FROM NIGHTSHADE, 2016
Herr Jakob Johann Baron von Uexküll,
When you say “clamp a snail”
(YA-KUB VON OOKSGULL,
I would never recognize your name off the page)
when you say “clamp a snail” and put
it on a rubber ball in water
when you say hit the snail repeatedly
when do you recognize that in an effort to articulate another’s world
you have fundamentally altered your own?
Jakob von Uexküll, the early 20th century German biologist and biosemiotician, fine-tuned the study of animal behavior right into a worlding, right into umwelten. For Uexküll, each species is a performed fullness contained within a spatial and temporal boundary; each sensorial frame of reference an articulation of subjecthood, of being.
He told us that if you hit a snail repeatedly, three times per second, it will turn away. But if you manage more than three blows in the allotted time and hit the snail four or five times in a second, the snail will perceive the stick as not moving at all, and will continue forward to crawl onto the stick. The snail would fully understand the faster moving stick to be a stick at rest because the movement of the stick was functioning outside the register of snailperception, snail umwelt.
Clearly, consciousness, whether that of the snail or of the scientist, is a limited ability, taking hold only in the most certain of situations. The uncertain situation calls upon something else.