Volume 29, Issue 1, 2001
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.