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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 29, Issue 1, 2001

Andreas Weber
Pages 153-167

Cognition as expression
On the autopoietic foundations of an aesthetic theory of nature

This paper attempts to put forward an aesthetic theory of nature based on a biosemiotic description of the living, which in turn is derived from an autopoietic theory of organism (p. Varela). An autopoietic system's reaction to material constraints is the unfolding of a dimension of meaning. In the outward Gestalt of autopoietic systems, meaning appears as fonn, and as such it reveals itself in a sensually graspable manner. The mode of being of organisms has an irreducible aesthetic side in which this mode of being becomes visible. Nature thus displays a kind of transparency of its own functioning: in a nondiscursive way organisms show traces of their conditio vitae through their material self-presentation. Living beings hence always show a basic level of expressiveness as a necessary component of their organic mode of being. This is called the ecstatic dimension of nature (G. Böhme, R. Corrington). Autopoiesis in its full consequence then amounts to a view reminding of Paracelsus' idea of the signatura rerum (c. Glacken, H. Böhme): nature is transparent, not because it is organized digitally as a linguistic text or code, but rather because it displays analogically the kind of intentionality engendered by autopoiesis. Nature as a whole, as «living fonn" (S. Langer), is a symbol for organic intentionality. The most fundamental meaning of nature protection thus is to guarantee the «real presence" of our soul.

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