by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. Bracketed commentary and boldface are my own, unless otherwise noted. Citations refer first to the 1934 German edition, secondly to the 1956 German edition, thirdly to the 1957 English edition, and fourthly to the 2010 English edition. When quoting, the source version will be indicated in citation by having its page numbers underlined. I apologize in advance for typos, as proofreading is incomplete.]
[Note for the Forward and Introduction sections: The texts of the 1934 German edition, the 1956 German edition, and the 2010 English edition seem to correspond. The text of the 1957 English edition for these sections seems to have combined and rearranged parts from what is in both the forward and introduction of the other texts. In this summary, there is just one discrepancy, namely, a paragraph in all editions except the 1957 English one.]
Jakob von Uexküll
A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds
[A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans]
[Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welt]
To better understand the animal subject’s interaction with its own special environment or Umwelt, we consider the example of a tick. First we note the relevant structures and processes involved in the interaction of the animal with its surroundings. In the physical world, the objects have their own properties. The animal has physiological features that are sensitive to certain properties by means of sense receptors. The effect of the object’s physical features on the animal’s sense receptor produces a perceptual cue or mark. In the animal’s brain are two sorts of cells, receptor and effector cells. When the appropriate perceptual cue is presented, the receptor cell attributes to or projects upon the perceptual cue a perceptual sign. In other words, it assigns to the cue a certain significance. The projection of this significance somehow triggers the effector cells in the animal’s brain, which send instructions to the effector organs (the muscles or motor organs) to make some change in the world or to the creature’s place or orientation in that world. This change then alters the perceptual cues coming from the world, because the features of objects are related; thus an effected change in one property will alter other properties of the object, and those new features can be perceptibly different. This closes a circuit called a functional cycle. Many cycles can be chained together. When arriving successively at a new perceptual cue, the prior one is extinguished, as it become irrelevant in the new function cycle. The female tick, after having its eggs fertilized, seeks out a place at the end of a tree or bush branch. It is waiting just for one perceptual cue, and in fact does not perceive time until it is presented. When a mammal walks by, the butyric acid its body gives off makes contact with glands in the tick’s skin that are sensitive just to this chemical. That combination of the chemical with the glands is the perceptual cue. The tick’s receptor cells in its brain then project onto this cue the perceptual sign for “butyric acid”. This triggers its effector cells in its brain to send instructions to the effector organs, the motor muscles in its legs, to relax, causing it to drop. This is one closed circuit. The effect of it falling makes a change in the world in the sense that it is no longer touching the branch and also it is now colliding with the mammal’s hair. This starts a new functional cycle. Its contact with the hair registers with its tactile sensitivity, which causes the effector response of walking around on the hair. The new tactile sensitivity extinguishes the prior butyric acid sensitivity, as it is no longer relevant. The tick moves until obtaining the next perceptual cue in its temperature sensitivity, namely, the warmth of the skin, which triggers the motor response of drilling into the skin and sucking blood. (Circuit 1: olfactory perception of butyric acid and effecting the fall. Circuit 2: tactile perception of hair and effecting a walk on the hair. Circuit 3: temperature perception of warmth and effecting a bite.) The tick’s Umwelt, then, is limited to these three qualities of the world (butyric acid, physical features of mammal hair, warmth), which only are relevant at certain specific points in a process. Although reflexes are involved, this portrayal of the animal’s interaction should not be understood mechanistically. To understand why, we consider the mechanistic sort of way the metal of a bell interacts with certain influences. It bends under physical pressure, deforms and melts under heat, and so on. The animal behavior involved in these functional cycles, however, does not have many responses to every stimuli in the environment. Rather, it is sensitive just to a limited number, and it has one specific response for each. It is not mechanistic, then, because it assigns its own particular values (in other words, forms judgments of a sort) just to a very limited range of very specific stimuli, and thus it involves a real subjectivity.
[One creature that we might encounter when walking through the woods is the tick, which waits for animals to prey upon.]
We begin our stroll through animal Umwelten (environments, self-worlds, phenomenal worlds) by noting that were we to walk through the woods and brush with a dog, we would know about a parasite that waits for animals to dive upon to suck their blood. This makes the originally 1 to 2 millimeter large animal swell up to the size of a pea (1 / 23 / 6d / 44).
[We know enough about the tick’s life cycle to discern its Umwelt.]
Ticks are not dangerous but they are still unwelcome pests. Their life cycles have been studied in enough detail that we can “create a virtually complete picture of it” [and on that basis we can discern its Umwelt] (1 / 23 / 6d / 44).
[The tick emerges from the egg lacking some of its parts and abilities.]
When the tick emerges from its egg, it is lacking a pair of legs and genital organs. But, it is already capable of preying on cold-blooded animals. It undergoes a number of moltings and then can prey upon warm-blooded animals (1 / 23 / 6-7 / 44).
[After a mature female tick mates, she hangs from a branch to fall or brush upon prey passing-by.]
After mating, the female climbs “to the tip of a protruding branch of any shrub in order either to fall onto small mammals who run by underneath or to let herself be brushed off the branch by large ones” (1-2 / 23 /7a / 44).
[The tick is blind and deaf, but it uses its other senses to find its prey: when it smells a chemical given off by warm-blooded animals, it drops upon them and then uses its sensitivity to temperature to verify it has found its proper prey and finally uses its tactile sense to find the right place to bite the skin for blood.]
