Lectures in Theoretical Biology

Meyen, Sergei V. 1988. On the structure of theoretical biology. In: Kull, Kalevi and Toomas Tiivel (eds.), Lectures in Theoretical Biology. Tallinn: Valgus, 15-21.

5) semiotic aspect (terminological, nomenclatural and allied issues);
5( prakeological aspect (application of stratigraphical knowledge in any other fields of human activity, including other scientific disciplines);
6) historical-theoretical aspect (interaction of past and present theoretical views [...])
(Meyen 1988: 18)
The semiotic aspect has to do with definitions, much like semiotics is sometimes accused of dealing with. (e.g. quibbling over metalanguages).

Lotman, Juri 1988. Natural environment and information. In: Kull, Kalevi and Toomas Tiivel (eds.), Lectures in Theoretical Biology. Tallinn: Valgus, 45-47.

In what follows we shall call a space an environment in which individual can perceive information and, in turn, be a source of information for other individuals inhabiting the same space of the natural environment of the individual. The part of space under study is thus characterized by the processes of information exchange, including also trophic relations. The information processes of the ecosystem include: (1) information exchange with the outer space, (2) information exchange between species, (3) intraspecies information exchange, including that of between individuals and between groups of individuals. Environment is natural to the given species only if a characteristic composition of these three types of information processes is achieved. The organisational complexity of the organism determines which kind of informational exchange is most influenced by it.
The first two kinds of exchange are characterized as more deterministic, for example the reactions to signals of the seasonal change, meterology etc. or the reaction of dungbeetle to the smell of dung. A more complicated and interesting from the semiotic point of view is the information exchange within the same group or between two biologically similar groups. Here we inevitably arrive to the problem of language.
In cartesian view, man is distinguished from the beast by the linguistic competence. Language is in this view distinguished from the utterances of pain, fear or aggression and is characterized by: 1) infinite ability to generate new sentences, 2) independence from environmental stimuli. Thus in Cartesian view the essence of language is associated with the capacity for a long and autonomous conversation. This concept is also takes over by Humboldt, and more recently by Chomsky.
Let us look at the problem of animal communication from this perspective.
We distinguish between two kinds of animals:
I. 1) Whose set of possible movements is small and stereotypic, 2) whose movements are automatically caused by external stimuli, 3) whose entire scope of environmental situation because of the limited movement repertory is generalized to a small typological list (e.g. "danger").
[continues on page 46]
II. 1) The animals whose repertory of movements is larger, 2) whose movements are complicated and form an elaborate system, 3) whose unidirectional tie: "external situation → physiological state of the organism → movement" is replaced by a more elaborate one. The second link includes feedback now: not only does physiological state influence movements but it is also influenced by them. The first link weakens as the autonomy of the movement increases. The possibility of play is one of the indices of autonomy. Play is viewed here in the sense of "as if real" activity, that is on one level being coded as gealdirected, whereas on the other level as self-directed. In this double perspective the autonomous and elaborate nature of the movement system, which allows it to transmit rather complicated messages, reveals itself. In this case the movement system can be viewed as language.
Because the above-described complicated system is not composed of simple reflectory movements and can be viewed as opposed to them, it can be compared to the fact that the whole language system is opposed to interjections.
It can thus be inferred that in the species with elaborate movement system (among other aspects capable of play), movements can be, at least under some circumstances, viewed as gestures i.e. expressing some meanings. This is proved by the activity of accumulating various symbolism displayed by movements. Probably the specific features of movements is even a way of recognizing conspecificity, more than just appearance. This, imitating the skills of primates may have served the hunting needs of a primitive man. Imitation by opportunity of communicating with them, and maybe it even gave this opportunity. It is also characteristic of man and other mammals to despise the animals whose movements they cannot mimic (snakes, insects, cephalopods).
The very essenceof communicating by signs contains a discrepancy between the common language of communicators and different information they possess (otherwise they could not have anything to communicate). This dualism forced Descartes and many others to assume some basic meaning to signs outside the language (cf. the model by Melchuk "meaning-text"). The validity of this assumption can be questioned however.
Wherever communication by movements is taking place, it is impossible to assume some meaning lying outside the sign system because of the organic unity of the signs and body. The movement is language and it has its message (e.g., when learning "follow me" or "don't do this"). The communication appears thus to take place between the individuals who simultaneously are similar and different. The situation of this kind arises when the communication between groups of different behaviour (due to sex, age or social status) inside one group of animals or between different groups is taking place.
Ecological space is thus filled with very different and sometimes complicated information currents.
[my comments]
I retyped this article because it is so short (one and a half page of text plus three references (Chomsky, Meschuk and himself) and a one-sentence Estonian and Russian conclusion. The Estonian one says: "Artiklis käsitletakse organismi elukeskkonna infovoogusid, eelkõige liigisisest kommunikatsiooni liigutuste abil."
For my own purposes this short article is relevant because Lotman rarely spoke of bodily behaviour explicitly, this making the construction of "cultural semiotics of body language" kind of difficult. Yet when he does speak of behaviour explicitly then it is the behaviour of animals that is under discusson. From a "body language" perspective the human being is an animal, so some of his statements can apply to my field as well. Especially when he makes a very important distinction between movements and gestures on the basis of the latter having "meaning" and "symbolism." That is, this article is a big piece for the puzzle of "the behavioural sphere." I am, of course, mythologizing this notion to make it seem as if Lotman left us all the clues for constructing a lotmanian approach to human behaviour, and one needs merely to gather all the clues from these rare and short acticles and piece them together - I am doing this in order to console my own dissapointment at how "linguistic" (*pejoratively*) our local semiotics is. These "hidden" pieces where Lotman speaks of "communication by motion" (Russian: кинетическая ... коммуникативному поведению) are invaluable.

