Books Life Philosophy Reviews

Book Review: Biopoetics

Biopoetics: Towards an Existential Ecology by Andreas Weber connects our human experience with a scientific understanding of life. A major limitation of conventional scientific objectivity is the exclusion of the first-person subjective perspective. Rational thinking has omitted the rationality of the living body.

Andreas Weber proposes an existential poetics for living systems: 1) Perception and communication always means to be touched on a bodily level. 2) To be touched means to be entangled. 3) Every relationship is a mutual transformation. The world speaks to itself through living relations. In perceiving we participate in the world. And through communication we tranform the world.

Poetic creativity is the ability to know something through participation. We need to understand life as a deeply sense-creating phenomenon. Organisms live in existential, felt realities, which they experience through their selves. Life is operating on meaning.

All living beings are concerned with their survival, and hence, with value, with what is good and bad. Feeling is a physical factor. This is the foundation from which an explanation of life can start. Organisms bring forth themselves physically. They continuously generate and specify their own organization. This is described by the term autopoiesis, which literally means self-creation.

Andreas Weber builds a unifying frame for the emerging new biology. The challenge is to reintroduce felt aliveness in our picture of the world after two hundred years of Enlightenment thinking. Weber activates a new language. He contrasts techne with poiesis. Techne means analysis and replication. Poiesis, on the other hand, means creative self-realization. Techne is cause-and-effect and control. Poiesis is inner goal-directedness and self-expression.

Living beings bring forth themselves. They retain their integrity in the face of changes in the environment. A living being exists as a self-identical structure in time and space, although it is not materially identical with itself. An organism decides and chooses according to its needs. It realizes itself anew in every moment. It is free because it shows an intention to stay alive.

Organisms behave as a whole. They are free by necessity. They interpret and do not obey. A machine is dependent on causal order. An organism, on the other hand, is not causally determined. It is enfolded in its ecosystem and continuously recreates itself. Its behavior expresses the overall situation. Meaning is one of its fundamental dimensions of existence. And the background in bringing forth meaning is always existential.

Empirical objectivity, which we are so familiar with, can be enlarged with an empirical subjectivity. All living beings have a shared condition of feeling and experience. Andreas Weber writes that subjectivity is the principle of organic behavior and becomes visible in its form. Form is related to what an organism feels. Feeling is turned toward the world. Meaning is sensually experienced expression.

Life celebrates itself in living. Life always has to confirm its existence to assure its continuation. A living being is an embodied subject which can make choices. Life is matter and meaning intertwined. All living beings articulate themselves as wholes through feeling. Living beings enfold matter through their metabolism. Their matter at no moment remains one and the same. They change to maintain themselves.

The organic mode of existence is feeling rather than calculation. The ability to feel our and other’s needs is fundamental. Embodied subjectivity holds a living being together. Value guides an organism’s self-maintenance. Our bodies bring forth subjective reality. Life happens in between mind and matter. Genes and soma interact in mutual transformation.

Intention, concerns of a living subject, is logically inevitable. It cannot be circumvented, and neither be calculated away. Life is non-computable. Meaning-making requires a body. Embodied logical contradiction manifests as a need. Need allows autonomy to come into the picture. The unity which an organism creates is a micro version of the larger whole. Contradictions enhance one another through mutal transformations.

Purpose is always felt. It is the basic experience of being alive. There is an embodied logics which, at the same time, is inclusive and contradictory. The basic experience of the whole is to realize oneself as purpose. Living beings bring forth wholeness. They are self-sustained wholes.

Form is both a necessity and a constraint. It both enables and makes dependent. Individual existence means to be whole in a larger whole. Metabolism is the transformation of the whole into self, and of self into the world. It is the world passing through self as self.

Living reality is a logics of dialogue. It is necessarily dynamic. Dialogics is a process based on renegotiations of relationship. Encounters are experienced as meanings. A subject experiences itself as an inside with an outside. Every touch is to be touched. Every seeing might mean to be seen. Perception is a meaningful space in between. Bodies continuously transform themselves in living relationships.

Organisms participate in one another. Organisms need others and the whole in order to be. Being an organism means sharing, and sharing is change in relationship with others. Together they form commons.

Being a body is an irreducible experience. Having feelings and (non-verbal) interactions are empirical facts. They are lived dimensions that are shared among all living beings. We are, on an empirical biological level, part of a living cosmos, which is subject to a general principle of life. We are all supported by life itself.

The causal-mechanical approach as a whole is mistaken. Reality is meaning-centered, open to creative change, and continuously bringing forth agents with subjective experiences. We are entagled in the creative aliveness of nature, and as a culture we must honor this aliveness.

We have to drop the separation of inside and outside. There is a deep entanglement between the individual and the world, which makes both inseparable. Entanglement is the way we come into being. Feeling is the existential experience of meaning. It is the basic experience of being interconnected and separate. To live is to be self and other and the same time.

Related posts:
Book Review: Enlivenment
Book Review: Matter and Desire
Book Review: Biology of Wonder

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

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