The tick is blind (eyeless) and deaf. But its skin still has a general sensitivity to light, which allows it to find its proper place on the branch. It becomes aware of its prey by its sense of smell. “The odor of butyric acid, which is given off by the skin glands of all mammals, gives the tick the signal to leave its watch post and leap off” (2 / 23 /7 / 45). After it leaps, it potentially falls onto the animal, which it senses as “something warm”. And its sensitivity to temperature is what tells it that it has reached its proper prey. It then uses its sense of touch “to find a spot as free of hair as possible in order to bore past its own head into the skin tissue of the prey. Now, the tick pumps a stream of warm blood slowly into itself” (2 / 24 /7 / 45).
[The ticks are sensitive only to the temperature of the blood and not to its constituent contents.]
Experiments have been done to show that ticks do not care what liquid they suck out from a membrane, so long as it has the right temperature (2 / 24 /7 / 45).
[If it fails to land on its proper prey, it goes back upon a branch and waits again.]
Suppose it smells the acid, but then it falls upon something cold and thus upon something that is not its proper prey. It will then climb back up to again take a position on its “lookout post” [“watchtower” / “Wachtposten” in other translation and original]. (2 / 24 /7 / 45). [In Deleuze’s ABC interviews with Parnet, he says, in Charles Stivale’s translation “If someone were to ask me what it means to be an animal, I would answer: it’s being on the lookout. It’s a being fundamentally on the lookout” (“A is for Animal”).]
[After sucking the blood, the tick drops to the ground to lay its eggs and die.]
The female tick, after eating this blood, has nothing left to do in its life-cycle. It then drops off the animal to the ground, lays its eggs, and dies (2 / 24 /7 / 45).
[The tick example will demonstrate the viability of the biological account in the face of the more common physiological one.]
Uexküll will use the life cycle of the tick to articulate “a suitable criterion in order to demonstrate the soundness of the biological point of view as opposed to the previously common physiological treatment of the subject” (2 / 24 /7 / 45).
[The physiologist sees animals as being like machine objects situated somewhere in the human world, where biologists see animals as being their own subjects residing at the center of their own worlds.]
The physiologist sees all living beings as being objects situated in the human world. Thus the physiologist examines the creature’s organs and its workings in the way a technician examines machines. Biologists, however, see each creature as being its own subject [and not simply an object among others in the human world], and each such animal subject “lives in its own world, of which it is the center. It cannot, therefore, be compared to a machine, only to the machine operator who guides the machine” (2-3 / 24 /8 / 45).
[We ask: is the tick a mere object, like a machine, or is it a subject, like a machine operator?]
Uexküll then asks two related questions. The first question wants to know if the tick is simply a machine or is it more properly a machine operator. The second question restates this distinction by asking if the tick is a mere object or a subject all its own (3 / 24 /8 / 45).
[Physiology sees the tick as being made of perceptual and effectual mechanisms that are connected through the central nervous system, and thus there is no machine operator.]
Physiologists would say that the tick is simply a machine. In it we can distinguish its two types of tools: “sensory organs, and effectors, i.e., activity organs” (3 / 24 /8 / 46a). The physiologist would further say that these mechanical organs “are connected with one another through a control apparatus in the central nervous system. The whole thing is a machine, with no trace of a machine operator” (3 / 24 /8 / 46a).
[The biologist would point out that by reducing the organism to a set of machines without a central operator, that is only to posit each machine as having its own operator and thus to say that there is nothing in the creature which is simply a machine.]
[Uexküll then presents the biologist’s reply. I might not state it properly. It seems the biologist will say that for every mechanism the physiologist finds in the tick’s body there is a machine operator. And since all parts are operators, then there is no part of the tick’s body which is a machine. Even if that is the correct interpretation, I am not exactly sure why the biologists would think that every mechanism is an operator. Perhaps the idea is that the biologist is saying that for the physiologist, either of two things are happening: either the central nervous is controlling the other mechanisms and thus there is an element of the machinery which is an operator to which subjectivity is to be attributed, or each mechanism works according to its own decision-making and thus there is only a multiplicity of machine operators in the creature. Let me quote so you can see.]
“Exactly therein lies the mistake,” says the biologist. “Not one part of the tick’s body has the character of a machine. There are machine operators at work all over the place.”
(3 / 24 /8 / 46)
[The physiologist will insist that the mechanisms are subjectless, because they are simply reflex mechanisms.]
The physiologist will not be convinced by the biologist’s inferences. [It seems that the physiologist’s strategy will be to show that no decision-making is needed even on the level of the mechanisms themselves, because they all work mechanistically. And this can be understood in terms of mechanical reflexes. Thus, we might say (supposing our prior interpretation to be correct), there are not as many subjects as mechanisms.] The physiologist will note that the tick’s actions can be understood in terms of a reflex arc.
[The receptor cell receives an excitation that is mechanistically transferred to the motor organ as a response to the stimulation.]
The receptors are sensitive to butyric acid and warmth, and they screen out other potential influences. The arc begins with these receptors, and it ends with the motor movement of an “effector” like the motions of a leg or a proboscis [the sucking device, I think]. [As we see in the diagram, there are the two circles in the center, which represent cells.] The sensory cells “initiate the nervous excitation”, which is then transferred to the motor cells. Thus the arc simply transfers the “physical waves of excitation”, that is to say, it transfers motion, “as does any machine. No subjective factor, no engineer or engineers appear anywhere in this process” (3 / 25 /8 / 46).
