Is the tick a machine or a machine operator? Is it a mere object or a subject? With these questions, the pioneering biophilosopher Jakob von Uexküll embarks on a remarkable exploration of the unique social and physical environments that individual animal species, as well as individuals within species, build and inhabit. This concept of the umwelt has become enormously important within posthumanist philosophy, influencing such figures as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and Guattari, and, most recently, Giorgio Agamben, who has called Uexküll "a high point of modern antihumanism." A key document in the genealogy of posthumanist thought, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans advances Uexküll's revolutionary belief that nonhuman perceptions must be accounted for in any biology worth its name; it also contains his arguments against natural selection as an adequate explanation for the present orientation of a species' morphology and behavior. A Theory of Meaning extends his thinking on the umwelt, while also identifying an overarching and perceptible unity in nature. Those coming to Uexküll's work for the first time will find that his concept of the umwelt holds out new possibilities for the terms of animality, life, and the whole framework of biopolitics itself.
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The author made philosophical points, but far too quickly (and listening, you will miss most), where he then lengthily digresses, leaving you lost as to what point he is trying to make, and leaving you with the impression that the book is nothing more than philosophical mumbo-jumbo.
So is it? Yes and no. 'Yes', in that presenting mumbo-jumbo as 'truth' was the philosophical paradigm of the entire 20th century, and it still reigns today. 'No' in that what the mountains of 'mumbo-jumbo' really are are potentially-useful perspectives, or 'tools of perception' as I like to call them - certain potentially-useful ways of looking at objects and processes, especially when categorizing, and especially when peering into the unknown, where the more 'tools of perception' you have to draw from the more likely you will 'see what is right in front of your nose'. 20th century philosophers did not conceive of 'tools of perception' - they were playing what I call the "Is Game" - presenting perspectives as whole truths, or at the very least what they were proposing was the 'preferred way' of perception, when such perceptions (as I just demonstrated) are not.
What 'potentially-useful perspectives' did this philosopher offer in this book? He offered a poetically analogous way of classifying the structure and processes of the mind - equating the mind to elements of music. He speaks of 'self-tones' - that is, subjective factors, and of 'melodies' - or how a subjective individual processes reality, and he uses the term 'symphony' as a holistic term (and here you will be thinking 'OK, German philosopher, the glory of German symphonies, and obvious analogy choice). All poetic, and potentially useful, but as you might guess, it is not the whole truth, and it is not wise to only have that perception tool in your toolbox. As for the analogy proper, it only 'kind of' works, he had to stretch things at times. He also explores a 'house' analogy, which only partially worked, but was interesting.
The upside to analogies is that they are tools of perception, the downside is they avoid communicating reality proper. The ancient world thought almost entirely in analogies, but they had an excuse - they didn't know diddly about the natural world (and, an added note, everything was 'magical' - giving the world an overall Christmas-like 'wonder' that we're losing as our verified knowledge increases, which is not all a bad thing).
The digressions were the bulk of the book, and I found them worthwhile - most were descriptions of scientific experiments that I had not heard of in my wide readings (and listenings) , which are not the usual experiments given as a basis, and it appears to be because of two factors - culture (German vs. English), and date (the book was written in the first half of the 20th century); yet though they were conducted decades ago, they stood the test of time, being well-designed experiments.
What I liked about the author was that he was well-read, drawing from many scientific disciplines, which is what I did in creating an objective philosophy of survival for the modern age, my philosophy of a philosophy being that the quality of the philosophy is directly derived from the grasp of reality it is founded on, and for a philosophy of survival, that the odds of survival increase with a better grasp of reality, a grasp which serves as the foundation for the philosophy (specifically the survival of higher consciousness in a harsh and deadly universe), but acknowledging that as verified knowledge increases, associated reevaluations of the value element of the philosophy are needed.
So the book was interesting in a historic sense, and it gave me the opportunity to shed light on the 'tools of perception' and 'Is Game' issues, which are still problems in the philosophical world.