A Theory of Meaning

“Environments were certainly simpler at the beginning of the world-drama than they were later. But, in them, each carrier of meaning faced a recipient of meaning. Meaning ruled them all. Meaning bound changing organs to the changing medium. Meaning bound food and the consumers of food, predator and prey, and, first and foremost, males and females in amazing variety. Everywhere there was a progression, but nowhere progress in the sense of survival of the fittest, never selection of the better by a planlessly ranging battle of existence. Instead, a melody reigned which entwined life and death.

I decided to lay the question before our greatest historians: Is there progress in human history?

Leopold von Ranke writes in this Epochen der neueren Geschichte: ‘If one wanted… to assume that this progress consisten in that, in every ange, the life of humanity grows exponentially, that each generation entirely surpasses the one before it, in which the latest one would always be preferred and the preceding one only be bearer of the ones following it, then this would be an injustive on the part of the Deity. Such an intermediary (separate) generation would have no meaning in and for itself; it would only mean something if it were the stepping stone for the next generation and would not stand in immediate relation to God. But I assert: Every age is immediate to God, and its value consists not in that which comes of it later, but in its own existence – in its own self.’

Ranke rejects progress in human history because all ages have to do immediately with God and, therefore, none can be more perfect than any other. (…)

Now, the word God is for every materialist like a red rag for a bull, while the materialists would recognize a composition that arises by chance in the course of the enormous stretches of time if one would only concede to him that matter and energy have been the same since the beginning of the world and that the law of conservation of energy has a general and eternal validity.

At the beginning of my discussion, I showed that research on environments proves first and foremost the inconstancy of objects, which change their form as well as their meaning in every environment. The same flower stalk because four different object in four different environments.

It remains only to show by the already adduced examples that even the constancy of matter is an illusion. The properties of the matter of an object are dependent on the sensory spectrums of that subject which is the object of our present investigation. (…)

Much better founded that the constancy of objects is the constancy of subjects. (…)

We are always led astray when we want to introduce the measure of our world into the judgement of animal worlds. But I could argue that all of Nature takes part as a motif in the development of my personality, concerning my body as well as my mind. If that were not the case, I would lack the organs with which to know Nature. I could also express this more humbly and say: I will be a part of Nature to the extent that Nature takes me up into one of its compositions. Then, I am not a product of all of Nature but only the product of human nature, beyond which no knowledge is afforded me. Just as the tick is only a product of tick nature, the human being remains bound to its human nature, from which each individual always emerges anew.”

Jakob von Uexküll