[The biologist will counter that for this reflex arc to work, the stimulus needs to be noticed somehow, which will require a subjectivity of some sort.]
The biologist will now reply to this notion of the reflex arc. [The biologist will seem to make the point that the excitation that is received by the receptor cell is not simply a physical motion transferred through it. Rather,] the exciting influence must be somehow ‘noticed’ [and perhaps in a way recognized as being what should trigger the receptive activity]. And if something is being noticed, there must be a subject: “a stimulus has to be noticed [gemerkt] by the subject and does not appear at all in objects” (4 / 25 /8 / 46, bracketed text in the original).
[Physical objects respond to various stimuli in various ways, depending on the thing’s physical properties and the nature of the influence. The metal of a bell responds differently to heat or to pressure. But for an animal’s muscle, there could be a number of different such influences on the body, but the muscle will respond in just one way, namely, by contracting.]
[Uexküll will now make a distinction. We consider a bell. It rings when it is shaken. So it responds in that way when influenced by a certain sort of motion. It can respond in other ways, depending on the nature of the influence. So for example, perhaps, if we heat the metal enough, it will change shape. However, unlike all these many possible responses of the metal body of the bell, when we speak of the response of the muscle of an animal, we are referring to just one response, namely, contraction. Uexküll here seems to be emphasizing that a variety of different stimuli, were they to affect the muscle, will only produce one response. He then has us consider sense receptors, with the optic nerves in particular. He points to research that many different sort of stimuli hitting the optic nerves will generate the same sensation, namely of light. We might think for example if we press on our eyes and we see flashes or dots, but I am not sure. Uexküll says specifically the stimuli could be “waves in the ether, pressure, or electric current”, but they all “cause the sensation of light”. He goes further to say that thus “our sight-sense cells answer with the same ‘perception sign’ [“Merkzeichen”]”. I am not sure why the term sign is used here. From what he says next, I gather that he would also consider the way the muscle reacts to be it taking some nervous impulse as a stimulus and then responding with motion as an effect sign [“Wirkzeichen”]. He then has the biologist further infer from this that the animal’s internal perception and effect mechanisms 1) have one perceptive and one effective sign, and 2) that each of these mechanisms should be seen as a small “cellular-machine operator”. I am not sure why they should be seen as an operator. It seems he is here using the reasoning from above regarding the limitation of the response despite the variety of the stimuli. Perhaps the thinking here is that in order to filter out all other “perception signs” and to prevent additional sorts of “effect signs”, the mechanism needs to operate beyond mere physical mechanistic response and instead perform an action of selective reception and selective response. Supposing this is correct, we might gather that for Uexküll, animal subjectivity is a matter of controlled reception and controlled response, rather than mere mechanical reception and response. What also might be in the thinking here is the following. We might think that for the metal, we can map to each sort of influence its own variety effect. But for the muscle, we map a variety of influences onto a single sort of effect. This in as sense, when seen in comparison, could mean that there is a conversion operation involved. Perhaps the capacity to convert “signs” into other signs involves an “operator” or even a subjectivity of sorts. This summarization here holds for three paragraphs, which will be simply quoted below.]
Any machine part, for example the clapper of a bell, only | operates in a machine-like manner if it is swung back and forth in a certain way. All other interventions, such as, for example, cold, heat, acids, alkalies, electrical currents, it responds to as any other piece of metal would. But we know since Johannes Müller, however, that a muscle behaves in a completely different way. It responds to all external interventions in the same way: by contracting. Any external intervention is transformed by the muscle into the same stimulus and responded to with the same impulse, by which its body of cells is made to contract.
(4 / 25 /8-9 / 46-47)
[This holds as well for perceptual organs. A variety of influences will result in a singular outputted “perception sign”; for example, light waves, pressure, and electrical current on the optical nerves all produce .]
[See bracketed commentary in §30 above for summary.]
Johannes Müller showed further that all external effects that hit our optic nerve, whether these are waves in the ether, pressure, or electric currents, cause the sensation of light, i.e., our sight-sense cells answer with the same “perception sign” [“Merkzeichen”].
(4 / 25 /9 / 47)
[Physical objects respond to various stimuli in various ways, .]
[See bracketed commentary in §30 above for summary.]
From this, we can conclude that every living cell is a machine operator that perceives and produces and therefore possesses its own particular (specific) perceptive signs and impulses or “effect signs” [“Wirkzeichen”]. The complex perception and production of effects in every animal subject can thereby be attributed to the cooperation of small cellular-machine operators, each one possessing only one perceptive and one effective sign.
(4 / 25 /9 / 47, bracketed text in the original)
[The brain has two types of cells, perception and effect. Perception cells take “questions” from the world and effect cells give back “answers” into the world.]
[Uexküll now will discuss issues of neurobiology. I am not sure I can fully conceptualize this description, so I will quote it in full. He seems to be saying that the brain is made of cells, and these cells enter into two sorts of groupings so to form organs within the brain. Certain cells are “perception cells”, and they are affected by stimuli. The subgroupings they form are called “perception organs”. The stimuli take on the form of “questions” that are “posed” to the perception cells. The other half of the brain cells are “effect cells” or “impulse cells”, and they are grouped in ways so that they may control the movements of the “effectors” (which I assume are the effect-tool mechanisms, like the motor organs, in the animal’s body). The subgroupings of these effect cells in the brain are called the “effect organs”. The effect organs then have the task of sending “answers” back to the outside world, which had originally posed it “questions” through the animal’s perception. Note: this summary includes the next paragraph as well.]