Lotman, Aleksei 1988. On axiomatic method in ethology. In: Kull, Kalevi and Toomas Tiivel (eds.), Lectures in Theoretical Biology. Tallinn: Valgus, 48-54.

But what branches of mathematics can be used in formulating axioms for ethology? There seems to be no objective criteria. Intuitively appealing are set theory and probability theory, the former because of its fundamental nature and the latter because of the principal stochastity of behaviour. Some other mathematicas theories have also been suggested, including fuzzy set theory, category theory and catastrophe theory, but I consider them less important for the purpose under discussion. Though fuzzy set theory has proved useful for describing some psychic phenomena it does not seem to be a good tool for specifying the meaning of the most fundamental terms. The usefulness of category theory and catastrophe theory is also more limited because some of their fundamental assumptions seem to be too specific for ethology. In any case, whenever some other mathematical theory would work better than set theory, the fundamental nature of the latter permits exact "translation".
Once again the importance of systems theory should be emphasized. It forms a kind of prism through which other branches of mathematics are projected on ethological matters. In what follows terminology of systems theory will not be used, but its influence on some of the ideas developed would be obvious. Behavioural research is largely interdisciplinary. It mingles with physiology, ecology, evolutionary biology and many other biological sciences. There is probably no pure ethology at all, but its "purest" part is ethocraphy, the description of behaviour, and it will be analysed a bit more extensively than other ethological problems. (A. Lotman 1988: 49-50)
Logic (and other "mathematical methods") probably cannot help a nonverbal science significantly. The term "ethography" is new for me, but at first glance it seems like a concept related to concursivity.
The earliest application of axiomatic method to the behaviour problems deat not with describing behaviour in general bit with a more general but a more narrow problem of changing behaviour through learning. This pramework is too narrow to satisfy an ethologist.
Such considerations led to the writing of two articles that dealt with some of the most fundamental aspects of behaviour description. In the first one the following sets were used as undefined terms: a set of behaviour states (e.g. a dog is sleeping), a set of behaviour events (e.g. the dog is jumping, barking or falling), a set of behaviour activities (e.g., the dog is jumping or barking). Some relations between the sets were postulated, one of these being that the set of activities is included in the set of behaviour events. The set of behaviour elements was defined as the sum of the sets of behaviour events and behaviour states. Behaviour was defined as a sequence of behaviour elements with some additional properties. Some stochastic relations were postulated between behaviour elements. Another undefined term was the set of (environmental) stimuli. Some more stochastic relations were postulated. Now it was possible to define a reaction to given stimulus from a given state. Yet another undefined term was the set of individuals. It was postulated that non-empty sets of states, events, activities and stimuli correspond to any individual. Some relations were defined in the set of individuals. A. Lotman considered time (the set of time moments) as yet another undefined term, and postulated some more stochastic relations.
These papers give an axiomatic basis for stochastic description of behaviour, but it must still be studied whether they are sufficient to deduce the existing models. Some re-examination of the axioms is also needed in order to eliminate the interdependence of the axioms. Some terms may have been used not in the best accordance with the existing tradition and probably should be changed in the further, revised versions of the system. For example, it would possibly be better to speak of "behaviour chain" or "behaviour sequence" instead of "behaviour" in the above-mentioned sense. (A. Lotman 1988: 50)
The statement "A dog is sleeping" could very well be a title for discussing the problem of state as behaviour, e.g. "sitting behaviour" and the problems of analysing postures ("kinesically"). I stronly object to postulating that "non-empty sets of states, events, activities and stimuli correspond to any individual." This is a blatant reduction of individuals to that which can be "overtly" observed, and makes no mention of individuals having any free will, consciousness, motives, personality, etc. This is how you study machines, not living beings (especially "higher" ones). And lastly, the term "behaviour chain" comes dangerously close to what the anthropologist E. T. Hall meant by "action chains" in humans. I doubt if this is a worthwhile avenue of thought. The more meticulous it gets, the more ridiculous it appears. E.g. consider what happened to C. E. Izard's theory of emotion, which became extremely rigorous - emotion, patterns of emotion, drives, affect, emotion-emotion interaction, etc. (JJA 2012A: 65) - and extremely difficult if not impossible to apply.
There are other interesting points in describing behaviour, for example classifying behaviour elements according to their tendency to appear close to one another, the hierarchical organization of behaviour, the influence of the behaviour on the environment, quantitative measures (e.g., intensity) of activities, etc. I have never seen any axiomatic interpretation of these. (A. Lotman 1988: 51)
Never mind the aximaticity, these questions are interesting from the standpoint of nonverbal behaviour as well, and the only other author who has noted even the preliminary imortance of these - as far as I know - is Bridwhistell (1970/1971).

