.
I added, amongst other things, that "[t]ruly constructive synthesis is always desirable, but "compromises" motivated by reaching agreement only is more likely to be contraproductive. The key point at this stage is to aim systematically for constructive synthesis and not to block any ideas simply because they derive from the "wrong" persons".

In reply to my email, Marcello wrote that all that I had written was "perfectly acceptable".