In order to make an orderly cooperation possible, the organism uses brain cells (which are also elementary machine operators), grouping half of them in differently-sized groups of “perception cells” in the part of the brain that is affected by stimuli, the “perception organ.” These groups correspond to external groups of stimuli, which present themselves to the animal subject in the form of questions. The organism uses the other half of the brain cells as “effect cells” or impulse cells and arranges them in groups by means of which it controls the movements of the effectors, which impart the animal subject’s answers to the outside world.
(4-5 / 26 /9 / 47)
[The brain has two types of cells, perception and effect. Perception cells take “questions” from the world and effect cells give back “answers” into the world.]
[See bracketed commentary in §34 above for summary.]
The groups of perception cells fill up the “perception organs” of the brain, and the groups of effect cells form the “effect organs” of the brain.
(5 / 26 /9 / 47)
[The world presents unified objects. Our perceptual organs perceive them in their unity and attribute to them their sensible qualities, even though many of our perceptual cells are receiving a multiplicity of perceptual signs from that one object.]
[The next paragraph is challenging to follow, so I again will quote it in its entirety. Uexküll might be saying the following, but this is a guess. Each perceptual cell (or maybe each perceptual organ) will be handling a perceptive sign. But suppose that each perceptual sign came from a different thing in the world. Then there would be no coherent unified perceptions. Instead, there are whole things in the world which act as sources of a plurality of similar perceptual signs. The sky itself may present a wide variety of blue hues, and since the sky itself is one unified thing, our sensations of blue then become in our experience attributed as a property of that thing, such that the sensation blue becomes the blueness of the sky. Furthermore, the sensations which correspond to the thing’s own features serve as the means by which we recognize those things. In other words, we recognize the sky by its feature blue. Please consult the quotation so you can interpret it:]
If we may, on this account, imagine a perception organ [Merkorgan] as the site of changing groups of these cell-machine operators, which are the carriers [Träger] of different perceptive signs [Merkzeichen], they are still spatially separated individuals. Their perceptive signs [Merkzeichen] would remain isolated if it were not possible for them to coalesce into new units outside the spatially fixed perception organ [Merkorgan]. This possibility is in fact present. The perceptive signs [Merkzeichen] of a group of perception cells [Merkzellen] come together outside the perception organ [Merkorgan], indeed outside the animal’s body, in units that become qualities [Eigenschaften] of the object [Objeckte] that lie outside the animal subject. We are all quite familiar with this fact. All our human sensations [Sinnesempfindungen], which represent our specific perception signs [Merkzeichen], join together to form the qualities [Eigenschaften] of the external things [Außendinge] which serve us as perception marks [Merkmalle] for our actions. The sensation [Empfindung] “blue” becomes the “'blueness” of the sky, the sensation “green” becomes the “greenness” of the lawn, and so forth. We recognize the sky by the feature [Merkmal] “blue” and the lawn by the feature [Merkmal] “green.”
(5 / 26 /9 / 48)
[The effector cells in the brain are organized according to the muscles they control by means of “effect signs”, and through the muscles’ activity these effect signs impress an “effect mark” on the external objects (that may originally have presented a perceptual sign)]
[Uexküll then continues this analysis of brain cells to the effector cells. I do not follow this description well either. But it seems he is saying the following. The effector cells are organized according to the muscles they control. What they produce are effect signs, which might be like instructions to certain muscles to conduct certain patters of contraction in order to make an “effect mark” in the world. If Uexküll wants us to distinguish this arrangement from the purely mechanical reflex arc, perhaps the difference is that the perceptual cells are acting as operators on the perception signs by somehow contributing to how the effector cells determine which effect signs to make.] [At this point I wonder if the perception signs and effect signs can be understood in the following way. The perception sign is analogous to the pattern of nervous impulses coming from sensory neurons and sent as sensory information to the brain. (See figures 8 and 9 here.) The effect sign is analogous to the nervous impulses sent back to the muscles as instructions to contract. These nervous impulses can be understood then as “signs” in the sense of being like coded information or coded instructions.]
Exactly the same thing takes place in the effect organ. Here, the effect cells play the role of the elementary machine operators, which in this case are arranged into well-articulated groups according to their impulse or productive sign. Here, too, it is possible to group the isolated effect signs into units that, in the form of self-contained motor impulses or rhythmically arranged melodies of impulses, produce effects in the muscles subject to them. At this, the effectors activated by the muscles impress their “effect mark” [“Wirkmal”] on the objects that lie outside the subject.
(5 / 26 /10 / 48)
(*Lacking in the 1957 English edition)
[An animal subject is fully active in its environment when it both processes perception signs and produces in response effect signs, by seeking and encountering perception cues and creating effect marks in the world.]
The effect mark that is impressed upon the external object is immediately recognizable. For example, when the tick bites its prey’s skin, there will be a wound marking that bite. [Uexküll next might be implying that were a creature only to make effect signs, then it is not really active in its environment. For this, the tick also needs to search for the smell and warmth. I am not sure why simply making effects does not constitute activity. Perhaps here the idea is that activity requires a transformative sort of role in the environment involving a subjectivity making decisions that interpret the signs of their worlds.]
The effect mark that the effectors of the subject impart to the object is immediately recognizable, just like the wound which the tick's mouthparts inflict upon the skin of the mammal on which it has landed. But only the laborious search for the features of butyric acid and warmth completes the picture of the tick as active in its environment.
