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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 35, Issue 3/4, 2019

Morten Tønnessen
Pages 401-429

What Can be Known about Future Umwelten?

This article addresses Umwelt futurology, the study of future Umwelten: i.e., subjective, semiotic lifeworlds. Umwelt futurology as I describe it is an interdisciplinary enterprise founded on Umwelt theory but also drawing on work done in other academic studies of future developments. It complements Hiltunen’s semiotic work in futures studies on weak signals. Asking what can be known about future Umwelten, I ascertain that our most solid knowledge about any Umwelt situated on Earth is derived from an understanding of what constitutes the minimal Umwelt in general and more specifically in Earthly terms. Our understanding of constitutive features of various lifeforms, and of typical developments at different life stages in the ontogeny of organisms, provides us with further reliable knowledge about lasting traits of organisms endowed with an Umwelt. To describe the complex interplay between the physical environment and the Umwelt and Innenwelt of organisms, I introduce a three-dimensional interactive semiotic model of environmental change. Taken together, knowledge about basic features of Umwelten and about the biosemiotic interplay in nature involving Umwelt creatures provides us with the foundational building bricks that we need to construct an empirically informed Umwelt futurology. I argue that both predictions and scenarios concerning future lifeworlds can be developed from within this theoretical framework. While Umwelt predictions are meant to be of a merely factual nature, and can give us more informed ideas about the future, Umwelt scenarios may feature both factual and normative elements. These can help us make more informed choices whenever we discuss actions, lifestyles or policies that have an impact on future lifeworlds.

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