2nd International Congress of the International Biosemiotic Society
Glotterbad, 9 -11 May 1991
IASS - AIS Bulletin 10(2)1990 + 11(1)1991

Biosemiotic Models - New Approaches to Rehabilitation

Thure von Uexküll opened the meeting by stating that health is an active process, not a static condition. Then the first main theme, narrativity, turned up: Tale telling is so important because it connects events to arrive at a biography. In a world where everything is changing a frame must be set, an integration of chance events into understandable successions, giving sense to them. Narrativity is seen by Uexküll as a strategy to cope with contiguity ("Strategie zur Kontingenzbewältigung"). Are there "construction rules" for narrative structures?

Martin Krampen distinguishes on this behalf "paradigmatic" aspects and "syntagmatic" ones referring to synchronous, "vertical" (static?) items which are connected "in a row" (= time) to result in a narrative structure. He continued by analyzing common features in fairy tales: The journey of the hero. A sketchy description: Starting point is a situation of alienation (the breaking of a contract, the posing of a task or challenge); then it continues through a probing time, where unknown, dangerous situations follow; they are surpassed - either with the help of "adjuvants" (magic, ghosts, fairies)
- or in spite of impairment by "opponents" (witches, dragons, spells)
- finally, an aim is reached, like wedding, liberation, crowning, or metamorphosis, as a reintegrating, closing event.

By comparing the hero to the patient, alienation is represented by the onset of a disease, symptoms serve as opponents, doctors and drugs act as adjuvants, until a balance, or even a rehabilitation ("salutogenese", Uexküll), is reached. Autopoiesis was briefly mentioned, but not explained...

As an illustrative example, a patient's record was presented (in dialogic, parallel presentation of the written view of the patient and that of his therapists). Now, what is the first code system? The bodily changes, the patient's descriptions, the first medical comment, the analytic, "deep" interpretation - or, rather, ours, the audience' comments an all these? It was fascinating to realize language as a never-ending chain of interpretation...

After noon, J. Hoffmeyer commented on the role of emotions in interaction of inborn and learned behavior, and presented another main theme: Can cognition interfere with endosemiosis? Some of his triadic models of body-brain-environment interactions showed that endosemiosis should be given more attention when talking about conscious processes.

Thomas A. Sebeok continued with a broad evaluation of narrativity from everyday life to the sciences, which raised many questions for discussion. (Are pictures narrative? Origin of narrative competence, "narrative iconicity", Posner.)

Roland Posner was the next speaker with remarks about attitudes towards death by analyzing grammatical changes (!) during the centuries. He showed that the agens was first without location, later "outside" of the speaker, and still later "within" him. Posner drew a hypothetical (anti-)parallel by referring to contemporary psychotherapeutic interaction: The client starts with symptoms within himself, and learns slowly to attribute causes to the (social) environment. He "goes back" to earlier stages of grammar (?).

H. Schneider called narrative structures "mnemotechnic", and showed that story telling is a method only, a useful projection of understanding onto objective structures: Contingencies happen, but we connect them e.g. with language, thus bridging endosemiosis and anthropomorphic epistemology. Uexküll pointed out that "objective structures" and narratives about them are both descriptions, both models of explanation...!

The concluding statements by medical experts brought a broad variety of topics (Chinese medical system, problems of autonomy of patients and doctors, pain management): A lot of fascinating questions, discussed too little because of time problems. (By the way, the meeting as a whole was rated higher by standards of intensity and consistency compared to the previous one.)

The foundation of an International Biosemiotic Society, for which an agreement was reached last year, was discussed again. Instead of an independent society, an affiliation (DGS or IASS) was preferred. R. Posner should check the possibilities with regard to the DGS, A. Fürlinger for the IASS.

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