(6 / 26 /??? / 48)
[The perceived thing has qualities to which are assigned perception marks. The effect marks alter other qualities of the object. But since all the qualities of an object are interconnected, the effect marks extinguish and alter the perception marks.]
Uexküll then uses a metaphor to describe this situation. We will need to think of the two operations, perception and effection, as being like two arms pinching the same thing. He says that the perceptual arm imparts or invests the object with a receptor cue or perceptual meaning/mark. With the other arm it imparts upon the object an effect mark. [Under this metaphor, I can understand how one arm can impart an effect mark. It is less obvious to me how the other arm imparts a perception mark, since I would think the perception “mark” is not made upon the object itself. Perhaps it is more like an assignment, which would be something like imparting.] He then says that certain qualities of the object will be carriers of perception marks, and other qualities will be carriers of effect marks. However, since all the qualities are interrelated and susceptible to influencing one another, whenever an effect mark is made on an object, this will alter other qualities that serve as perception marks. [Previously there was the example of the tick leaving a wound. He said that the tick can use tactile sense to locate the location to make the bite. So certain tactile qualities of the skin helped make that determination. This made a wound in that location, which is an effect mark. But it also then creates a new perception mark in that place, since the tactile properties changed. This might not concern the tick, which drops off the animal after feeding. But perhaps the wound can serve as a perception mark for other ticks, indicating a location that is less suitable for a fresh bite.] Uexküll states this summarily: “The effect mark extinguishes the perception mark”. [Later this will be made more concrete. The effect mark could for example be the tick’s motor mechanisms making it walk to a new area. That does not necessarily change the properties of the object, but it can remove the tick from certain properties and move it towards others, thus extinguishing the prior perception marks that are not longer sensible.]
Figuratively speaking, every animal subject attacks its objects [Objeckt] in a pincer movement – with one perceptive [Merk-] and one ef- | fective arm [Wirkgliede]. With the first, it imparts each object [Object] a perception mark [Merkmal] and with the second an effect mark [Wirkmal]. Certain qualities [Eigenschaften] of the object [Objekts] become thereby carriers of perception marks [Merkmalträgern] and others carriers of effect marks [Wirkmalträgern]. Since all qualities [Eigenschaften] of an object [Objektes] are connected with each other through the structure of the object [Bau des Objektes], the qualities [Eigenschaften] affected by the effect mark [Wirkmal] must exert their influence through the object [Objekt] upon the qualities [Eigenschaften] that are carriers of the perception mark [Merkmal] and have a transformative effect on the perception mark itself. One can best sum this up this way: The effect mark extinguishes the perception mark [das Wirkmal löscht das Merkmal aus].
(6 / 26-27 / 10 / 48-49)
[The number and order of both the perception and effect cells plays a deciding role in the animal’s activity.]
[Uexküll’s next point is that the number and order of the perception cells and as well the number and order of the effect cells plays an important role in the animal’s activity. But I do not know how that works. Let me quote:]
In addition to the selection of stimuli that the receptors allow to pass and the order of muscles which give the effectors certain potentials for activity, the decisive factors for any action by every animal subject are above all the number and order of perception cells that distinguish the objects of the environment by assigning them features with the help of their perception signs, and the number and order of the effect cells that furnish the same objects with effect marks.
(6 / 27 / 10 / 49)
[For an animal to interact transformatively and semiotically with an object, that object needs to have features such that some serve to convey its features to the animal’s perception and others which can be altered by the animal’s actions upon the object. Furthermore, there must be a connection between these two sets of features such that the effects will change the thing’s perceptible properties.]
[Uexküll next seems to be making the following point, but I will quote so you can see for yourself. So far we are speaking of the activity of the subject. The object seems to be somewhat passive in this system. But its inclusion in the process results from it having a particular structure, namely, that it has both features that serve as feature carriers (for perception marks) and features that serve as effect sign carriers, and furthermore, that these two sets of features stand in a reciprocally structured contact with each other. He might be saying that the features themselves have a potentially mutually affective relation such that a modification to one causes a modification in the other.]
The object only takes part in this action to the extent that it must possess the necessary properties, which can serve on the one hand as feature carriers and, on the other, as effect sign carriers, and which must be in contact with each other through a reciprocal structure.
(6 / 27 / 10 / 49)
[When the subject interacts with the world, a circuit, called a “functional cycle”, is closed. The animal perceives something about an object that activates its motor behavior to alter that object. These circuits can be chained in sequences of greater or lesser complexity depending on the complexity of the animal.]
Uexküll explains the subject-object relation in animal interactivity with things in its world by a “functional cycle” (see diagram below). It shows how the relation can be understood as a closed circuit, where the perception coming from the object in the world feeds into the inner world of the animal and is cycled back out as a physical modification to the objective world. [I am not sure I grasp the next point. Uexküll then seems to say that we should consider animals either repeating the same functional cycle or working through a variety of them. The more complex the creature, the more complex its set of functional cycles.]
[Note the term “Gegengefüge”, which is not given an equivalent in the English edition diagram. Martin Krampen translates it as “objective connecting structure” (Krampen 252). Given this translation and its place in the diagram, it would seem to mean the physical structural elements of the object which cause the feature carriers and effect sign carriers to have a mutually affective relation. In the case of the wound, the way animal skin reacts to tick bites might be the objective connecting structure. (In the case of the tick walking down the animal hair, mentioned later, the spatial relation between the hair’s location and the skin’s location would be the objective connecting structure. To move off of one onto the other is to change the perceivable features that are sensible to the tick.) In the 2010 English edition diagram, the term is rendered “counter-structure”, but it is also placed on the subject side between perception organ and effect organ.