Chebanov, Sergei V. 1988. Theoretical biology in biocentrism. In: Kull, Kalevi and Toomas Tiivel (eds.), Lectures in Theoretical Biology. Tallinn: Valgus, 159-168.

Attitude to the universephysicalismbiocentrismanthropomorphism
Class of thingsinanimateliving matterpsychological-sociological matter
Objects of conceptionObjectbeingpartner in dialogue
Its formsbody, waveorganismsensible individuality, person
Universephysicalumwelteveryday life, culture
Aim of the conceptioninvariantstypesindividualities
(Chebanov 1988: 160)
This is very reminiscent of Kull's comparisons of physical and semiotic realities.
Methodological reflection of expertise which enables reduction to enlogies (as centaurs of different organizations), and reinterpretation of general biology is the way to formal biology.

Biotsentrism and culture [sic]
The idea of a man who lives in culture as his umwelt [a title] (an enlogical type) and describes it variously is the last link in the biocentric picture of the Universe. The logical-epistemic approach (by constructing invariants) carries out an extensional umwelt reduction to a physical world and is orientated at mechanisms (cf. unity of construction of real numbers, Newtonian time and space, energy. money as an universal equivalent). Umwelt corresponding to such a culture is similar to the umwelt of the explerents and is reflected as a physical world which can be interpreted as a dead umwelt. The anthropomorphic approach orientated at personality and working with sense reduces the man's umwelt to his intentional aspect (the medieval umwelt is similar to the patent's umwelt). (Chebanov 1988: 165-166)
With all these foreign or unknown terms and wild poetic claims Chebanev leaves an impression of being either a rambling madman or a genius far ahead of his time.

Schreider, Julius A. 1988. On socio-humanitarian problems of biological knowledge. In: Kull, Kalevi and Toomas Tiivel (eds.), Lectures in Theoretical Biology. Tallinn: Valgus, 169-176.

Conceptual models of science appear as a result of crystallized metaphors that articulate intuitions pertaining to realities; these intuitions feed on experiences of notional thinking about some thing, and help overcome the inevitable stiffening of notional structures as well as discovering the fruitfulness of the contradictions about to be fixed in those notions.
It is only in the combination of logicalized notional thinking and intuitive comprehension that the dialectical movement of thought is possible, the movement that is to overcome stiff norms of research. (Schreider 1988: 170)
Indeed it appears that the many models pertaining to nonverbal communication, for example, are little more than somewhat "rigorous" expressions of intuitive understanding. Very technical unintuitive approaches, such as Birdwhistell's kinesics, Hall's proxemics and Goffman's dramaturgy, have but their shadows left in current research - they are simply too unintuitive and too comprehensive, perhaps even restrictive, to be takes as is and put to use nowadays.
The protest against studying anatomy on human corpses or against cruel experiments on animals is not senseless at all. Both kinds of experiments contradict certain ethical principle refuting which would be far from harmless to human society. Here we can only put the question "what for?". What are the socio-humanist problems to be solved at the price of certain concessions in the socio-humanist sphere? Of course, these concessions must be reduced to a minimum. For this, the values of natural objects must be fixed and well grounded. However, this is no longer a natural-scientific problem, but a socio-humanitarian one, it is the problem of the relations of man and living Nature. (Schreider 1988: 170)
Similar concerns rise in the yet non-existent field of "nonverbal ethics" - e.g. is it right to observe people's most intimate, detailed, lower, bodily behaviour?


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