Cognitive Semiotics Seminar: "If looks could kill: The human ecology of visible and overlooked worlds in the perspective of Umwelt phenomenology" (Prof. Morten Tønnessen, Univ. of Stavanger)
Our collaborator from the University of Stavanger, Prof. Morten Tønnessen, will discuss with us a possible "visual bias" in our dealings with other animals, including our ability to feel empathy for them. It will be fascinating to see how much the kind of Umwelt phenomenology that he proposes can be made coherent with the classical (humanist) phenomenology deriving from Husserl that we have used in cognitive semiotics! All are welcome in the lecture room from 15:00 for introductions, or on the zoom link, with cameras on.
As I have argued, an updated version of the classical Umwelt theory developed by Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) can serve as the basis for a more comprehensive iteration of phenomenology that goes beyond human phenomena to encompass the phenomena of all sentient organisms. The importance of the visual sense compared to other senses varies from animal to animal. In humans, the visual sense tends to be predominant, and crucial for our spatial orientation. By way of our current ecological dominance in the epoch of the Anthropocene, human ecology comes to the fore as a critical field of study. The number of animal species featuring individuals that are capable of getting eye contact with humans is quite limited. Such species are nevertheless important in that they constitute a notable, biodiverse category in our visual ecology. Many animals are endangered simply by being seen by us, whether they are capable of eye contact with humans or not. When animals hide from view, it is often because their history of co-evolution with humans has taught them that being seen by a human can be a sign of danger and possibly imminent death. In the context of visual semiotics, this raises questions such as: How does the human species´ predominantly visual orientation affect the ways in which we treat non-humans? What animal worlds are visible to us, and which ones do we overlook? Are we guilty of visual-based discrimination of other species? To what extent are we capable of engaging with the visual cultures of other species? Is achieving a comprehensive vista of the visual worlds of other species attainable at all, for us as humans? I will look into such questions using a notion of semiotic agency that applies to both humans and animals and is compatible with Umwelt phenomenology.