I am not certain where that “counter-structure”, or we might say, “subjective connecting structure”, is described in the text. It could have been in this passage from above:
... every living cell is a machine operator that perceives and produces and therefore possesses its own particular (specific) perceptive signs and impulses or “effect signs” [“Wirkzeichen”]. The complex perception and production of effects in every animal subject can thereby be attributed to the cooperation of small cellular-machine operators, each one possessing only one perceptive and one effective sign.
(4 / 25 /9 / 47, bracketed text in the original)
Uexküll distinguished the perception and effect cells. Perhaps then the “cellular machine operators” are couplings of cells of both types such that they admit (or even impose upon the sensation) some perception sign for certain sensed features of the object and then produce just one sort of effect sign as an instruction to the motor muscles to make an effect mark on the object. Another thing to consider is the interaction of the connecting structures. I wonder if we can see the situation in the following way. When the objective connecting structure activates the subjective connecting structure, then the animal interacts with the object transformatively. For example, the animal skin is such that were it bitten it would make a wound, and the tick has the operator coupling which admits perception signs indicating skin and creates effect signs indicating the muscle movements that will draw blood, which creates effect marks on the mammal’s skin showing where the blood was drawn. Uexküll will later discuss how the tick can wait for over a decade for an animal to come by. We might see that dormant state as involving a period where the loop was not closed because there were no objective connections that activated subjective connections. In other words, it is not necessarily a matter of a subject and object coming together but rather of causal/structural relations within the subject interacting with causal/structural relations within the object.]
The connection of subject to object can be most clearly explained by the schema of the functional cycle (Figure 3). The schema shows how subject and object are interconnected with each other and form an orderly whole. If one further imagines that subjects are linked to the same object or different ones by mul- | tiple functional cycles, one can thereby gain insight into the fundamental principle of the science of the environment: All animal subjects, from the simplest to the most complex, are inserted into their environments to the same degree of perfection. The simple animal has a simple environment; the multiform animal has an environment just as richly articulated as it is.
(6-7 / 27 /10 / 49-50)
[Chained function cycles can be seen with the tick: the smell of the butyric acid leads to motor action of falling to the hair. This extinguishes the olfactory cue and replaces it with the tactile cue of physical contact with the hair, which leads to the motor response of walking until finding skin. When it feels the warmth of the skin, this extinguishes the tactile sensation of physical contact with the hair, and it leads to the biting action.]
Uexküll will now show how cycles can be chained in a sequence, using the tick example, which involves three cycles happening in linear succession. The order of this sequence of cycles follows a plan (planmäßig; in the 1957 English edition as “well-planned”, in the 2010 as “according to plan”). [In how the example works, the “feature carriers” (2010) or “bearers of perceptual meaning” (1957) are not found in the object itself but rather in the tick’s body. The butyric acid given off by the mammal also stimulates the skin glands of the tick, and it is these glands that are the bearers of perceptual meaning. The next element is also hard to conceptualize. He says that the effect of the butyric acid is that it releases specific receptor signs in the tick’s receptor organ (so we might think if it as signals that the mammal is present), but then these receptor signs are “projected outside as an olfactory cue”. This projection part of the process does not seem to be represented in the diagram, because the arrows point inward to the subjective inner world. Perhaps the idea is that the tick only knows its own physical experiences, but certain perceptual ones give it information about the world outside it. So when its skin glands are affected in this way, the tick attributes the sensation to an external cause and in that sense “projects” the sign “outside as an olfactory cue [of there being the presence of a mammal]”. The next part of the process is where the receptor organs somehow communicate with the effector organs such that the effector organs respond to impulses sent to them. In the case of the tick, the impulses cause the tick to release its legs’ hold on the branch so that it drops. But at this point, its seems, we have not yet mentioned how it is that the effector organ has made an “effect mark” (2010) or “effector cue” (1957) in the world. Although the tick’s legs were interacting with the branch, he does not mention how the branch receives such a cue. Rather, the effector cue comes later when the tick lands on the hairs of the mammal. He says that the tick then “imparts” or “projects” upon the hairs the effector cue or mark of shock or collision. Perhaps here the effector cue is a matter of making some other change in the world which thereby presents a new perceptual cue or mark. For, it seems here that the second cycle begins. The projection of the “shock” cue or mark upon the hairs which then “releases” (1957) or “activates” a tactile “cue” (1957) or “feature” (2010). If we consider what was said before regarding the structure of the objects, we might say that the properties of the hairs which allow it to move about when contact is made and to establish new physical states of affairs regarding that contact are structurally connected to the features which provide information about that contact. In the case of the tick landing on the hair, the way it sways and the way it feels against the tick’s skin are new states of affairs that present new perceptual cues or marks to the tick, and this is the tactile cue the tick experiences. The next important idea here is that the new tactile cue from the hair “extinguishes” (1957 & 2010) the prior olfactory “stimulus” (1957) or “feature” (2010). Before I had considered this to be how the connections between the object’s features cause changes that nullify or simply alter prior properties. But here the extinguishing seems to be between the perception signs that the animal is receptive to. Surely there is still butyric acid in the air, probably even more now that that tick is very near the animal’s skin where it is released. However, this feature is extinguished perhaps because it is no longer relevant (it is not a difference that makes a difference). This tactile cue it seems activates the tick’s motor effector mechanisms of running about. There is no explanation here of how the running makes effector cues, but perhaps one possibility is that using the legs to move, it transports it to a new location that will have its own unique perceptible properties, and it will move until it find the right ones (that is, ones that initiate the next functional cycle). He says that the feature of running about will next be extinguished by the feature of “warmth” when it hits skin. So presumably it is running about the hairs until it reaches skin. At this point the motor response of drilling into the skin for blood begins. One possible insight to gain from this illustration is that when there is another cycle anticipated in the chain, then the effect behaviors seem to have the purpose of bringing about (or making ready for) the receptor cues that start the next cycle. The tick’s hold on the branch continues until the presence of the butyric acid produces the perceptual cue to initiate a new motor action, whose purpose is to bring the tick closer to its next cue, the tactile sense of colliding with hair, whose purpose is to initiate the motor action of running around on the hair so that it comes closer to its next cue, the warmth of the animal skin.]
