Homage to Uexküll

We owe the concept of Umwelt to Jakob von Uexküll. In a 1934 paper he introduced it to the reader as follows:

This little monograph does not claim to point the way to a new science. Perhaps it should be called a stroll into unfamiliar worlds; worlds strange to us but known to other creatures, manifold and varied as the animals themselves. The best time to set out on such an adventure is on a sunny day. The place, a flower-strewn meadow, humming with insects, fluttering with butterflies. Here we may glimpse the worlds of the lowly dwellers of the meadow. To do so, we must first blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of these bubbles, the familiar meadow is transformed. Many of its colorful features disappear, others no longer belong together but appear in new relationships. A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal.

We thus unlock the gates that lead to other realms, for all that a subject perceives becomes his perceptual world and all that he does, his effector world. Perceptual and effector worlds together form a closed unit, the Umwelt.

— Uexküll, in Favareau 2009, 90-91 (translated by Barry Stone and Herbert Weiner)

Uexküll’s ‘soap bubble’ is a precursor of the perceptual or ‘cognitive bubble’ introduced in Chapter 6 of Turning Signs. The closure of ‘perceptual’ and ‘effector worlds’ is a version of the meaning cycle concept.

Watch yourself

A trustworthy guidance system must include some self-monitoring as part of its reality and source monitoring. This is necessary not only for consciousness but also for creativity, in order to prevent getting into endless loops or mindless ruts (Hofstadter 1995, 311; Sloman and Chrisley in Holland 2003, 157). ‘Jumping out of the loop’ is an aspect of resurrection, arising, revelation, recreation out of dead routine. Continue reading Watch yourself