Ecology of Minds
by Adam Robbert
Knowledge ecologies pre-date human beings by at least the 4 billion years within which life has existed on Earth, and possibly much longer; in this sense knowledge ecology can be seen as a subsection of a wider field of study known as “ecosemiotics,” which human ecologist Alf Hornborg, following Uexküll and Bateson, describes beautifully in the context of a rainforest ecosystem:
As Uexküll and Bateson have both in different ways shown, the material interactions of organisms in ecosystems presuppose their exchange and interpretation of signs…this can be generalized for the entire rainforest ecosystem. In a myriad similar ways, each organism and species exists by virtue of its capacity to perceive and interpret the world around it. An ecosystem is not a machine, where the various components mindlessly fulfill their functions as a reflection of the external mind of the engineer. Ecosystems are incredibly complex articulations of innumerable, sentient subjects, engaging each other through the lenses of their own subjective worlds (2001, p. 125).
Thus, in the case of human knowledge ecologies (which can be separated only abstractly from other ecologies), we find that humans are not alone on Earth in enacting perceived worlds. Rather, it is the human who arises within an already emplaced, living, and effulgent hum of other beings and their worlds. Amidst the pre-existing knowledge ecologies of orchids, chrysanthemums, and bonobos the human’s own mind is partly configured and extends outwardly, touching the surrounding landscapes with thoughts, language, and ritual. In other words, the human mind-space is only a small portion of a much larger ecology of minds that stretches across the Earth’s biosphere, and this matters when thinking about what ecology means.