Deweyan pedagogy seeks to promotes growth, characterized as an increased sensitivity, responsiveness, and ability to participate in an environment. Growth, Dewey says, is fostered by the development of habits that enable further habit formation. Unfortunately, humans have their own habitual ways of encountering other species, which often do not support growth. In this article, I briefly review some common conceptions of learning and the process of habit-formation to scope out the landscape of a more responsible and responsive approach to taking growth seriously. What emerges is a reflexive biosemiotics that has humans explicitly concerned with the in situ emergence of new signification in themselves and in other organisms. This requires we take a pedagogical stance in our attitudes and practices towards other species, which we can enrich with insights derived from re-interpreting traditional empirical studies. By freeing the habit-forming process from confining stereotype, a biological pedagogy can enable a more fluid and creative biosphere, unencumbered to explore unfolding possibilities in semiotic space.
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Hoffmeyer writes: “Whenever a regular behavior or habit of an individual or species is interpreted as a sign by some other individuals (conspecific or alter-specific) and is reacted upon through the release of yet other regular behaviors or habits, we have a case of semethic interaction” (p. 15, 2008b)
Kotov and Kull (2011) describe a Lotman-inspired semiosphere as a the “set of relations comprising everything living” (p. 191) on the planet. However, just as “biosphere” often unnecessarily draws us away from our active participation in and effect on the world, “semiosphere” bears the same risks as a global, abstract category. Since the purpose of biological pedagogy includes increasing the capacity of humans to respond with semiotic sensitivity to their interspecies relations, a regional term is preferable. Of course, any semioregion is connected by some semiotic transaction to some other, ultimately unifying as a semiosphere. But it would trivialize our embeddedness and responsibility to equalize semiotic relations in this way. Finally, semioregion should not be thought of in terms of geographical proximity but in terms of semiotic interactivity.
Other approaches, such as cognitive ethology (Allen and Beckoff 1997) will not be discussed for two reasons: they have not captured the public imagination as much as the three approaches identified, and their primary aim is to provide descriptions and explanations of biological phenomena (and are therefore subject to many of the concerns raised in this paper).
While rightly maligned by subject-centered biologists, if humans paid better attention to behaviour, they would still develop deeper relationships and sensitivity towards other species than is the case with “everyday” nativism. Behaviorism can dislodge our habit of thinking of other species in terms of “built-in mechanisms” that leads many people to ignore the subtle shades of differentiation and change in the biotic world around them.
Such thinking could serve equally well to keep someone solipsistically detached from even their closest family and friends.
Nevertheless, it is also certain that once we take seriously our call to engage with other species as educators, we will not continue to conduct science the way we have been. I don’t imagine that much of the manipulations of the experimental method will make much sense when embarking in pedagogical-minded experimentation. This is the topic of another paper.
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Two anonymous reviewers provided thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this article. I wish to thank Anthony Weston for years of scattered conversations, and for the glorious twin notions of “ethics-based epistemology” and “self-validating reduction.” This paper is deeply steeped with these concepts and would not exist without them. I also want to express my gratitude to everyone at the 12th Annual Gathering for Biosemiotics who listened to me present some earlier reflections on the themes raised in this article, and especially those who engaged with me to discuss these issues further. Myrdene Anderson and Timo Maran stood out as particularly supportive. I’d also like to thank Sophavanh Phommixay for her open-minded approach to animals, and Black, who has just edged his way up onto my lap.
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Affifi, R. Biological Pedagogy as Concern for Semiotic Growth. Biosemiotics 7, 73–88 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-013-9178-4
- Biological pedagogy
- Pedagogical stance
- Intentional stance
- Semiotic growth
- Interspecies education
- Semethic interaction