Now, let us place the tick into the functional cycle as a subject and the mammal as it object. It is seen that three functional cycles take place, according to plan, one after the other. The mammal’s skin glands comprise the feature carriers of the first cycle, since the stimulus of the butyric acid sets off certain perception signs in the [tick’s] perception organ, and these signs are transposed outward as olfactory features. The processes in the perception organ bring about corresponding impulses by induction (we do not know what that is) in the [tick’s] effect organ which then bring about the releasing of the legs and falling. The falling tick imparts to the mammal’s hairs, on which it lands, the effect mark “collision,” which then activates a tactile feature which, in its turn, extinguishes the olfactory feature “butyric acid.” The new feature activates the tick’s running about, until this feature is in turn extinguished at the first bare patch of skin by the feature “warmth,” and the drilling can begin.
(7 / 28 /10 / 50)
And now let us set into the schema of the functional cycle, the tick as subject, and the mammal as her object. It shows at a glance that three functional cycles follow each other in well-planned succession. The skin glands of the mammal are the bearers of perceptual meaning in the first cycle, since the stimulus of butyric acid releases specific receptor signs in the tick’s receptor organ, and these receptor signs are projected outside as an olfactory cue. By induction (the nature of which we do not know) the processes that take place in the receptor organ initiate corresponding impulses in the effector organ, and these impulses induce the tick to let go with her legs and drop. The tick, falling on the hairs of the mammal, projects the effector cue of shock onto them. This in turn releases a tactile cue, which extinguishes the olfactory stimulus of the butyric acid. The new receptor cue elicits running about, until it in turn is replaced by the sensation of heat, which starts the boring response.
(7 / 28 /11 / 50)
[Although there is a series of reflex responses in the tick example, they are not simply mechanistic, because the tick in a sense is judging which of very many stimuli to react to.]
Uexküll then says that although in this example there are “three successive reflexes”, seeing it in those terms does not solve the problem. [He perhaps means that we cannot take a simple mechanistic perspective to understand how this animal interacts with its environment.] He then notes that hundreds of stimuli radiate from the mammal’s body, but only three become “bearers of receptor cues for the tick”. He then asks, why only these three when there are so many (7-8 / 28 /11 / 50). [It is not clear to me, but it seems that it is on account of the fact that only three of the hundreds become cues, that the interaction is not mechanistic. I am not sure why, however. Previously there was the idea that were it a simple physical interaction of materials, there would be many responses to different sorts of influences. We might still want to insist that these processes are all mechanistic, because there are physical triggers that bring about predetermined and consistent physical reactions in a law-like way. But perhaps the idea here is that in the tick example, there is not simply reaction but also something like judgment at work. The way the animal is set up, its biological “plan” perhaps, calls for it to make judgments about stimuli, deciding which of the many to respond to, rather than responding to all of them.]
[The relation between living subject and object is unlike that between two objects; for, the subject does not react mechanistically to all object stimuli but rather it assigns a significance or meaning to specific ones.]
Uexküll explains that this is not a “contest of strength between two | objects”. Rather, it is “the connection between a living subject and its object” (8 / 28 /11 / 50-51). This connection between living subject and object takes place on a different level than that between two objects. It holds “between the subject’s perception signs and the object’s stimulus” (8 / 28 /11 / 51). [I am not certain, but the idea might be that we are not to think of the subject’s receptive organs as objects reacting mechanistically to the object but rather as assigning a sign or significance to that stimulus.]
[Until an animal comes around, the tick waiting on the branch is insensitive the many stimuli presented by the forest.]
While waiting for a mammal to come by, the tick simply hangs “inert” on the branch tip, insensitive to all stimuli from the environment [assuming there is no mammal in the vicinity]. Then an animal comes by (8 / 28 /11-12 / 51).
[When the mammal arrives, it presents its own stimuli, of which just three act as directional cues for a sequence of actions the tick takes.]
The animal presents a set of special stimuli that the tick regards as signs directing its sequence effective behaviors.
And now something miraculous happens. Of all the effects emanating from the mammal’s body, only three become stimuli, and then only in a certain sequence. From the enormous world surrounding the tick, three stimuli glow like signal lights in the darkness and serve as directional signs that lead the tick surely to its target. In order to make this possible, the tick has been given, beyond its body’s receptors and effectors, three perception signs, which it can use as features. Through these features, the progression of the tick’s actions is so strictly prescribed that the tick can only produce very determinate effect marks.
(7-8 / 28 /11-12 / 51)
And now something quite wonderful happens. Of all the influences that emanate from the mammal’s body, only three become stimuli, and those in a definite sequence. Out of the vast world which surrounds the | tick, three stimuli shine forth from the dark like beacons, and serve as guides to lead her unerringly to her goal. To accomplish this, the tick, besides her body with its receptors and effectors, has been given three receptor signs, which she can use as sign stimuli. And these perceptual cues prescribe the course of her actions so rigidly that she is only able to produce corresponding specific effector cues.
(7-8 / 28 /11-12 / 51)
[It is only because the tick’s stimuli are limited to just three that it can act decisively. For otherwise there would be too many possibilities of action coming from all the many stimuli in the environment.]
Surrounding the tick is a “rich world” of various sensible properties. But for the tick, that rich world is “constricted and transformed into an impoverished structure that, most importantly of all, consists only of three features and three effect marks – the tick’s environment [Umwelt]” (7-8 / 29 /12 / 51, bracketed insertion mine). [Uexküll’s next point seems to be that were the tick sensitive to many or all of the stimuli, it would be unable to act, perhaps because actions must be specific, so they would need to respond to some specific stimulus.] Yet, the “poverty of this environment” is necessary for the tick’s “certainty of action”. [Perhaps it might be indecisive how to react were there too many possibilities coming from too many various stimuli.] Uexküll says that “certainty is more important than riches” (8-9 / 29 /12 / 51) [perhaps because one cannot survive if one is unable to react to one’s environment].
[All animal Umwelten have this structural feature of being limited just to those parts of the environment that are relevant to certain behaviors at certain points in the animal’s chains of functional cycles.]
Uexküll then says that we can deduce from the tick example the fundamental structural features of all animal Umwelten (8-9 / 29 /12 / 51). [He does not specify here those features. Perhaps the structural feature is that the Umwelt is limited just to those features of the surrounding world that are relevant to its behavior.]
[While waiting, the tick does not perceive time.]
It may take a very long time before an animal passes under the tick. An experiment has shown them capable of remaining alive while waiting for 18 years. Uexküll then defines a moment of experience as being the shortest segment of time in which the world exhibits no change. [Since there is no change happening in such a moment] the world stands still during such a moment. Each animal has a different length of duration of its moments. Uexküll’s next point seems to be that an animal cannot remain conscious of nothing for 18 years. [He does not say why, but perhaps doing so might consume too much energy in its body. Or perhaps it would experience stress from a sort of boredom or unfulfilled anticipation.] Thus, Uexküll concludes, the tick must remain dormant, in a state similar to sleep, while it waits. This means that time can stand still for the tick for periods of many years, and that time flow restarts when the perception sign of the butyric acid “awakens the tick to renewed activity” (9-10 / 29-30 /12-13 / 51-52). [This is an interesting claim, namely, that time consciousness requires noticing only those stimuli that result in effective reaction. Perhaps we can think of it also that there is no time consciousness when the animal does not notice differences that make a difference.]
[Time, then, is something constructed by the animal subject, each at its own rate.]
We may have originally thought that time was some objective feature of the natural world and in fact is “the only objectively consistent factor, compared to the variegated changes of its contents.” However, we see now that “the subject controls the time of its environment.” Uexküll says that before we might have thought that “There can be no living subject without time” [because there needs to be an objective time during which it may be living], but now we would say instead, “Without a living subject, there can be no time” (10 / 30 /13 / 52) [because the only way that time can be constituted is by the living creatures. I am not sure however how to draw this inference. Is it not possible that there can be both the subjective time-consciousnesses of the animals along with an objective time of the physical world? In fact, is Uexküll not also assuming such a thing with the measurements of spans of time in seconds?]
[We will now see how space as well is constituted by the animal subject.]
In the next chapter Uexküll will show that just like time, space requires a living subject to constitute it. [This might remind us of something like Kant’s “Copernican revolution”, which turned our analysis of the world’s constitution, including its properties of space and time, inward to the subject.] “With this observation, biology has once and for all connected with Kant’s philosophy, which biology will now utilize through the natural sciences by emphasizing the decisive role of the subject” (10 / 30 /13 / 52).
From (and cited in this order):
Uexküll, Jakob von. 1934. Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Berlin: Springer.
Uexküll, Jakob von. 1956. Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. In Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Bedeutungslehre, pp.19–101. Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Uexküll, Jakob von. 1957. A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds. In Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, pp. 5–80. Edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller. New York: International Universities.
Uexküll, Jakob von. 2010. A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans. In A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, with A Theory of Meaning, pp.41–135. Translated by Joseph D. O’Neil. London/Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.
Or if otherwise noted:
Krampen, Martin. 1997. “Models of Semiosis.” In Semiotik/ Semiotics. Ein Handbuch zu den zeichentheoretischen Grundlagen von Natur und Kultur/ A Handbook on the Sign-Theoretic Foundations of Nature and Culture, 1997–2004, Volume 1, edited by Roland Posner, Klaus Robering, and Thomas A. Sebeok, pp.247–287. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Parnet, Claire. 2004. L’abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze. DVD. Paris: Montparnasse. [2012. Gilles Deleuze from A to Z, English translation by Charles Stivale. DVD. Los Angeles and Cambridge, Mass.: Semiotext(e) and MIT.]